Mikaela Shiffrin leads the call for climate action from the International Ski Federation | VailDaily.com

Mikaela Shiffrin leads the call for climate action from the International Ski Federation

Over 140 competitive athletes sign letter calling for increased climate action from International Ski Federation

United States' Mikaela Shiffrin speeds down the course during the super-G portion of an Alpine ski, women's World Championship combined race, in Meribel, France, Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. Her climate change-themed speed suit was created in a partnership by US Ski & Snowboard, Kappa and Protect Our Winters.
Marco Trovati/AP Photo

Mikaela Shiffrin is leading the call for the International Ski Federation (FIS) to increase its sustainability efforts and address the “existential and urgent” threat of climate change to competitive snowsports. Shiffrin’s signature topped a list of over 140 athletes who signed an open letter to the FIS president and council members on Sunday titled, “Our sport is endangered.” 

The letter, written by Austrian downhiller and Protect Our Winters advocate Julian Schütter, highlights the many ways in which climate change is impacting the athletes’ training and competition opportunities. These include competitions being canceled due to extreme weather events, pre-season training terrain becoming more difficult to find and rising temperatures inhibiting snowmaking.

The FIS has had a sustainability manifesto since 1994, with the most recent iteration adopted in 2020, but the athletes explicitly state that they see the current efforts as “insufficient.” 

One of the leading sustainability initiatives that the FIS has adopted in recent years is a deforestation prevention program that is intended to offset the organization’s carbon emissions. With the adoption of its rainforest initiative, the FIS has identified itself as “leading the way as a Climate Positive international sports federation,” but the athletes emphasize that conservation cannot be a substitute for emissions reduction.

“The problem with carbon offsetting projects like rainforest conservation is that by burning fossil fuels, carbon stored for millions of years is extracted and put into the fast carbon cycle, where it cannot be stored over such a long time,” the letter states. “So keeping fossil fuels in the ground must be the priority, therefore the main climate efforts must lay in mitigation of emissions.”

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The letter requests that, within the next year, the FIS presents a sustainability strategy for reducing carbon emissions by 50% by 2030 and develops a plan for becoming carbon neutral by 2035.

One of the specific actions that the letter recommends to make progress on this goal is to change the international racing schedule to reflect a “geographically reasonable” calendar that reduces the number of long-distance flights athletes must take to competitions. The Beaver Creek and Aspen races were cited as primary examples of wasteful travel emissions.

“The races of Beaver Creek in November and those in Aspen in February are 50 km away from each other,” the letter states. “Planning those two races one after the other would reduce approximately 1,500 tons of CO2.”

The Birds of Prey World Cup race course in Beaver Creek, as seen in November 2022. The Beaver Creek and Aspen races were recently cited as primary examples of “wasteful travel emissions” in an open letter, signed by over 140 athletes, to the FIS president and council members.
Ben Roof/Courtesy Photo

The letter also recommends changing the World Cup racing season to start in late November, rather than October, and to extend into April to better reflect changing snow conditions.

“The seasons have shifted,” the letter states. “In the interest of us all, we need to adapt to those new circumstances, because organizing World Cup races with no snow around will backfire and will take any anticipation for winter away.”

The requests go beyond World Cup organizers with calls for spectators to use public transportation when attending events and avoid air travel when possible. The athletes recommend that FIS events be used to demonstrate best practices for sustainability in addition to education and marketing initiatives promoting sustainable behaviors outside of racing.

The letter concludes by bringing the world’s top snow sport competitors — spanning from North America to Europe to New Zealand — under one common goal and message: “This is our most important race, let’s win it together.”

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