Antonia Böckmann – Project and Communications Manager, Sports for Future

Sport connects billions of people and harmonizes with nature: whether it's jogging in the outdoors, rowing on water, or skiing through the air. Sport relies on the natural abilities of each of us. Therefore, sport should naturally contribute to preserving our environment, as it significantly contributes to the climate crisis as a mass movement. Especially winter sports, given their reach, are caught between being victims and perpetrators. This situation presents a unique opportunity for winter sports to live up to their role model status and reach. It must reconsider traditional practices and take sustainable measures to play a key role in the global sustainability agenda and promote visions of a world where all 17 SDGs are implemented.


We are witnessing a fundamental societal shift, centered around the crucial question: What does our future look like? The climate crisis is not a temporary or political issue; it is one of the most pressing societal challenges of our time, affecting us all. It is an existential problem and has already led to significant changes in various ecosystems. Extreme weather events, fueled by anthropogenic climate change, have increased in frequency and intensity: floods in California, droughts in Argentina, storms in Europe, fires in Chile – all events from 2023 (Norddeutscher Rundfunk 2023: n.p.).
The sports sector, as a system with a significant emotional and societal role, can no longer hide from the challenges of the climate crisis. Both the direct consequences of climate change, primarily caused by temperature and other weather extremes, and the indirect consequences resulting from climate-altered ecosystems, affect athletes and spectators. Higher outdoor temperatures fundamentally strain the cardiovascular, respiratory systems, and metabolism, exposing athletes who engage in heat sports to health-endangering heat stress. Storms, rockfalls, glacier crevasses, avalanches, floods, altered water levels, and flow speeds threaten the risk-free practice and observation of outdoor sports. The indirect effects of the climate crisis, such as the extension of the pollen season and the spread of vector-associated diseases, affect the performance and health of athletes, exacerbated by outdoor sports activities (Schneider, Eichinger 2022: pp. 156 ff). Consequently, cancellations of sports events will increase in the future to protect athletes and spectators – but also because the conditions for practicing sports are simply no longer universally available, making organizing sports events sometimes impossible.


The winter sports sector is particularly affected by the impacts of the climate crisis. Winter sports are an integral part of many societies and cultures worldwide. 9.2% of the population in Europe are active skiers, totaling 48.2 million people. 158 million skier days are recorded annually in the Alps. Skiing is one of the most popular sports. Millions more engage in snowboarding and cross-country skiing. Winter sports and winter tourism play an existential role in the economy of Alpine regions. Destinations highly depend on winter tourism, as it often generates more than two-thirds of the tourist value added. This creates jobs and income (Roth, Siller 2016: pp. 4ff).
However, winters in the Alps have become milder: the annual average temperature in the Bavarian Alpine regions has risen by 1.5 degrees Celsius over the past 60 years. The number of frost days per year, where the temperature does not exceed 0 degrees Celsius, has decreased by eleven days (Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection 2022: n.p.). The air temperature in alpine regions is expected to rise by about 2 degrees Celsius by 2100, resulting in even shorter and warmer winters in the coming years.
The conditions essential for winter sports, such as temperature, precipitation, and snow cover duration, cannot be predicted (Roth, Siller 2016: p. 7). It is clear that by 2050, a decrease in average snow depth of about 30 to 50 percent in lower elevations (1,200 meters) and five to ten percent in higher elevations (3,000 meters) can be expected.
Many glaciers will completely disappear in the coming decades. Since snow is the central commodity for winter travel in the Alps, this sector is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis and global warming. The shortening of the winter season, unpredictable weather events, and the retreat of the snow line not only threaten the winter sports industry but also jeopardize the economic existence of many communities dependent on tourism (Gobiet 2018: 96).


However, winter sports are not only victims; they are also contributing "perpetrators." To counteract the decline in snow, compensate for the decrease in snow availability, and thus secure winter sports in tourist areas, artificial snowmaking is primarily used.
However, the production of artificial snow is associated with very high water consumption (Prof. Dr. de Jong 2017: p. 219). Currently, more than 80,000 snow cannons are in operation in the Alps, covering almost 100,000 hectares of ski slopes. In South Tyrol, snow cannons consumed between five and ten billion liters of water per season during the winters from 2007 to 2016, equivalent to six to twelve percent of the annual drinking water consumption in South Tyrol. Energy consumption is also enormous: together with ski lifts, 90 to 170 million kWh of electricity were consumed (Matiu 2020: p. 6). In addition to noise emissions, which disturb wildlife, other negative effects of snow cannons include the risk of drinking water contamination, as colony-forming microorganisms and fungi can be spread by snow cannons. Also significant are the loss of ecologically valuable wetlands due to hydrological consequences and the loss of visual attractiveness due to large-scale clearing for the installation of cooling towers, pump stations, and snow guns (Prof. Dr. de Jong 2017: pp. 220 ff.).
The negative impacts of motorized individual traffic in the Alpine region are also of great importance. Landscape interventions, capacity bottlenecks, noise and air pollution, as well as declining quality of life and stay, result from increased mobility and negatively influence the climate and winter sports regions. Arrival and departure traffic account for more than half of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with a winter sports resort (Hellmund 2021: p. 10). This is because many destinations lack solutions for mobility between train stations and accommodations, and remote mountain regions are often difficult to access. Day trips to the mountains are also significant. For this reason, reducing individual traffic seems difficult, with nearly 5% of Germany's total annual CO2 emissions alone attributable to travel to winter vacations (Kernatsch 2016: p. 41).
Also not to be forgotten are the ski lifts and cable car systems with their high energy consumption, as well as all hotel and catering businesses consuming fossil fuels (Roth, Siller 2016: p. 7).


To ensure the survival of winter sports and the preservation of Alpine ecosystems, the winter sports sector must reconsider its traditional practices. This includes the traditional World Cup season calendar, which already begins at the end of October with the race on the Rettenbach Glacier in Sölden. For 30 years, the Ski World Cup kickoff has taken place in Ötztal, Austria, and is considered the international start of the winter sports season. However, in 2023, two weeks before the race, attended by 30,000 spectators, temperatures of 20 degrees were measured. Criticism of the scheduling and calls for moving the kickoff to November or December are growing accordingly. With natural snow, preparing the slopes would be much easier, and glacier construction work could be reduced. In 2023, these interventions included excavations and even blasting of glacier areas, which are fundamentally protected by nature conservation law but can still be processed due to an exception for Sölden (Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (ARD) 2023).
It is essential for ski resorts and tourism organizations to invest more in environmentally friendly technologies and advocate for sustainable operating practices. Thus, a comprehensive policy for the preservation and protection of the Alps is necessary, emphasizing the careful and sustainable use of resources. In addition to ensuring the livelihoods of the local population, avoiding overuse, and preserving and restoring natural habitats, reducing pollution in the air, soil, and water must also be prioritized (Kernatsch 2016: p. 38).
Furthermore, promoting nature- and landscape-friendly, as well as environmentally compatible production, distribution, and use of energy, and promoting energy-saving measures is crucial. This includes reducing artificial snowmaking and increasing the production and use of renewable energies by ski lift and cable car companies, hotel, and catering businesses (Kernatsch 2016: pp. 42f.).
Restricting environmentally damaging activities that reconcile tourism and leisure activities with ecological and social requirements must also be implemented. Consistently sustainable offer and product development, as well as increasing risk diversification through complementary offers that have little to do with snow, are essential for a sustainable economic sector (Roth, Siller 2016: p. 10).


Sport unites billions of people: athletes and fans, amateurs, and professionals, young and old. Sport and nature go hand in hand. Sport is based on the natural abilities of each of us. Standing up for the preservation of our livelihoods is therefore inherent in the identity of sports – especially because sport, as a mass movement, is part of the system that causes the climate crisis.
Thus, winter sports have the opportunity to live up to their significant influence and role as a significant societal and economic actor and take responsibility. The scientific findings are clear: we must take action. Winter sports are ideally positioned to address what needs to change and to demonstrate that it is socially relevant to make a change. By implementing and advancing innovative and environmentally friendly technologies and practices, the winter sports sector can take on a progressive role and become a beacon in realizing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. Through measures to reduce CO2 emissions, sustainable resource use, and raising public awareness of environmental issues, sports, in general, and winter sports, in particular, can lead by example and create visions of a (sports) world where all 17 SDGs are implemented.
It is crucial that winter sports not only reduce their CO2 footprint but also increase their CO2 handprint. Unlike the CO2 footprint, which focuses on greenhouse gas emissions, the CO2 handprint emphasizes the positive effects and sustainability impacts on the environment, as well as the social and economic value (Brugger 2023: p. 2). Winter sports are at a turning point and must urgently reconsider their approach. For this, they must first understand that clinging to calendars and traditions is outdated and no longer appropriate. These actions can no longer be viewed in isolation as they have a significant impact on the environment and society. For example, a postponement of the World Cup kickoff would be a clear sign that climate protection measures are taken seriously and exceptions regarding glacier protection are no longer justified today. By moving the kickoff date back, glacier work would be minimized, and the exploitation of other and further glacier regions would be even more unjustified (Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (ARD) 2023).
Sport must quickly realize what needs to be done to fulfill the 17 SDGs, what it takes to achieve the goals, and how this gap can be bridged while remaining socially acceptable and ensuring its own future. Overall, it can also play a key role in achieving global sustainability goals. Through sport, these visions of the future can be conveyed and transferred to other areas of society. Winter sports, which are currently under criticism and already confronted with the consequences of climate change, have the opportunity to take a pioneering role and build a sport that fulfills all SDGs.


  • Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (ARD) (2023): Ski-Weltcup trotz Klimawandel: Die Kritik wird lauter, (07.02.2024).
  • Brugger, Katharina und Horváth, Ilonka (2023): Gesundheitsbezogene Klimakompetenz in den Gesundheitsberufen. Wien.
  • Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz, nukleare Sicherheit und Verbraucherschutz (2022): Welche Zukunft hat der Wintersport? (20. November 2023).
  • Gobiet, Andreas; Kotlarski, Sven; Frei, Prisco; Rajczak, Jan; Verfaillie, Deborah; Morin, Samuel und Olefs, Marc (2018): Klimawandel, in: bergundsteigen #105 Winter 18/19: 90-98.
  • Hellmund, Marius (2021): Autofreies Skifahren – Sind die Wintersportorte in den Alpen für eine Anreise mit dem ÖV und sanfte Mobilität vor Ort geeignet?, in: Journal für Mobilität und Verkehr Ausgabe 9/2021: 10-20.
  • Kernatsch, Tom und Herrmann, Felix (2016): Nachhaltigkeit im Wintersport – Die Alpenkonvention als Chance, in: Studentische Fachkonferenz 2016: Nachhaltigkeit im industriellen Umfeld: 38-45.
  • Matiu, Michael (2020): Schnee. Die Entwicklungen in Südtirol und den Alpen und wie sie sich auswirken, in: eurac research (20. November 2023).
  • Norddeutscher Rundfunk (2023): Nachrichten zum Thema Extremwetter, (20. November 2023).
  • Prof. Dr. de Jong, Carmen; Dr. Knolle, Friedhart; Reinboth, Christian und Wendenkampf, Oliver (2017): Das Projekt „Natürlich.Schierke“ – Eine kritische Betrachtung, in: Unser Harz Nr. 11/2017: 216-223.
  • Roth, Ralf und Siller, Hubert (2016): Zukunft Wintersport Alpen. Innsbruck.
  • Schneider, Sven und Eichinger, Michael (2022): Mehr Sonne, mehr Hitze, mehr Regen, mehr Blitze – wie sehr der Klimawandel den Sport verändern wird und wie wir darauf reagieren können, in: Funke, Joachim und Wink, Michael: Die vier Elemente Band 7/2022: 155-178.



Die ganze Ausgabe 01/2024 „swissfuture – Wintersport“ findet ihr hier.