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Steamboat Mountain School student project explores environmental dangers of ski wax

Sidney Barbier, a senior at Steamboat Mountain School, has completed her capstone project on the environmental impacts of ski wax. (Courtesy photo)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Every container of ski wax Sidney Barbier ever bought has come in a plastic container, which she discovered has had negative environmental impacts.

Barbier and her fellow seniors at Steamboat Mountain School were asked to complete a capstone project where they conduct in-depth research on a topic of importance to them and the community. A lifelong Nordic skier, she chose to research and produce a series of short documentaries on the environmental impacts of ski wax.

While the ski wax containers were recyclable, Barbier still wondered about the negative impacts of shifting the containers around recycling plants and of the wax itself on the snow and soil.



“We have these toxic chemicals in our snowpack, and then that gets into our soil,” Barbier said. “I’ve always had a passion for environmental science, but I also wanted to combine that with my love for athletics and for skiing.”

Barbier said her findings overwhelmingly showed ski wax and its containers harmed the environment. While most containers are recyclable, many end up in landfills, she said.



As for solving the problem, Barbier said the solutions involve both education and legislation.

“There are these companies out there that are just as fast and efficient and more environmentally friendly that not enough people are buying from,” Barbier said. “You also need to have that education piece out there so people know what the issue is and what they can do about it.”

Barbier also referenced a bill in the Colorado legislature that would help develop and modernize recycling, as well as ban certain types of plastic. The bill is under consideration in the Senate.

“We can’t necessarily rely on recycling, we have to also look at banning those products on the front end,” Barbier said.

Students are required to present their projects in some sort of deliverable format, such as a video, documentary or podcast, and Barbier felt a documentary would be best suited for her project. In a normal year, the school would showcase the projects during a showing at Bud Werner Memorial Library, but the school will not be doing that this year due to COVID-19.

“What I love about Sidney’s project is she has this wealth of background knowledge but also really has the skill to find other experts,” said Nikki Durkan, biology, environmental science and geography teacher who oversees the capstone projects. “It really gave her the ability to dive into this topic that’s important to our community.”

Durkan said the school’s move to have students complete in-depth research projects is part of a nationwide effort to have elementary, middle and high school students conducting research and doing more hands-on work, as opposed to just sitting inside a classroom and listening to a teacher.

“This is a really great example where students have an opportunity to explore something they’re passionate about that isn’t being fed to them and to give them the resources to explore it,” Durkan said. “There’s a much deeper understanding and it gives them something that sparks a lot of passion that they can pursue later on in life.”


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