Skiing relies on the environment.
Without snow, trees, mountains, and protected natural areas, our favorite winter sport would be nothing more than exercise, if anything at all. For anyone that has had an immersive mountain experience, you know. If not, it’s time to make something happen.
Understanding their positions as stewards of the forests they operate in, many resorts around the country are turning an eye towards sustainability. Here’s a list of the top 5 most sustainable ski resorts in the country.
Everything is bigger at Vail.
The terrain is bigger, skier visits are bigger, and waste and energy needs are bigger. Understanding its role in both the national and international stage, Colorado’s most well-known resort is taking huge strides to makes sure our sport is here to stay. Vail Resorts rolled out an Epic Promise, which they are calling a Commitment to Zero. The promise reaches not just to it’s home resort in Colorado, but to all of it’s resorts worldwide.
A Commitment to Zero means this:
- Zero net emissions by 2030
- Zero waste to landfill by 2030
- Zero operating impact on forests and habitat
In order to make change, institutions and governments must set ambitious goals. Vail intends to meet their goals through several tactics including investing $25 million in low-energy snow makers, energy efficient buildings, and more efficient grooming strategies; by purchasing 100% renewable energy; by investing in carbon offset programs; and by continuing to expand its established on-site solar energy production that is already producing 70,000 kWh annually.
In 2017, POWDR, Killington & Pico Mountain’s parent company, rolled out a new campaign called Play Forever with goals to “reduce energy consumption, conserve resources, and eliminate waste” at all of its resorts. Killington tops the list, however, because of their unique efforts to use local products and techniques to reduce the resort’s overall impact on the environment.
Utilizing local dairy farms, which dot the Vermont country side, Killington powers its K-1 Express Gondola and Peak Lodge exclusively off of energy created from manure. Instead of letting all of that heat escape into the atmosphere, engineers figured out how to capture it, expanding the renewable energy efforts in Vermont.
Beyond just rotting cow poop, however, the resort has taken the initiative a step farther and implemented 14 AllEarth Solar Trackers (all made in Vermont, mind you) and 3 rooftop solar arrays that, altogether, produce 200,000 kWh of energy annually, which doesn’t even take into account the 3,100,000 kWh of electricity produced by their partner, Namaste Solar, on their solar farms off site.
When it’s all said and done, taking into account both Cow Power and Killington’s solar efforts both on and off-site, every lift is powered by renewable energy. Now that’s a standard Vermont-ians (and everyone else, hopefully!) can get excited about!
A New Mexican Taos Verde to serve the community.
When it comes to New Mexico, you’re either red or green–chili sauce that is. There is a distinct divide between the north and south, and sometimes heated debate, about which is the best, but for ski operations there’s only one color that wins–green. Taos Verde’s mission is to put the environment and community first by implementing widespread sustainable practices and habits, whose influence will have a positive impact both on and off the mountain.
As last year’s Golden Eagle Award winner for environmental stewardship, including Taos Ski Valley in our list was a no-brainer. The practices put in place are sweeping and powerful–a hotel whose heat is sourced through the ground using 12-14% less energy; using snow farming techniques that move snow to highly trafficked and shaded areas, reducing the need for snow making equipment; and, sourcing over half of all the resorts food in five restaurants from local farms.
This list doesn’t even come close to scratching the surface of what Taos Ski Valley is doing to ensure skiing in the future, but you can be sure of one thing–whatever it is, it’s gonna be green!
Setting the Standard
Coming in at number 2 is the Colorado ski resort that is helping to lead us towards new future of skiing. Going beyond just infrastructure at the resort, the folks at Aspen Ski Company, or ASC, understand that in order to affect rapid progress in the face of climate change, the fight has to be taken to Washington. In conjunction with Protect Our Winters (POW), who puts political action at the forefront of their mission, ASC’s management is an active face in the Washington lobby, pushing for stricter environmental protection laws that can help save their entire operation.
On the home front, Aspen is making pioneering decisions that make for good business, too. For the first time in the United States, the company recently partnered with three Colorado coal and gas producers in a $5.5 million investment to capture methane gas from a nearby coal mine in Somerset, CO, and turn it into energy for the ski resort. The result? The capture is preventing dangerous methane gas from leaking into the atmosphere, and is covering all of Aspen’s power needs every single year for, approximately, the next fifteen years.
The progress is tremendous, but the fight doesn’t stop there. If you’re looking to get involved and protect our sport, our snow, and our livelihoods, check out Aspen Ski Co’s webpage here and Protect Our Winters here.
“The Legend” Now and Forever
Few resorts can match the culture that has been built at Arapahoe Basin over the past 70 years–a culture that, from the start, has lead with the intention of strengthening its mountain community. In recent years, as environmental pressures continue to increase, A-Basin has shifted its focus towards a green future that will allow the mountain community to thrive well into the future and also serve as an example for the many skiers that ski its slopes.
Improvements across the company have earned them NSAA’s Golden Eagle Award in 2014 and then, in May of this year, the 2018 Hero of Sustainability award, which was given to Sha Miklas, A-Basin’s Senior Manager for Guest Services and Sustainability. Thinking of the fuel consumed in order to get to the hill, the resort has implemented strict carpooling policies that require employees to shuttle or carpool to work on weekends in the spring months. They also offer significantly discounted lift tickets and impressive parking spots for skiers who carpool–not to mention the free shuttle, Summit Stage, that runs all over Summit County to most ski resorts in the area including, of course, Arapahoe Basin. The list continues on including sweeping composting programs, a solar-powered kids center, and heating systems that run on used motor oil and other fuels that would otherwise be thrown away.
Thinking about sustainability starts at the core and reaches out like the roots of the tree, touching all areas and affecting gradual change. Given the resort’s proximity to Denver, A-Basin represents not just the ski industry, but outdoor recreation as a whole for millions of people who make the trip uphill from the Front Range. From the confines of resorts around the world to the limitlessness of the wild areas that they sit in, it’s the people, fueled by their experiences outdoors, that will create the most change.
As the A-Basin says, “We have the power to save the powder”.