Updated: Mar 11, 2021
COVID-19 was the culprit in shutting down ski resorts last season, but climate change remains an existential threat to winter. While Ullr woke up in February, the North American snowpack started the season well below average. As of February 10, resorts across the West experienced snowpacks that were ~20-40% below the historical average (calculated from 1981-2010 per USDA's National Water & Climate Center).
If you think low early season snowpacks have just been an anomaly, let's review some staggering facts:
From 1955 to 2016, the April snowpack in the western United States shrank by 90% according to a 2016 Environmental Protection Agency study
Warming winters in the northeastern United States are predicted to reduce forest area covered by snowpack by at least 49% by 2099 according to a study in Global Change Biology
The annual number of days with temperatures below freezing is expected to plummet by 2100 as winter temperatures rise in mountain towns. The chart below illustrates projected reductions in the number of days below freezing at selected resort areas.
Fortunately, resorts are taking action and have been committing to sustainable practices for decades. We’ve compiled a list of 11 highly impactful sustainability programs at resorts that are making a difference in our environment along with Vail Resort's EpicPromise.
Taos Ski Valley, NM. The first and only ski resort to receive B-Corp status.
Aspen Snowmass, CO. Coal methane capture produces power for local grid. Recently completed Give-A-Flake campaign to push for climate change and LGBTQ+ rights.
Park City Mountain Resort & Deer Valley Resort, UT. The solar farm will provide 100 percent of Park City Mountain’s electric usage by 2023.
Big Sky Resort, MT. 100% renewable electric energy powered as of 2021, part of The Forever Project.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, WY. Fully wind powered by a farm in eastern Idaho.
Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia. Donated land for the Fitzsimmons Renewable Energy Project, a non-intrusive hydroelectric plant that supplies power to the public.
Killington Ski Resort, VT. Cow and solar power — All lifts at Killington and Pico Mountain are powered by either cow manure or the sun.
Jiminy Peak, MA. First ski resort in the world with a wind turbine — named Zephyr.
Bridger Bowl Ski Area, MT. Installed a solar field on the mountain and partnered with Montana State University on a sustainable wastewater management pilot project.
Squaw Alpine, CA. Replaces single-use plastic water bottles with an affordable, reusable option
*Epic Promise, Vail Resorts. Vail Resorts’ plan to reduce emissions, waste, and environmental impact at its 37 resorts.
1. Taos Ski Valley, NM – Achieved B-Corp Status
The most comprehensive sustainability program of any ski resort globally
Taos was the first major ski resort to receive B Corporation (B Corp) certification for meeting the highest standards of social, economic and environmental commitment. Taos received its certification in 2017 and is one of ~3,500 certified B-Corps worldwide. Taos' motto is "ski the change" and highlights from the Taos’ Verde program include:
Uses waste oil from the resort's snow cats, snowmobiles, and trucks to heat its vehicle maintenance building
Conserves snow and reduces snow-making demand by employing snow farming to efficiently move snow from sunny aspects to shady, more highly trafficked areas
Installed a food waste dehydrator that converts food waste into soil amendment. Last year, the dehydrator converted 28,000 pounds of food into soil amendment.
Runs Carpool World, a carpooling website for skiers and operates a free employee shuttle
Donates used wine bottles to the Taos Earthship Institute so they can be used to build energy efficient houses
Member of the Rio Grande Water Fund, which is working to restore 600,000 acres of forests to historical, healthy tree densities in the Rio Grande River drainage.
2. Aspen Snowmass, CO – Powered by Coal Methane
Coal Methane, Give-a-Flake environmental & LGBTQ+ campaign
Carbon Reduction. In 2013, Aspen Snowmass partnered with Oxbow Mining, Vessels Carbon Solutions, Gunnison Energy, and Holy Cross Energy to capture methane from the Elk Creek Mine in nearby Somerset, CO. These partners' goal was to produce electricity from captured waste methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas. The project generates 24-million kilowatt hours of electricity annually. The energy from this project is delivered to the utility grid, rather than to Aspen Snowmass directly. However, the total carbon reduction is equivalent to three times the resort's annual operations.
Give-A-Flake. From 2018-20, Aspen Snowmass ran the Give-A-Flake marketing campaign for environmental activism and LGBTQ+ rights. To advocate for the environment, Give-A-Flake leveraged social media, digital & print advertising and on-mountain kiosks to implore people to write to three Republican senators with swing votes on climate change: Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, and Rob Portman of Ohio. The campaign was helpful in raising awareness. For example, Murkowski responded to a Give-A-Flake ad in Outside Magazine and the spotlight will now be on her to support climate change initiatives under the Biden Administration.
Additionally, Give-A-Flake featured an online voter guide that divided political candidates into two categories: Gives-A-Flake and Doesn’t-Give-A-Flake. A Gives-A-Flake candidate was pro-LGBTQ+ rights and policy that addressed climate change and the latter, the opposite. This part of the campaign helped raise awareness by enabling supporters to add the signature flake to photos that they were then encouraged to post to social media.
3. Park City & Deer Valley, UT – Solar Power
The solar farm will provide 100% of these resorts' electric usage
Park City and Deer Valley are two of the six partners in the Elektron Solar Project. These two resorts have united with four partners, including the municipalities of Park City, Summit County and Salt Lake City, as well as Utah State University, to source power from an 80-megawatt solar farm in Tooele County, UT. D.E. Shaw Renewable Investments (DESRI) will build and operate the solar farm while Rocky Mountain Power will distribute the electricity. The solar farm will provide 100 percent of Park City Mountain’s and Deer Valley's electric usage. The project is on track to go live at the beginning of 2023.
4. BIG SKY, MT — THE FOREVER PROJECT
Net zero emissions by 2030 through renewable energy credits
Big Sky's chair lifts have run on carbon free energy since March of 2020 and since January 2021 all the resort's electrical usage is carbon free. This transition was the first step of the Forever Project, a transformative sustainability initiative run by Big Sky’s parent company, Boyne Resorts. As of January 1, 2021, Boyne Resorts began offsetting 100% of its energy consumption with renewable energy credits purchased from CMS Enterprises. The Forever Project’s main goal is to achieve net zero emissions at all Boyne-owned resorts by 2030. Additional key initiatives include using high-efficiency heating systems for its hotels, composting in Vista Hall, and Sno-How tracking technology for its snowcats to groom more efficiently.