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7 Significant Sustainability Initiatives at Ski Resorts during the 2021-22 Season

Updated: Jun 8, 2022

Temperature check. Climate change is an existential threat to snow sports and all of us must take action to bring change. We launched our sustainability series last spring with 11 Highly Impactful Sustainability Initiatives at Ski Resorts. Sustainability is always top of mind at Avant Ski and we're excited to bring you updates to previously profiled programs along with two new initiatives.


Snowpacks across most of North America, again, fell below historical averages for the 2021-22 season. As of May 1, California’s snow water equivalent (a metric used to measure the amount of water in a snowpack) was a measly 30% of its historical average, Utah's was a little less than half, and Colorado, down 36% relative to its historical average. The ramifications of lower snowpacks are vast.


Percentage relative to 30-year historical average as of May 1, 2022. Source: USDA

Here are a few more alarming facts related to climate change:

  • The 2022 Beijing Winter Games were the first Olympic Games to use nearly 100% artificial snow

  • Salt Lake City received only 1 inch of snow in January 2022, way below the historical average of 12 inches.

  • Wildfires during the summer of 2021 in Utah (East Canyon Fire, Bear Fire, Flatt Fire, Bennion Creek Fire), Colorado (Marshall Fire) and California (Monument and Caldor Fires) were some of the most destructive in history. In the fall of 2021, the Caldor Fire raged through Sierra-at-Tahoe, forcing the resort to close this past season and putting its future in jeopardy

  • Between 1982 and 2016, the American ski season shrunk by an average of 34 days, and levels of snow cover saw an average drop of 41 percent, according to a study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

  • From 1955 to 2020, the April snowpack in the western United States declined at 86% of sites measured at an average of 19% according to a 2021 Environmental Protection Agency study

Though the news isn’t great, we celebrate the resorts that work tirelessly to ensure the survival of the industry and life on this planet. We have added notable updates for 4 of the programs we profiled last spring and added 2 highly impactful sustainability programs.


Climate Collaborate Charter. The four largest ski companies in North America have united to combat climate change. In June 2021, Alterra Mountain Resorts, Boyne Resorts, POWDR, and Vail Resorts wrote and signed the Climate Collaborative Charter. The charter acknowledges that climate change is the most critical issue facing the ski industry, as well as the world.


Taking Action. Sustainability initiatives at the resort level are huge steps forward, but they are not enough to combat accelerating climate change. Businesses must unite to lobby for government policies to combat global warming and increase renewable energy sources. Click here to learn more about how you can make a difference.


Remember, snow is a fleeting resource and gliding on it, a privilege.

 

Summary of 7 Significant Sustainability Initiatives at Ski Resorts for the 2021-22 Season:

* Click the resortname to jump to that section


1. Taos Ski Valley, NM. The first and only B-Corp ski resort won an award for its forest health work, diversified its staff and increased pay, and donated $130,000 to the local community


2. Aspen Snowmass, CO. Aspen Skiing Company's latest sustainability report makes a case for political activism and provides a user manual for commitment to climate action


3. Park City Mountain Resort & Deer Valley Resort, UT. Broke ground on the Elektron Solar Project intended to provide 100% of these resorts electric usage upon completion


4. Alta Ski Area, UT. Winner of the NSAA 2022 Golden Eagle Award for Overall Environmental Excellence for its ongoing commitment to sustainability


5. Copper Mountain, CO. Play Forever initiatives and the Copper Mountain Foundation


6. Eldora Mountain, CO. Eldora Play Forever initiatives including an energy overhaul and printing trail maps on stone


7. Epic Promise, Vail Resorts. Vail Resorts’ plan to reduce emissions, waste, and environmental impact at its 37 resorts delivers



 

1. Taos Ski Valley, NM – The only resort with B-Corp Status

Ski The Change. The most comprehensive sustainability program of any ski resort globally
Taos' call to action is "Ski the Change" and the resort has been a B-Corp since 2017. Image courtesy of Taos Ski Valley.

Taos Ski Valley operates under its call to action "ski the change you want to see see in the world" and continued to be a leader in best practices for sustainability during 2021, receiving an overall impact score of 82.7. The resort's top environmental initiatives for 2021 included:

  • Treating 245 acres of high mortality spruce and fir trees in an effort to help restore the forest ecosystem

  • Food waste diversion; diverting 10,287 pounds of waste from landfill to compost, equaling a CO2 reduction of approximately 3.2 megatons

  • Last summer the National Ski Area Association awarded Taos its third Golden Eagle Award for the resort’s work with the Nature Conservancy and the Rio Grande Water Fund to restore watershed and forest ecosystems.


Diversifying staff and increasing pay. Taos understands that sustainability isn’t achieved strictly through environmental action and has made a commitment to diversify its staff. For the 2021-22 season, the number of women in management positions increased by 12%; women now account for 52% of Taos's management. Taos also increased entry-level pay by 25.5% to $15/hour, a living wage in New Mexico according to the MIT Living Wage Scale. Wages for all employees were also adjusted to scale.


Donating to the community. In 2021, Taos donated more than $130,000 to the community, highlights include:

  • $46,300 from season pass sales to The Fund for Taos

  • $11,000 from hotel stays to the Taos Community Foundation

  • $40,000 to local nonprofits from the Taos Community Foundation

  • $30,000 of in-kind donations to local nonprofits.

In addition to monetary donations, Taos supports the Pueblo community by sponsoring youth to participate in their ski school.


Taos' goal to become net zero by 2030 seems achievable in the next five years, according to CEO, David Norden in a March meeting with Avant Ski. Norden operates with the motto that "every action has a reaction." For example, Taos refused to continue working with Spyder for employees' uniforms until Spyder made its uniform packaging more environmentally friendly. To help achieve net zero emissions, Taos was the first resort in North America to deploy an electric snowcat and electric snowmobiles. In partnership with the local electric co-op, Kit Carson Electric, Taos operates on 100% daytime solar energy.



2. AspenSnowmass, CO – Reducing carbon emissions

Leading efforts for businesses to unite in the fight for climate action
Chris Erickson created the "the melting gondola" atop the sundeck at Ajax Mountain to symbolize the threat of climate change. Image Courtesy of Chris Erickson & AspenSnowmass

AspenSnowmass started releasing sustainability reports in 1999 - before they were trendy. Over the last 25 years, Aspen Skiing Company has taken an aggressive stance on climate change and been a leader in reducing carbon emissions.


But for Aspen, sustainability reports and projects are far from enough. Aspen's 2021 Sustainability Report declares "business as usual is putting us out of business." Aspen Skiing Co. is leading lobbying efforts for federal policy change to fight climate change.

Meanwhile, Aspen Ski Co's latest sustainability report highlights the following resort level achievements:

  • Saved 28% annually in electricity costs by LED retrofitting the Aspen Vehicle maintenance Facility

  • Reduced electricity usage by 14% from June-January and saved $847 at ASC headquarters through use of LEDs and energy efficient glass

  • Installed 8 solar panels on VX Lift at Snowmass to offset the energy used by a heated sidewalk

  • Installed 40 electric vehicle charging stations company wide

  • Completed The Hub, a 138-bed, $18.5 million worker housing project in Willits, CO. This facility is entirely electric and located directly adjacent to a transportation hub with a bus station 25-minutes from Aspen, a bike share, bike paths, and electric vehicle chargers. The roof is covered in solar panels, producing 30% of the building’s power


Aspen snowcats meet the highest standard of pollution control for diesel equipment with17 of the resort's snowcats meeting Stage V level of pollution control, a European standard that goes beyond the highest US rating. Aspen plans on converting another 8 snowcats for next season. Their goal is for their entire fleet to meet Stage V levels by 2026, unless better energy technology comes along.



3. Park City & Deer Valley, UT – Elektron Solar Project

Broke ground to source 100% of these resorts' electric usage from a solar farm
The Elektron Solar Project will produce 80 megawatts of clean energy. Image of similar project, Clover Creek Solar courtesy of the Salt Lake Tribune.

Park City and Deer Valley are two of the six partners in the Elektron Solar Project. This solar farm will provide 100 percent of Park City Mountain’s and Deer Valley's electric usage. Construction on the Elektron Solar Project began in October 19, 2021 and the project is on track to go live in 2024. This is one of more than 300 solar projects in the United States that has been delayed due to the U.S. Commerce Departments inspection of China.


Background: Park City and Deer Valley have partnered with 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, Utah. D.E. Shaw Renewable Investments (DESRI) will build and operate the solar farm and Rocky Mountain Power will distribute the electricity.



4. Alta Ski Area, UT – Alta Environmental Center (AEC)

Focused on land conversation and reducing Alta's carbon footprint
Bird Feeders are part of the Birding on Skis Program at Alta Ski Area. Courtesy of AEC Spring Newsletter.

Alta Ski Area and the Alta Environmental Center (AEC) won the National Ski Area Association (NSAA) 2022 Golden Eagle Award for Overall Environmental Excellence. The AEC was created in 2008 to guide the ski area's sustainability efforts and look after the natural environment in which the ski area operates. Alta and the AEC last won this award in 2013.


Through the AEC, Alta has reduced greenhouse gas emissions, implemented land conservation efforts, supported environmental research, and led monthly stewardship days that include clean-up, tree planting and trail work. Highlights from the AEC's 2021 Sustainability Report and Spring 2022 newsletter include:


Purchasing RECs to offset energy usage. Alta offsets its energy use by buying renewable energy credits (RECs) from Rocky Mountain Power’s Blue Sky Program. These purchases offset 100% of Alta’s electricity usage, which accounts for 50% of its total energy use.


Forest and land restoration. Last summer, the AEC surveyed and treated 101 acres for invasive species, planted 5,480 native plants, 1,000 Douglas fir saplings, and collected 18 species of seeds for next summer’s plantings.


Diverting food waste. From March 2021 to February 2022, Alta diverted 41,196 pounds of food waste from landfill to compost where it can be used for fertilizer or renewable natural gas in Wasatch Resource Recovery’s food digester. This equates to a reduction of 14 megatons of carbon dioxide emissions.


Replacing plastic water bottles. This past March, Alta partnered with Open Water, a female-owned, carbon neutral disposable aluminum water bottle company and together they completed a pilot program to replace plastic disposable bottles.


Birding on Skis. Alta is home to more than 100 species of birds and thanks to Alta's Birding on Skis program, counts of Nutcracker populations continued to increase last summer. These increases are the result of skiers and employees helping to maintain bird feeders around the resort all winter. Along with Birding on Skis, Alta offers several other unique opportunities for guests to engage with and learn about the Alta's mountain environment:

  • Trees and Skis is a fun and easy way to get the entire family interested in the plant life at Alta. An arborist from non-profit TreeUtah’s guides a ski exploration of Alta’s forest ecosystem

  • Snowshoe with a Naturalist gives the non-skier a chance to explore Little Cottonwood Canyon and learn about its unique ecosystem. Led by a naturalist from Cottonwood Canyons Foundation, look for animal tracks and learn about the wildlife that left them



5. Copper, CO – Play Forever & Environmental Foundation

A history of employee and guest driven donations to non-profits
The Copper Environmental Foundation is employee funded and awards grants to local programs in Summit County.

Copper Mountain is part of parent company, POWDR's Play Forever commitment to protect the environment and support its local community though investments in energy, waste and land. Copper was a founding member of the National Ski Area Association's (NSAA) Climate Challenge in 2012. The challenge is for participating resorts to combat climate change by reducing their carbon footprints and engage in advocacy on climate change solutions.


Key achievements included:

  • Diverting 147,000 tons of food scraps from the landfill through partnership with Summit County Scrap

  • Donating more than $3 million to local communities

  • Diverting 242,000 tons of recycled materials from landfills

  • Planting 50,000 trees on behalf of POWDR passholders


The Copper Environmental Foundation, founded in 2007, and funded by Copper Mountain employees awards grants to environmental and community non-profits, private companies, and government agencies in Summit County.


Copper also enables its guests to make an impact. This past season, Copper sponsored Play Forever Thursdays, a program through which Copper donated a portion of lift ticket sales to 15 non-profits. Donations went to non-profits including Adaptive Action Sports, Blue River Watershed Group, and the High Country Conservation Center.


When guests purchase a ski pass or lodging, they are able to add on a $1-2 donation to the National Forest Foundation. Over the past 15 years, these small donations have added up to more than $250,000.



6. Eldora Mountain, CO – Play Forever

Energy overhaul and trail maps printed on stone
Eldora has partnered with HKD for Low-Energy Snowmaking Equipment. Image courtesy of Eldora.

Eldora Mountain, a smaller mountain located in Colorado’s front range, has a mighty following and a firm commitment to sustainability. Eldora, also owned by POWDR, is part of the Play Forever program and committed to climate and community action. Eldora has completed two recent energy audits, providing the resort emissions data to execute a climate action plan.


Eldora's plans to electrify, reduce energy usage, and purchase renewable energy. Recent achievements include:

  • The Timber’s and Indian Peak lodges are powered by Xcel Energy’s Renewable Connect Program

  • A resort-wide lighting retrofit, upgrading to LED’s that are 40% more efficient

  • Printing trail maps on Stone Paper -- a paper made from recycled stone. No trees are cut down and no water is required to manufacture Stone Paper

  • Diverted 9 tons of food waste from landfill and converted it to compost

  • Eldora stopped offering disposable plastic straws in 2018


Proving that size doesn't matter, Eldora won the National Ski Area Association Golden Eagle award for Climate Action in 2021


7. Vail Resorts – The EpicPromise for zero impact

Targeting zero net emissions, zero waste & zero operating impact by 2030

The EpicPromise remains the sustainability law of the land for Vail Resorts. Its major goals are zero net emissions, zero waste to landfills, and zero operating impact on land and ecosystems by 2030.


Renewable energy. According to Vail Resorts 2021 EpicPromise Progress Report, the Plum Creek Wind Project is up and running. This project has already produced 281,079 megawatts of clean energy, which offset 85% of Vail Resorts’ North American electrical use (82% of global electrical consumption). When the Elektron Solar Project comes online, expected in 2024, 90% of Vail Resort’s power will be from or offset by clean energy.


Zero Waste to Landfill. Across Vail's portfolio of 37 resorts, it achieved 47.1% diversion by diverting 9.8 million pounds of waste from landfall. Vail has partnered with PepsiCo and TerraCycle to create items of our recycled bottles, snacks and candy. These items include picnic tables and chairs at Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Vail, and Park City.

 

TAKE ACTION

Businesses for Climate Action. The NSAA is urging its members and audience to join a great climate change advocacy opportunity that is brewing across a large coalition of NGOs and industry associations. Avant Ski has joined the ranks of outstanding companies that have signed the Businesses for Climate Action Letter. To read the letter and sign on click the link.


Feeling inspired? Want to learn more? Here are a few more organizations leading the way on environmental issues:

  • Protect Our Winters: founded by professional snowboarder Jeremy Jones. Runs political campaigns advocating policies to mitigate climate change.

  • The Sierra Club: non-profit with all types of sustainable initiatives.

  • The Nature Conservancy: non-profit that focuses on land and wildlife conservation.

You can make a difference; participate and then insist that more be done. Carpool. Go birding on skis. Write your representatives. Make one turn and then another and another.

 

Want to receive the latest updates on the weirdest ski season ever right to your inbox? Subscribe to the Avant Ski mailing list!


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