Cold, snowy weather is the very foundation of the ski industry. Thus, it’s not surprising that climate change has been at the top of the industry’s priority list since the turn of this century. Before that, ski areas relied on rudimentary snowmaking to get them through bad snow years. Today, not only is snowmaking a much more sophisticated and dependable operation, but resorts and industry associations are also doubling down on their environmental efforts. They know how high the stakes are—the very future of wintersports.
Here’s what ski industry organizations and ski resort management are doing in order to ensure that you’ll be able to slide down snowy slopes for many winters to come.
1. The National Ski Areas Association has been pushing environmental initiatives over the past 15 years.
The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) has been rolling out environmental initiatives for the past 15 years and is not about to let up. Says Geraldine Link, NSAA’s director of public policy, “Climate change presents challenges to the ski industry that require proactive planning, bold action and leadership. The good news is that the ski industry is adept at managing challenging conditions and began work on addressing this issue 15 years ago with the adoption of a cutting-edge climate change policy in 2002. While every industry is affected by climate change, impacts to the ski industry receive a great deal of visibility in the media, given the operations’ natural connection to climate. This visibility provides a unique opportunity to lead by example, and we have done so successfully with respect to climate change education, mitigation, advocacy and adaptation.”
NSAA emphasizes several important areas with its member ski areas and resorts:
- Reducing carbon emissions through energy efficiency, on-site renewable energy, green-building/retrofitting, and alternative fuels, among other actions
- Increasing investments in snowmaking, water facilities, and water resources
- Developing smarter grooming technology
- Shifting to a four-season model
- Advocating for legislation and regulation on broader-based climate solutions
The association works on many fronts: Since 2009, NSAA has been providing its member ski areas grants through its Sustainable Slopes Grant Program that provides cash and in-kind funding to support resorts’ sustainability projects. Its Climate Challenge is a voluntary program that helps participating ski areas reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce energy costs. Its annual Golden Eagles Awards for Environmental Excellence recognizes ski resorts for their performance in several environmental categories, from overall excellence to water conservation to visitor education and community outreach. And its online Green Room provides links to resorts’ environmental web pages listed by state (and Canada) so that fellow resorts and the public are all up to speed on the latest environmental actions and ideas.
Director Link adds, “In light of the political climate in Washington, the industry needs to be even more proactive about climate solutions to forge a sustainable path forward for the industry.”
Kelly Davis, director of SnowSports Industries America (SIA) says, “The industry must determine whether to accept the impacts and wither [or] consider options that include opening new areas for snowsports in less-affected regions, improving snowmaking technology, developing gear innovations that make skiers and riders less dependent on snow conditions, [etc.] to thrive in the next 50 years.”
2. Protect Our Winters is dedicated to engaging and mobilizing outdoor enthusiasts in climate issues.
Protect Our Winters (POW) is a nonprofit organization, founded in 2007 by professional snowboarder Jeremy Jones to encourage various groups to be active participants in the fight against climate change. POW works closely with outdoor businesses, ski resorts, professional athletes, and outdoor enthusiasts to be in the front lines of environmental action and green practices. Its volunteer professional athletes talk to students in schools and POW staffers are frequent visitors to state capitols and the power centers in Washington, D.C., advocating for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions via carbon pricing, solar energy, and the electrification of public and private transportation.
3. Aspen Skiing Company is one of many ski resorts combating climate change.
Matthew Hamilton is Aspen Ski Company’s sustainability director, overseeing its community philanthropy and supporting the company’s internal environmental programs. He says, “Today there is much more significant discussion of climate change and its impact than there was 12 years ago.” Aspen’s sustainability department was the industry’s first such entity when it was founded in the early 2000s and the company has emerged as a major industry leader in environmental issues, from issuing an annual sustainability report that dutifully records both its successes and rare failures to developing a program to use the methane from a nearby defunct coal mine to generate 24 million kilowatt hours annually—enough to power its entire operation—four ski areas, three hotels and 17 restaurants— for a year.
Whether it’s lobbying in Washington, funding educational opportunities, or having its visitors use paperless apps for receipts and lift tickets, Aspen is solidly in the forefront of tackling today’s environmental challenges. To get inside the head of Aspen Skiing Company’ president and CEO Mike Kaplan, read his bold manifesto that appeared in The Aspen Times last December.
Aspen is just one of several U.S. ski resorts that are environmentally proactive. Even the simplest actions make a difference: for instance, to save water, the Resort at Squaw Creek in Squaw Valley, CA, gives its guests $5 coupons to spend at the resort’s shops and restaurants every day they opt out of having their bathroom towels replaced. To learn more about what U.S. ski areas are doing to meet the challenges of a changing climate and other environmental issues, check out NSAA’s list of resorts’ environment-specific web pages.
4. Ski resorts’ commitments to the environment keep snowballing.
On July 25th, Rob Katz, chairman and CEO of Vail Resorts Inc. announced to its 30,000-plus employees at a company-wide town hall meeting Vail’s commitment to zero net emissions, zero landfill waste, and zero operating impact on forests and habitats by the year 2030. Its “Epic Promise for a Zero Footprint” includes everything from purchasing 100% renewable energy, restoring equal forest habitat for any habitat displaced, working with vendors to up their “green” quotient and educating resort visitors to diverting 100% of waste from landfills and financially supporting environmental stewardship projects. Says Katz, “The environment is our business, and we have a special obligation to protect it.”
Vail Resorts’ subsidiaries operate 9 major ski resorts and urban ski areas in the U.S., plus Whistler Blackcomb in Canada and Perisher in Australia, as well as RockResorts, a collection of luxury hotels in Colorado.
What can you do to make a difference?
Want more specifics about the environmental actions many ski industry organizations, areas and resorts are currently undertaking or planning for the future? Here are some informative and action-oriented links you may want to check out!
- NSAA’s environment-specific web page
- NSAA’s list of ski areas’ environment-specific web pages
- SIA’s environment-specific web page
- Protect Our Winters
- President and CEO of Aspen Skiing Company statement
- The 2017 International Report on Snow and Mountain Tourism
- California Ski Industry 2016 Sustainability Report
Rose Marie Cleese is a correspondent for SeniorsSkiing.com, an e-magazine devoted to wintersports enthusiasts aged 50 and up.