Outdoor recreation, scenic views, clean air, and a natural mountain environment are just some of the great benefits of having ski areas as our playgrounds. What's better than a clear mountain view on a sunny day on the slopes? But running ski lifts, operating snowmaking equipment, powering lights for night skiing, running a grooming fleet, and many other aspects of a ski area's operations require a lot of power and produce a lot of pollution. Protecting the environment is important to a lot of ski areas (as well as to most of their customers), and many have taken steps to reduce their energy consumption, increase recycling, and improve their overall environmental sustainability.
So what are ski areas actually doing to preserve the environment and the climate? The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) has several programs in place to measure, encourage and acknowledge ski areas' efforts to protect the environment and operate in an environmentally sustainable manner. Sustainable Slopes is the primary program that NSAA uses to track the ski resort industry's progress towards greater environmental sustainability. The program monitors individual ski area efforts at reducing fuel consumption, investing in higher efficiency equipment, increasing recycling efforts, promoting clean water, and many other factors.
Here's a quick rundown of some of the highlights of the 13th annual Sustainable Slopes report, released on October 11, 2013.
- Environmental Charter. More than 190 ski areas have endorsed the Environmental Charter over the past 12 years. By endorsing the Charter, these ski areas have appointed an individual on staff to be the environmental contact person and have measured their own policies and operations against the Environmental Principles in the Charter.
- Climate Challenge. The primary method for measuring progress toward environmental goals as set in the Environmental Charter is through the Climate Challenge. According to NSAA, the program, "is designed to give technical support and recognition to ski areas that are developing carbon inventories, setting goals for carbon reduction, and measuring success in reducing their overall carbon footprint." The list of ski areas stepping up to the Climate Challenge highlights those that have shown a commitment to the environment, and include ski areas large and small, in all regions of the country.
- Sustainable Slopes Grant Program. NSAA has coordinated with sponsors to provide ski areas with cash and in-kind grants to improve their environmental sustainability. Two ski areas -- Giants Ridge in Minnesota and Greek Peak in New York -- were awarded in-kind snowmaking efficiency grants, with each ski area receiving 5 high-efficiency snowmaking guns from HKD Turbo (a program sponsor). Additionally, two cash grants were provided to Mt. Ashland (Oregon) and Arapahoe Basin (Colorado) as part of the program. Canyons Resort in Utah was awarded a fifth grant, an in-kind energy audit donated by Brendle Group.
- Climate Declaration. Joining a group of leading US companies (including General Motors, Nike, Starbucks, Levi Strauss, and founding signatory Aspen Snowmass), 115 ski areas signed the Climate Declaration issued by BICEP (Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy). This declaration urges lawmakers to take action to address climate change, and also states that addressing climate change is one of the greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century. It's very cool to see the ski industry step up to join leading national companies in such an important effort!
- Meetings and Conferences. For the first time, the NSAA Winter Conferences will have a dedicated sustainability track in the program. These two conferences (one in the east at Mount Snow, Vermont and one in the west at Steamboat, Colorado) are primary industry meetings for ski area personnel and staff. Topics will include the economics of sustainability, environmental regulatory compliance, efficient snowmaking, and other topics about environmental sustainability.
So what can you do? Here are a couple ways skiers and snowboarders can join the fight against climate change and improve the environment.
Protect Our Winters (POW). This non-profit group is leading the charge for winter enthusiasts who want to make a difference addressing the issue of climate change. The organization has lobbied lawmakers in Washington, DC several times and includes well-knows pro ski and snowboard such Gretchen Blieler, Chris Davenport, and Jeremy Jones, and industry brands like K2, Patagonia, Burton, and many others. You can join POW in their efforts by becoming a member here.
National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). This organization is a leader on many different issues affecting our planet, from preserving wildlife habit to protecting clean water supplies. Fighting global warming is also one of their key issues. They focus heavily on lobbying lawmakers and stimulating direct citizen action. To learn more or to join, click here.
As well, numerous outdoor companies are heavily involved in donating to environmental non-profits, including Patagonia, Clif Bar, Burton, The North Face, and many, many others.
Working together, ski areas and their customers can reduce pollution and carbon output, preserving the fresh air and beautiful mountain views for years to come.
By Dave Belin: A reformed ski bum, Dave now has a full-time office job but still teaches skiing on the weekends at his local ski area. His day job is Director of Consulting Services at RRC Associates, where he advises tourism, travel, and hospitality clients on understanding consumer feedback and market forces. He also makes presentations and occasionally writes articles about mountain tourism and snow sports. Weekends in the winter he is usually at Eldora Mountain Resort, either teaching skiing or making turns with his family. Follow Dave on Twitter at @RRCDave.