Ski Green This Season: Top 10 Green Ski Areas. ~ Pippa Sorley

Via elephant journal
on Jan 4, 2010
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When winter finally rolls around, I’m like a kid on Christmas eve. I can’t wait for the white powdery “freshies” to fall. I wake up eagerly to check the daily snow report to learn where the best powder stashes might be. Sometimes I wonder: am I a hypocrite for supporting an industry that requires so much energy and land-use to operate? I admit it: I love skiing chairlift-operated ski hills. I thrive on rippin’ it down the Vails and Aspens of the world. But, is it possible to be an environmentalist and simultaneously a downhill ski addict?

Sure, I also love the more adventurous back country hut trips, but there is nothing like carving through freshly groomed “corduroy” ski runs first thing in the morning. It could be the security blanket that patrolled ski hills offer to me, or maybe it’s the fact that I’m a weekend warrior who doesn’t have time to hike 3 hours every time I want to make steep turns. But, if this makes me a hypocrite, then the least I can do is to try to be a mindful hypocrite.

So, how can I be more mindful? I can take the time to give gratitude to the majestic land and sublime beauty around me; I can take the time to honor the massive swaths of trees that were cleared just so little ‘ole me – and 12 million other Colorado snow riders – can have the privilege to barrel down powdery slopes with pure ecstasy. But perhaps most importantly, I can vote with my dollar : by supporting ski resorts and businesses that are leading the path toward “skistainability”.


When it comes to environmental policy, Aspen Skiing Company (ASC) blows other ski resorts out of the water. Driven by the arson episode in Vail by eco-activists, Aspen and other mindful ski businesses started to question the lack of environmental scrutiny within their $4 billion dollar industry. The “point” finally “tipped” in 1997, when ASC President & CEO Patrick O’Donnell – who previously ran Patagonia – installed its very first “Environmental Affairs” department, directed by Auden Schendler, who has spearheaded programs and initiatives that go way beyond green. In fact, his “Sustainability Report” was the first of its kind within the ski industry, and has garnered attention from consumers and competing ski resorts alike. ASC is one of the first businesses in America to be ISO-14001-certified. To me, this sounds like a type of oil change, but it represents one of the most stringent third-party certification programs that demand strict criteria for environmental responsibility.

“Climate change should drive everything we do,” says Schendler, who previously worked at the Aspen-based think tank, Rocky Mountain Institute. “We make our living off the environment. The least we can do is take care of it.” In light of this commitment, Aspen Ski Co has taken a plethora of steps to reduce their impact, and, in doing so, have managed to impress such environmental watch dogs as Natural Resources Defense Council and United States Green Building Council.

A massive new base village in Snowmass – a $400 million dollar project – is in development, in which all buildings will be 30% more energy-efficient than required by code. And, Aspen Ski Co is one of the first ski resorts to offset 100% of its energy use with wind power. According to their web site, here are some other impressive examples of how Aspen Ski Co is leading the way:

• 70 of their 95 snowmobiles use clean four-stroke or direct-injection engines. These machines significantly reduce emissions of hydrocarbons and particulate matter. Four-stroke engines are cleaner, quieter, and three times more fuel efficient.

The Cirque Lift, dedicated in honor of the late John Denver, is Colorado’s first wind powered lift, using wind-generated electricity purchased from Ponnequin Wind Farm in northern Colorado.

• Aspen Ski Co has the only green building policy in the snowsports industry, resulting in projects like the LEED Silver certified Snowmass Golf Clubhouse.

• Approximately 40% of facilities have been retrofitted for energy efficiency, including snowmaking guns at Snowmass, Buttermilk and Aspen Mountain.

• The company established one of the largest solar photovoltaic systems in the ski industry.

• They use B20, a bio-diesel blend, for 100% of their snowcats.

So, how do other ski hills compare?

Vail Resorts, which runs Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Vail in Colorado and Heavenly in California is currently the largest ski area buyer of green energy credits in North America. Vail Resorts also claims to recycle or re-use more than 70 per cent of the material on the mountain including cardboard, aluminum, glass and even chairlifts and mechanical parts. Water efficient toilets and restrooms conserve almost two million gallons of water annually compared to the company’s previous usage, and installing compact fluorescent bulbs has already saved the company more than $25,000.

Mammoth Mountain ski area in California sits on geothermal volcanic cauldron from which they will tap their energy use required for new development. They also run bio-diesel throughout their operation.

Alta, Utah recently rebuilt their mid-mountain restaurant – the Watson Shelter – green with low-flush toilets, fluorescent lighting, and energy efficient windows.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming runs two chair lifts on wind power.

Whistler Blackcomb has won numerous sustainability awards, including the ski industry’s top prize in 2003 and 2005 for environmental excellence in ski resorts across North America. With the 2010 Olympics just around the corner, Whistler has been working proudly to improve their operations since 1998, including the conversion of 11,000 light bulbs to a more efficient model, improving their new grooming fleets by 18 percent of fuel saved per hour, and saving 4.5 kilowatt hours of power each year through Power Smart partnership with BC Hydro.

For a ranking of sustainability efforts made by ski areas in North America, Ski Area Citizens Coalition has created a sustainability scorecard for ski areas across the country based on criteria such as environmental performance, watershed management, and education.

Pippa Sorley is a writer, entepreneur and sustainable brand consultant based in Boulder, Colorado.


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17 Responses to “Ski Green This Season: Top 10 Green Ski Areas. ~ Pippa Sorley”

  1. davosorley says:

    wow, i had no idea about these initiatives. I am glad to see that Colorado takes a strong stance on sustainability, and to see that Whistler, hosting the Olympics, is also on equal footing. we must all remember to take action in our actions, and inactions, in how we recreate. thinking of this will take some of the sting out of those pricey lift tickets. thanks for the good info and giving credit where it is due.

  2. AlisaY says:

    We love our winter activities, even with the energy usage and environmental toll that comes with them. With this information we can ease our hypocrisy (at least a little) by making informed choices and supporting those that are making efforts to sustain the natural environment that their businesses depend on.

  3. Merrski says:

    I adore skiing, I live for it – Ski porn, warm brownies, dancing/twirling naked to bring in the flakes
    .. You could have my dish washer & my hot tub… please don't take my lift up the mountain …
    No really, Thanks for enlightening us on what choices are better than others… Sad to see my favorite A-Basin doesn't appear on this list …? Might just need to start up this conversation next I am parked on the beach with a cold one and a bison dog in hand…
    Meet me in the Hot tub I make a mean Marg?

  4. Josh Arneson says:

    Bolton Valley in Vermont has installed a wind turbine and will be generating about 1/8th of the resort's power with wind. Check out more details here:

  5. Alexihughes says:

    WOW! great job, i never knew you wrote articles like that?!!!! You're amazing pip!

    XOXOXOX <3 <3 <3

  6. pippa says:

    Thanks Josh for the tip on Bolton Valley in Vermont. I will be sure to include them in my next post on green adventures…

  7. pippa says:

    I love the way you think Blackski, it is refreshing to hear your point and how you're digging deeper by looking at the big picture. As far as I can tell, all "recreation" has an environmental impact, whether it be backpacking (human-powered but often requires cars to get to trailhead) or golf (don't get me started), sailing (wind-powered but requires tons of energy to manufacture and maintain, as well as resources like wood & fiberglass to build, and inefficient motors that spew gasoline into waters when winds are dead), even soccer (soccer pitches are costly to maintain, and most soccer balls are manufactured with slave labor).
    At some point, we just have to pick our battles & live the best we can. And yes, we also have to seriously think about the sports and recreation we choose and when ever possible, go local. This is the very reason my husband & I have chosen to live in Colorado! Thanks for your insights…

  8. aquaman342 says:

    "It is good to hear that we can still enjoy our not – so – environmental pasttimes, and also be environmental about it as well.

  9. Carrie says:

    Ah, how refreshing to know that I am not the lonely snow rider who feels twisted and torn on this issue! I, too am guilty of the pleasures received from an effortless ride up the mountain followed by a hunt for secret stashes down the protected, in bound trees. This article helped subsided some of this guilt in knowing I support ski mountains who are actually aware of the environmental issues before us. I know we pay a pretty penny to support our "habits", but I am comforted to know these funds are actually going to support sustainability while providing us with a jolly old relief from this intense and sometimes heavy world. Cheers to light, powdery goodness! May we protect what we have so we maintain a balance in this world!

  10. Kelsi says:

    Growing up in Aspen, I got the chance to work with Auden Schendler in my environmental studies classes. He is one of the greatest people in the Ski Industry and I hope his progressive thinking and actions continue to spread to other resort areas. Great article!

  11. Wonderful article, Pippa! Let us know how we can support your awesome talent.

  12. Thanks for this article Pippa . And you nailed the resorts that are really woking hard on energy and environment, I wouldn' t quibble with the list. A few notes: our environmetal program predated the Vail fires, which were in 1998. We had a program well in place by the time those fires occurred. We stopped buying wind energy credits a couple of years ago, and Vail bailed on them this year. They just didn't seem to have much meaning and money is better spent elsewhere. Details on that here
    We also stopped using biodiesel after US diesel standards changed and we became aware of issues around using food crops for fuel. (And other problems with biofuels.) The question of whether a luxury ski resort shound even exist at all is addresesed, perhaps clumsily, by me at this post.
    Also, if the field is of interest to readers, check out my book on implementing sustainble business practices.

  13. Brenda says:

    Being a recreational skier from the past and guilty of a large carbon footprint (which none of us knew at the time), I applaud your efforts in bringing attention to this issue. As citizens of the world we must learn how to make our recreational activities sustainable. So much technology has gone into developing these pleasures that it goes without saying the next generation of technologies MUST develop sustainable methods in parallel. It is good to know that some sites are employing "green" ideas. The goal must be that ALL such areas will come on board. Keep up the good work Pippa.

  14. lizb says:

    great article pippa. thanks for all the info! i think we also all need to push for greener organic food at the resorts, less disposable eating equipment, composting and recycling at the warming huts and a ski train that's affordable and runs on some sort of cleaner power. imagine how much fun skiing would be then!

  15. MarcieG says:

    Great, article. I've had these thoughts and concerns for years… thanks for shedding light on productive ways for me to re-think this issue.

  16. Rob Morgans says:

    Hi Pippa, you old friend here from Koh Tao, the houseboat in London etc. Found you articles and really like what you are doing. It's been a long time but without a doubt this has to be you, sounds like you have found your vocation in life.
    I know this response isn't really related but I wanted to say HI all the same and to say keep up the good work. Living in Catania in Sicily for the last 7 years, under the great Mount Etna. Doesn't compare to Whistler or Colorado I'm sure but if anyone fancies skiing around craters and down a volcano, then this is the place. Big love, Rob.

  17. […] also doesn’t hurt to support green ski areas, which go above and beyond to offset the industry’s environmental impact. Or, if you’re a […]