How the Ski Industry Is Reducing Its Environmental Impact

When a group of eco-radicals from the Earth Liberation Front torched a $12 million development on Colorado’s Vail Mountain in 1998, the ski industry’s ecological footprint — traditionally one of clear-cut trails, ritzy condo developments and fuel-chugging lifts — was thrust into the public eye. Now, nearly 10 years later, and with climate change on the nation’s brain, the stark realization that snow could become a thing of the past (and that skiers themselves could be on the fast track toward extinction) is finally provoking the ski industry into action.

According to the National Ski Areas Association, 61 resorts in 18 states are purchasing renewable energy to offset their energy consumption, and 28 of those are offsetting 100 percent — keeping 427,596,000 pounds of CO2 out of the atmosphere. California’s Mammoth Mountain is experimenting with geothermal heating and, this season, Jiminy Peak in Hancock, Mass., became the first ski resort to install a 253-foot wind turbine and begin creating its own electricity. Vail Resorts has purchased wind power to offset 100 percent of the electricity use at all five of its resorts — Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Heavenly. Many resorts are also offering SkiGreen tags — essentially wind energy credits — to help skiers offset their travel emissions.

Leading the charge, however, is Aspen Skiing Company, which oversees Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk. In addition to being the first resort to be 100 percent wind-powered, ASC also uses solar and hydroelectric power, and the snowcats at all four mountains are run exclusively on biodiesel.

Auden Schendler, Director of Environmental Affairs for Aspen Skiing Company, says that skiing is a way for people to understand climate change, but that implementing green infrastructure on the slopes is just the beginning.  

“We need to find our biggest lever, because the ski industry, as a business, does pull weight in Congress,” Schendler said. “We’ve realized reducing emissions isn’t enough. We need to sit down and get involved in policy.”

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