The Top 7 Greenest Ski Destinations in the U.S.
Shaun White catches air in Park City, Utah. Photo courtesy of Matt from Park City Mountain Resort, Utah.
Ski resorts have been proven to have a negative impact on the environment, a fact that is unfortunate news for downhill skiers, snowboarders, and cross-country skiers who regularly pursue the exhilarating rush of fresh, winter air. Fortunately, many resorts are making efforts to become more sustainable. The seven U.S.-based green ski resorts listed below deserve recognition for their tremendous green efforts. Our list is derived with help from the Ski Area Citizens' Coalition (SACC), which grades ski resorts on their eco-friendliness, in addition to whether they participate in the National Ski Area Association's (NSAA) Sustainable Slopes program. So get ready to hit the green slopes.
Skiing on Aspen Mountain, Colorado with the town of Aspen below. Photo courtesy of Aspen Skiing Co.
1. The Aspen Skiing Company, Aspen, Colorado
Reputed as the center of the green ski movement, Aspen naturally tops our list. The Aspen Skiing Company (ASC), which owns four mountains in the Aspen area (Aspen, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass, and Buttermilk) began their eco initiatives back in 1997 and have since become an inspiration to others. ASC was the first of its peers to purchase wind power and was the first to offset 100 percent of its electricity. The only company with a green building policy, ASC has the largest photovoltaic system in the industry, and trail-grooming vehicles running on biodiesel. Through a match program, employees have donated almost $1 million for local environmental causes. ASC has also won numerous awards from organizations ranging from the U.S. Green Building Council to the Natural Resource Defense Council, and is third-party ISO certified as a 'green' company, the first of only two ski resorts in the country to achieve this recognition.
Skiing at the summit of Smugglers' Notch, VT. Photo courtesy of Smugglers' Notch.
2. Smugglers' Notch Family Resort, Smugglers' Notch, Vermont
A leader in the state of Vermont for sustainable building, Smugglers' Notch is also one of only a few mountains in the Northeast recognized as a member of Sustainable Slopes. The resort's green initiatives are extensive, and include wildlife and habitat protection, energy efficiency, recycling, and water conservation, to name a few. But we also noticed--when we visited Smugglers'--the huge focus on education. There are "no idling" signs around the resort, instructions on washing machines include how much water they save, and guests are encouraged to tour the wastewater treatment facility. Plus, since Smugglers' is known as a family resort, there are many nature-related activities for kids as well. "Mother Nature" is the resort's eco-teacher on the slopes and ski schools stop by to give her tribute. Smugglers' also has a carpooling Web site and a free shuttle service serving the resort and neighboring cities. For its efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, the resort received the Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence and Pollution Prevention in April 2008.
Catching air at one of Park City's snowboard parks, Utah. Photo courtesy of Park City Resort.
3. Park City Mountain Resort, Park City, Utah
For the past three years, Park City Mountain Resort has annually conducted an in-depth energy audit on its entire operation, in order to slash its carbon footprint. Thanks to the audit, Park City has trimmed the resort's carbon footprint by over 15,000 tons. According to their Web site, this is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions of 2,492 passenger vehicles or the electricity use of 1,802 homes for one year. It doesn't stop there--in 2004, Park City began using renewable energy to power chairlifts, and this ski season the entire property will be offset by carbon credits. They are currently researching potential sites for wind and solar power. Additionally, Park City has purchased more efficient snowmaking equipment and has reduced the fleet of snowmobiles by 30 percent. They've even decreased the amount of paper waste by printing mountain guides and trail maps on recycled paper and replacing paper products with washable dishes in the lodges.
Making fresh tracks at Mt. Bachelor, Oregon. Photo courtesy of Lindsay from Mt. Bachelor photo gallery.
4. Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort, Bend, Oregon
We love when forward-thinking companies make steps to preserve the environment for the future. Case in point, Mt. Bachelor Resort, which recently hired a team of climatologists to conduct studies at Mt. Bachelor. The studies will help determine a road map for consistently reducing the resort's carbon footprint. The team is also consistently analyzing waste and recycling efforts, petroleum use, and renewable energy. Mt. Bachelor seems to recognize that the small efforts are just as important as the large. To name a few, the resort uses recycled cooking oil for biofuel, non-petroleum based cleaners for housekeeping, wax-free recycled paper for insulated cups, and green cleaning agents for vehicles. Guests and employees are encouraged to recycle on-mountain, and job applications are distributed via email instead of by mail. Mt. Bachelor has been named one of the top 10 environmentally conscious resorts in the United States by SACC and recognized by the EPA as one of the country's leading green power purchasers. We love their tagline to boot--"Still as pure as the day it erupted."
Lodging nestled in the natural environment at Sundance Village and Resort, Utah. Photo courtesy of Sundance Village and Resort.
5. Sundance Resort, Sundance, Utah
Looking for the ultimate in eco-luxury? Robert Redford's Sundance Village and Ski Resort, located in Northern Utah's Provo Canyon, is the place you want to be. Inspired by the surrounding woods and Native American culture, each room is designed with environmental sustainability in mind. Sundance participates in Green by NATÜRA, the first in-room eco-friendly amenities program. Shampoo and conditioner bottles are made from corn-based biodegradable material; and soap and accessory cartons are made from natural recycled paper and printed with soy based inks. But it doesn't stop there: The high-quality dining experience at Sundance is based on an earth to table philosophy with local, organic ingredients transformed into dishes of seasonal mountain cuisine. Guests who stay at Sundance are encouraged to participate in linen re-use and recycling programs. Because glass is apparently a challenge to recycle in Utah, Sundance has its own glass works kiln and each recycled bottled is turned into a decorative piece of art for use around the property. Want to leave with a souvenir? Even the General Store purchases recycled cotton grocery bags, organic cotton t-shirts and housewares made from natural and recycled materials. We like that Sundance is unique in offering guests access to a full-time naturalist, available all four seasons. Winter brings the Sundance Ski Ecology program, a guided history and ecological tour of the mountain, while the Nordic Center's Night Owling program introduces visitors to the various species of owls and their importance within the ecosystem.
Riders on the slopes in front of Jiminy Peak's wind turbine. Photo courtesy of Jiminy Peak.
6. Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, Hancock, Massachusetts
It may be a smaller mountain, but Jiminy Peak is making huge strides to show its commitment to the environment. Climatologists warn that resorts like Jiminy will lose its snowpack more quickly because of global warming due to the lower elevation. This is precisely why it's the first mountain in North America to install a wind turbine to contribute power. The turbine, nicknamed "Zephyr," is expected to power 33 percent of Jiminy's electrical demands, paying for itself in eight years. Guests can tour Zephyr and learn about the details of the wind turbine, in addition to its long term benefits. As Brian Fairbank, CEO of Jiminy Peak stated in a Grist article a few years back, "It's an investment in our future. I hope my grandchildren will look at me proudly that I helped reduce our dependence on fossil fuels." Other initiatives at Jiminy include: recycling used heating oil for motor usage, a phased approach to slope construction, fish and wildlife habitat protection, waterless urinals, and construction of a summit reservoir.
Hiking to backcountry terrain in Alta, Utah. Photo courtesy of Alta.
7. Alta Ski Area, Alta, Utah
Alta's environmental initiatives--especially with their creation of the Alta Environmental Center (Alta EnCe)--are impressive. As all of Alta's land is privately-owned, resort management is determined to address the challenges posed by an ever-changing environment due to global warming. The center's primary focus is on protecting vegetation, water, and air "because these are the cornerstones of Alta's environmental health." Together with the Forest Service and the Town of Alta, Alta is committed to developing the land in a sustainable and healthy fashion. Each time Alta makes a significant change to the grounds, such as installing a new lift or new snowmaking machines, staff makes a conscious effort to replant the area. We also found that Alta's distribution of its employee newsletter--which provides updates and gives at-home tips--is quite creative. It's printed on the backside of the employee's direct deposit slips, therefore using no additional paper. Last year the mid-mountain Watson Shelter lodge was transformed into a sustainable and efficient structure. Local building materials were used during construction, including previously excavated stone from Alta. The resort is also committed to pursuing green building initiatives for the rest of the property, and supports a slew of eco-focused education programs, ranging from university-level groups to event planners that are looking for an inspirational facility to conduct meetings.
More on Green Ski Resorts
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