Skiing Green


How Utah is Keeping Winter Cool

Let’s face the facts: skiing, by its nature is tough on the environment. Unless your name is Brody Leven, and you are willing to hop a train, then ride a bike to a backcountry peak, which you’ll then climb under your own power, the rest of us mere mortals are going to have an impact on the nature we so seek. What’s a skier to do? Well, lest we stay at home, with the lights and heat off, the best we can do is make smart decisions that include Mother Nature.

Change is in the Air

In a bold move, Ski Utah announced a partnership with Protect Our Winters (POW) with the mission of raising awareness about climate change and unifying the winter sports community in the state of Utah. “As a leading advocate for one of Utah’s greatest assets, The Greatest Snow on Earth, and its $1.2 billion-dollar winter tourism industry, it’s a natural fit for Ski Utah to partner with POW,” said Ski Utah president and CEO, Nathan Rafferty. “POW has done an excellent job representing the global snowsports community in the fight against climate change. We look forward to supporting POW’s mission and raising further climate change awareness here in Utah.”

Professional athletes have always been advocates of the wild places in which they ply their craft. Going beyond raising awareness via the usual social media channels, a consortium of athletes recently visited Capitol Hill in Washington DC to plead the case to lawmakers.

The aforementioned professional skier, Brody Leven, applauds the Ski Utah and POW partnership, noting that “by partnering with Protect Our Winters, the conglomerate of resorts in Ski Utah is making one of the most important statements it can make: that they are concerned with the single biggest threat facing the ski industry future, let alone humanity. Accelerated climate change caused by humans can completely change Utah’s ski industry in our lifetimes.”

Leven realizes that “as a professional skier, my job is supported, indirectly, by the number of tourists, recreational skiers, and ski sales that happen in any given season. So while I appreciate, yearn for, and seek the solitary experience of skiing outside of ski resorts, I understand the importance resorts serve in the snowsports industry.”

What Resorts Are Doing

Utah is home to 14 resorts, and each and every one of them are committed to mitigating environmental impacts and protecting the slopes for future generations of shredders. From reducing emissions and promoting carpool and public transportation, as well as recycling programs are each a step in the direction of ensuring the Greatest Snow On Earth continues to fall on the Wasatch.

Alta’s Environmental Center’s mantra of “People, Planet, and Profit” encompasses all departments of the ski area. By employing this triple-triple bottom line as a decision-making lens to guide strategies and management practices shows Alta’s commitment to the natural beauty that defines the Alta experience.

Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort has been recognized both nationally and internationally for spearheading several environmental protection projects, including the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) 2007 Golden Eagle Award for Overall Environmental Excellence by a ski resort. The Bird was the first private landowner in Utah to help fund a mining-era clean-up effort to eliminate tailings that was affecting the American Fork watershed. In addition to the Golden Eagle award, Snowbird’s participation in the Pacific Mine reclamation project was recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Environmental Achievement Award and State of Utah’s Earth Day Award. Along with a number of water conservation and quality projects, as well as mine restorations, the resort was lauded for its Peruvian Tunnel reduction to visual impact.

Solitude Mountain Resort and Brighton Resort participate along with the other Little Cottonwood Canyon resorts to offer free UTA passes to all season pass holders. Eliminating cars on the road by putting powderhounds on buses from park-and-ride lots not only cuts down on emissions in the clean mountain air, but also eliminates traffic on canyon roads. UTA also runs a bus to the Park City area, which connects effortlessly with the free Park City bus and transit system.

Sundance Mountain Resort purchases renewable energy credits so that 100% of energy use is offset by those credits—primarily wind energy. Walking around the base village, the resort vibe makes guests feel more in-tune with the natural environment, which is no accident.

Solar panels, LED lights, reclaimed wastewater, and reduced waste are just some of the hallmarks of Vail Resort’s initiatives at Park City, which includes the Canyons Village area. “At Park City, we want to make sure that we are protecting and preserving the places we love to play for future generations,” said senior communications specialist Jessica Miller. A relative newcomer to the Utah ski industry, Vail has also been quick to look off-mountain to invest in the community, through its Epic Promise program. Almost 200 Park City employees worked on various water quality projects along East Canyon Creek near Mormon Flats, the Spring Creek Trailhead, and surrounding areas this fall.

Skiers waiting for a UTA bus

Photo Credit: Justin Cash. Courtesy of Visit Salt Lake

As a Sustainable Slopes participant, Deer Valley Resort is one of more than 190 resorts to endorse the National Ski Area Association’s (NSAA) Sustainable Slopes Environmental Charter for ski areas. Additionally, 100% of their off-road diesel vehicles run on biodiesel, high-efficiency snowmaking air guns, and a comprehensive recycling program can serve as model to other resorts.

“All ski resorts, whether on public or private land, are charged with being stewards of the land. It’s a responsibility that should not be taken lightly and we at Deer Valley certainly do not,” says Bob Wheaton, resort president and general manager. “The truth is, we’ve kept sustainability in mind since the resort’s inception. The resort is committed to the environmentally friendly practices we have in place and we will continue to focus on adopting new, innovative programs.”

Snowbasin diverts almost half of its trash into recycling and has switched from disposable to all reusable wares in their dining facilities. Plus, chefs create menus based on the seasonal ingredients available from a community supported agriculture program the resort participates in and meat is sourced from local farmers with sustainable operations. NO conversation about Snowbasin is complete without mentioning their bathrooms: they’ve converted all toilets to low flush; resulting in a 20% decrease in water usage resort wide. Other efforts include retro-fitting all lighting to low-energy LED lights, installing motion-activated exterior lighting, and replacing old, inefficient snow guns with Rubis Evo snow guns to ensure energy-efficient snowmaking.

Photo Credit: Adam Clark / Ski Utah

What You Can Do

By its nature, backcountry touring is clearly a less impactful choice when compared to resort skiing, but you likely still have to drive to the trailhead and use equipment that was manufactured somewhere. By making informed choices that support organizations who have the planet in mind we can help preserve the feeling of a carved turn and powder face shot for those we are borrowing the earth from.

Of course, with a little bit of planning the driving component can be eliminated or reduced by carpooling, or using UTA buses out of Salt Lake, which stop at most major backcountry trailheads in both canyons. If you are up for ridesharing, you can take Uber to Snowbird, or use the “Canyon Carpool” Facebook Group to find a lift to the hill.

Several local companies have taken the natural world into account when choosing materials. For example, environmentally-minded Cotopaxi uses overrun fabric pieces from other brands to stitch together their packs. The Cottonwood Heights-based manufacturer insulates their outerwear and fleece products with sustainable llama wool.

Pioneering freeskier, Julian Carr, is the brainchild behind Discrete, whose manufacturers use toxic-free dyes and organic cottons. Discrete is also exploring a potential partnership with local non-profit TreeUtah on a permanent campaign that would plant trees based on products sold.

Utah is a “cool” place, literally and figuratively, for winter sports enthusiasts. Only through our collaborative efforts can we hope to keep it that way.


About Author

Nick Como escaped the skyscrapers of NYC for the tall peaks of the Wasatch. Climber, skier, canyoneer, mountain biker, and lover of food. Just don’t think of offering him pizza with pineapple on it.

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