Making Green Snow

Ski resorts around the world are relying increasingly on renewable energy but is it a more practical option and does it save resort owners money? Sam Pullos writes for SnowsBest.

Climate change has some industries more concerned than others and within the ski and snowboard community some athletes and resorts are more impassioned than others about this critical issue.

Professional snowboarder Jeremy Jones is one action sports ambassador particularly worried about the effects of climate change. In 2007, Jones began to notice that the places he had spent his entire life boarding were receiving less and less annual snowfall. Growing concern for the future of his beloved snow spots and secret stashes drove Jones to look for opportunities to combat climate change.

Not being able to find any pre-existing, meaningful engagement within the snow community, Jones took it upon himself to found Protect Our Winters, or POW. Since its foundation, POW has teamed up with the likes of The North Face, Burton, Patagonia, O’Neill, Squaw Valley, Aspen Snowmass and Ski Utah as well as countless action snow sport athletes.

Notice some of your favourite ski resorts in that list of POW partners?

That’s because more and more North American ski resorts are turning to renewable energy as a primary power source. Aspen has been dedicated to sustainability since the late 90’s and today is able to support 100% of its energy usage through sustainable and renewable energy sources. Aspen utilises hydroelectric, wind, biogas and solar to power the town, lifts, snow making machines and heating systems.

Thanks to the Fitzsimmons River, Whistler Blackcomb is able to generate the equivalent of it’s annual energy consumption through hydroelectric generation. The resort’s efforts to reduce its operational footprint by 70% since 2000 and constant development of sustainable initiatives and utilisation of renewable energy has landed Whistler international acclaim.

The resort has even gone so far as to address the issue of climate change within a series of resort produced documentaries.

 

Park City, Salt Lake City and Boulder, along with three New York State ski resorts have also recently joined in on sustainability efforts. Each have made commitments to 100% renewable power reliance in the near future.

So, is it just a benevolent love for the mountains that is driving this change, or something more?

Well, ski resorts are in the relatively unique position of being rather financially reliant on, you guessed it, snow. Poor snow seasons challenge the viability of ski resorts, especially when they occur consecutively.

Some places are recording a month less of snow coverage throughout the season. As much as resort owners love the mountains they call home, it really is in their commercial interest to address even the possibility of a warming climate.

Longterm viability aside, renewable energies save resorts money. New York state ski resorts expect to save over 14 million dollars as a direct result of their green initiatives over the coming years. Sustainability efforts at Stevens Pass have added $450,000 to its annual profitability.

Whistler Blackcomb was able to input almost $800,000 to its bottom line in 2009 alone. This figure continues to grow as Whistler’s sustainable program develops further, serving as an excellent model for resorts around the world.

How green is your chosen resort?

Whether you want to go green and support ski resorts do their bit to minimise human impact on the environment, or you just want to hit the slopes where good business is helping to ensure a good season, check out the resorts making “green snow”.

Trip Advisor’s Green Leaders program provides a great way to search recognised sustainable destinations.

Otherwise, here’s a quick selection of resorts with great snow and fantastic sustainable initiatives:

North America
Whistler Blackcomb – Fitzsimmons micro hydro renewable energy project. Energy efficient light bulbs. Hybrid heating systems for lodge heating.
Aspen – Snowmass micro-hydroelectric power plant. Development of first green LEED buildings in the ski industry.
Ski City – Park City mid-mountain solar and thermal panels. Wind turbine installation. Canyons Village composting program. Canyons village solar array. Construction of LEED buildings
Squaw Valley – Drink Mountain Tap. POW parking program. Red Dog forest Revegitation. Electric Car charging.
Whiteface – Powered by 100% renewables. 2.6 megawatt solar plant. Low energy snow guns. Zero sort recycling.
Vermont – Cow Power. Solar installation. Wind Turbine installation. High efficiency snow guns. Recycling programs.
Stevens Pass – Electric vehicles. Vegetation management program. Preference for environmentally-aware vendors.

Europe
Saas Fee – Switzerland – Alliance in the Alps. Car free Saas Fee.
Villars – Switzerland – Awarded the Flocon Vert for sustainability. Hybrid public transport. Low energy snowmaking. Solar panel installation.
Chamonix – France – Public transport infrastructure. Development of renewable energy sources. Climate awareness campaign.

What can you do about climate change while skiing?

There are easy ways that skiers and boarders can reduce their personal carbon footprints:

  • Take the POW Seven Pledge
  • Turn off unused lights
  • Utilize public transport
  • Be mindful of water usage
  • Eat local produce
  • Recycle
  • Buy ski clothing and hardware from environmentally responsible companies
  • Support sustainable resorts

Even the ski pros are doing what they can. Salomon TV released Guilt Trip this month, a film dedicated to claiming first descents in Greenland while leaving a minimal carbon footprint, with surprising results.

What do you do to reduce your carbon ski or snowboard footprint?


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