There’s no denying that global warming, whatever its causes, has adversely affected the snowsports industry for several seasons. And like many other businesses, the mountain resorts which drive the industry are doing what they can to fight back.
“Green” skiing and snowboarding is only one initiative; industry leader Vail Resorts has purchased wind power since the fall of 2006 to offset the annual use of electricity at their five mountain resorts. The company went so far as to offer a free lift ticket to anyone who signed up for wind power in their own home or dorm room, and continues to send their Eco Crew to local schools to give out samples of compact flourescent lightbulbs.
In a new round of sustainable environmental initiatives for the 2007-2008 ski season, Vail has launched green ideas that affect how we play, eat, sleep and create waste at all their properties. Sustainable play is achieved many ways:
– Vail shares their water supply with local rivers to keep the water levels high enough for the fish and the snowguns.
– The four Colorado resorts have replanted dense forests through fund-raising for the National Forest Foundation.
– Beaver Creek’s SKE-cology classes teach kids and adults about the local environment.
– Ski With A Ranger programs provide snowsports lovers a slope-mate to explain the mountain environment.
– The Keystone Science School offers star-gazing and hands-on outdoors learning that, in combination with Vail, reaches more than 20,000 guests each year.
– At California’s Heavenly Resort, where, according to COO Blaise Carrig, “the environment is the No. 1 amenity,” Eco-Rangers answer guests’ questions about Lake Tahoe, its water quality, and the neighboring environment.
What’s sustainable eating? The consumption of food products whose production doesn’t harm the environment. With this in mind, and in consideration of the huge amount of kilocalories most guests expend while on the slopes or the golf courses, the company has introduced “Appetite for Life.” In its beginning stages, this initiative will bring natural, hormone-free meats and poultry and organic dairy products to the restaurants at each resort. Because the five resorts serve an estimated total 2.5 million lunches throughout the ski season, Vail may soon be the most “natural” restaurant operator in North America.
Playing, eating and sleep lead to waste, and that’s another hot topic at the resorts’ lodging facilities. In addition to the eco-options most travelers have come to expect (reuse towels and linens, a bin for recycling newspapers, a roomkey-activated electric system, etc.), the Vail company is planning green resort developments at Vail and Heavenly that will be built according to stringent LEED guidelines.
The resort industry knows that sustainable tourism ultimately costs more money. But, notes Vail COO Bill Jensen, “Our customers think global warming or climate change is a very high priority… People talk with their feet and we think [this will make them] come back.”
We agree. If we tell kids that their favorite ski resort now recycles nearly 70% of on-mountain waste, composts kitchen garbage, uses biodiesel vehicles and offers discounts to trail maintenance volunteers, that’s a very powerful message that may inspire the next generation to be more careful with their planet than we have been.
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