With the ski/snowboarding season in full swing and a fresh load of snow recently dumped on the northeast, many skiers and riders are already making the most of the great conditions. Unfortunately, however healthy the sport is for its enthusiasts, it creates an substantial environmental footprint.
The simple truth is that ski areas can suck up a huge amount of energy. Offending aspects include the energy used in the initial construction, heating, powering, and watering lodges, making snow, running ski lifts, and transportation to and from the resorts. Also worth considering is the disruption of local ecosystems caused by drawing water from mountainside sources for making snow, and clearing space on the mountain for trails.
However, the existence of the sport and the enjoyment we get from it depends on the great outdoors remaining healthy. As the National Ski Areas Association's Environmental Charter says, "a strong environmental ethic underlies our operations, makes us stewards of the natural surroundings, and is the basis for our commitment to constant improvement in environmental conditions." To that end, a few ski areas are leading the charge-- or a brisk walk, at least-- in the right direction.
Stowe Mountain Resort in Vermont has won the National Audobon Society's certification-- the first in the nation for a ski area-- as an Audobon International Sustainable Destination. The certification, according to the National Ski Areas Association's annual "Sustainable Slopes" progress report, is based on Stowe's commitment to "sustainable indicators" such as: energy conservation, sourcing the food it serves locally, and pollution reduction.
Neighboring Bolton Valley is now the state's first ski area to erect a wind turbine. The 121-foot tall turbine will meet about an eighth of Bolton's energy needs with its production of 300,000 kilowatt-hours per year.
Durango Mountain in Colorado increased the acreage of its trails by 10 percent last year, but in doing so it only used chainsaws and hand tools for clearing trees. The resulting debris was left on the forest floor to decompose, and there was no need for the use of heavy machinery.
Bear Valley Mountain in California is making a complete transition to renewable energy. As of the end of last year's ski season, 66 percent of its power comes from renewable sources. It has also made the energy use for its day lodge carbon neutral.
These are just a few, though. There are many more resorts out there making a commitment to the environment that allows them to operate. For further reading on the sustainability of ski areas and their plans for the future, take a look at the environmental charter of the National Ski Areas Association, along with their annual progress reports.