Every year I pack up my ski gear and head out for a few days of fun in the snow with my friends. After a long weekend of skiing, and a couple ice-cold beverages, my friend asked me “what is the impact of ski resorts on local and regional ecosystems?” While work is usually the last thing on my mind when carving up the slopes, I made an exception this once to provide a crash course in sustainability.
I love skiing, but ski resorts can have a substantially negative effect on the environment. Keeping trails open and covered in snow can consume enormous amounts of energy and water. Telluride alone uses approximately 80 million gallons of water a year to keep the slopes white and the skiers happy. Powering the pumps to get the snow up the mountain, keep the lifts running, and the lodges warm also requires a lot of electricity. Jiminy Peak spent about $635,000 on electricity annually in 2009, and that’s a relatively small mountain with only nine lifts in operation (compared to larger resorts like Vail with over three times as many). When you begin to look at the ski hill in a more critical light, you start to see that our exploitation of the natural landscape is at work even when we’re on vacation.
But, this sad news is not without a silver lining. Many resorts are already well ahead of the curve with regards to getting their mountains back into the green. Smugglers’ Notch in Vermont took it a step further and focused on eco-education and wildlife habitat protection efforts. All ski classes stop by the Mother Nature eco-teacher to teach new skiers about their impacts on the environment and what they can do to minimize them. Park City in Utah has reduced their amount of greenhouse gas emissions by over 15,000 tons.
Aspen started their eco initiatives back in 1997 and have become the first ski resort to offset 100% of its electricity with a number of large wind turbines and by patching into solar and wind power plants. Their vehicles and groomers also run on biodiesel and they have the largest solar power generation system in the industry. They have become the example all other mountains try to follow. Even Jiminy Peak has gotten into the mix, installing a massive wind turbine on its mountain which contributes 33% of the electrical demands of the resort.
While the ski industry as a whole has a long way to go, it is exciting to see a lot of the resorts, both big and small, taking serious strides to minimize their impact on the environment. So the next time you hit the slopes, make sure to take a minute and check to see if the resort is doing all it can to preserve the global climate you need to enjoy skiing for years to come. I for one can sleep better knowing my beloved K-1 Gondola at Killington runs on 100% renewable energy.
About the Author
Zachary Lehmann has over six years of experience as a field biologist and GIS specialist in New York City and the surrounding wetlands. He specializes in wetland delineation, wildlife and plant inventory and monitoring, with a focus on bird and mammal species.