Two years ago I was speaking with a friend of mine, the head of an adventure production company that, among other projects, produces ski movies. He had just spent several weeks in Kashmir, skiing bottomless powder and filming for an upcoming web series. After a few entertaining stories detailing the logistics of hauling ski gear and video equipment around Northern India, the conversation turned to the ski industry in that part of the world and its development in the next few decades.
He predicted that, as the global climate shifts, weather patterns become more erratic, and the atmosphere continues to warm, skiing enthusiasts will be packing their bags and heading off to countries like India and Afghanistan to get in their turns. And while I don't see the winter tourist industry completely collapsing in Europe and North America anytime soon, there's certainly a lot to be concerned about. Fortunately, major ski resorts worldwide are taking notice, and starting to make significant changes regarding environmental impact.
This is the irony of skiing: the sport requires natural beauty, consistently cold winters, and reliable snowfall; ski resorts, which make the joy of skiing accessible to the masses, substantially impact environmental factors necessary for sustainability. Trail cutting, energy consumption, and waste production are a few of these impactful activities. Factor in travel to get to destination resorts, as well as energy consumption of hotels and restaurants, and most ski vacationers and resort towns are looking at seriously unsustainable carbon footprints.
This is not, however, an article on why you should stop skiing. It's a short guide on where to go and what to do to support ecologically aware resorts. Skiing is fun. It brings us skiers joy and appreciation of the natural environment. There are ways to enjoy the sport in ecologically sound ways, and supporting resorts that are taking major steps to integrate sustainable practices is the easiest way to do that.
By sustainable practices, we mean changes that are made in how the resort operates that reduce its energy waste and carbon footprint. These include utilizing wind and solar energy, racking up renewable energy credits, operating snowcats and public transit systems that run on biodiesel, implementing environmental educational programs for visitors, recycling and reducing paper waste in cafeterias, and more. Hotels and restaurants in ski towns get on board by meeting strict green building standards, using non-toxic cleaning agents and organic products, and sourcing menu ingredients from local farms. Supporting community and local businesses is also a crucial way to reduce environmental impact on your ski vacation; the resorts on this list boast towns dotted with local breweries for a guilt-free après pint and artisan shops stocked with community goods. Here are our top 5 resorts for state-side eco friendly ski vacations:
Smuggs' is a top destination for New England skiers and riders. Located in northern Vermont, the resort boasts some of the most challenging terrain in the East; it's also a top choice for families, as so many of the activities and are catered towards kids. The multiple water parks that run in the summer may sink its overall eco-friendly rating, but consistent efforts to reduce energy waste in the past two decades landed it on our list.
Going Green: Smugglers' Notch prides itself on being the top resort for family vacation destinations in New England, and as such, holds itself to a high standard of environmental stewardship. Current efforts include efficient energy use, curbside pickup recycling for all resort operated lodging, and habitat protection to ensure transplantation of rare plant species and undisturbed black bear territories. Since 1996, all resort lodging has been built to meet Five Star status under Vermont's energy rating, and management continues to upgrade facilities to maximize energy efficiency. The resort's Living Machine, a treatment facility that utilizes natural biological processes to purify wastewater, was integrated in 1999. Area restaurants make efforts to source seasonal ingredients from local farms, which supports both the environment and community. Throughout the year, Smuggs' wellness center offers courses that integrate health and sustainability, like herbal medicine making basics with local wild plants.
Green Awards: Green Mountain Awards for Environmental Excellence, 5-Star Energy Rating for state of Vermont
When You Go:
Get Around…with the on-demand shuttle service that runs throughout the Resort Village.
Stay…at the North Hill Community condominiums, Smuggs' newest woodland lodging that includes a fitness center and energy-saving heated pool.
Fine Dining…Spend an evening at Hearth & Candle, which boasts a menu sourced from local ingredients; be sure to start with a maple manhatten, infused in-house with Vermont maple syrup.
Cheaper Eats…Enjoy a hearty breakfast at 158 Main, which uses farm fresh eggs and serves Vermont organic coffee.
Après...at the Black Bear Tavern, which offers a variety of local and regional beers, including one exclusive craft brew from Vermont's Long Trail Brewing.
Shop...for local art at Bryan Memorial Gallery, which presents more than 150 artists throughout the season.
Off The Slopes…visit the world-famous Ben & Jerry's factory for a tour of the ecologically conscious Vermont ice cream mecca.
Known for its posh downtown and flare for glamourous guests, Aspen also boasts some of the most challenging terrain in Colorado spanned across four area resorts. Located just far enough away from the I-70 corridor to avoid major crowds, Aspen is a popular choice for those who want to ski hard, play hard, and relax into a charming downtown chock full of fine restaurants and chic shops. The family and kid programs are extensive.
Going Green: For the past two decades, Aspen has been named a consistent leader in the movement of environmental impact of ski resorts. Their number one priority is to reduce their carbon footprint: not only because it soothes their conscience, but it makes sense from a holistic and long-term business perspective as well. Aspen focuses on renewable energy procurement, greenhouse gas reductions, resource efficient transportation and actively and vocally supporting government policies to push sustainability efforts nationwide. Since 2004, Aspen has installed several solar panels that produce enough kilowatts of solar energy to run employee housing and a handful of other buildings. The town itself is bike and pedestrian friendly, and offers a free shuttle system to reduce cars on the road. Chefs pride themselves on producing the finest Colorado cuisine sourced from local ingredients. Several downtown hotels are now integrating energy efficient methods to work towards more sustainable resort culture.
Green Awards: 4 LEED certified buildings, Colorado Environmental Leadership Program Gold Leader, Climate Challenge participant
When You Go:
Get Around…on foot to enjoy everything downtown Aspen has to offer – it only takes 20 minutes to get from end to end; for hopping between the four mountain bases, opt for the RFTA bus system.
Stay…at the ultra hip Limelight Hotel, which takes sustainability awareness into all its practices – from eco-friendly cleaning products to organic coffee and housemade granola.
Fine Dining…Enjoy Five-Star dining at Element 47, where cuisine is top-notch, dress code is Aspen casual, and most produce, meets, and cheeses are sourced from Colorado purveyors.
Cheaper Eats…Grab a spicy peanut tofu wrap from Big Wrap at the base of the gondola for fresh, healthy take-away.
Après...at the cozy Aspen Brewing Company, where your patronage will support a community-minded business interested in developing sustainable brewing processes (you'll also sip fantastic craft beer).
Shop...at family-owned Pitkin County Dry Goods for traditional western wear and gorgeous jewelry.
Off The Slopes…attend a wildlife workshop at Aspen Center for Environmental Studies; they also offer kid-friendly arts and crafts classes and nature hikes.
Guests of Sundance often feel like they're driving up to an ultra exclusive resort. Nestled in the mountains just north of Provo, Utah, Sundance boasts a smaller and more artsy vibe than major Utah resorts like Park City. It was founded on the principles of harmony with the natural environment, and through celebrating the beauty of the natural environment through artistic outlets, fantastic food, and world-class skiing.
Going Green: Robert Redford purchased Sundance in 1969 with the intent of creating a ski resort that fosters creativity and harmony with the environment (amidst a fantastic mountain culture). Of cultivating and practicing environmental awareness, Redford says, "our commitment to Sundance has always been to develop very little and preserve a great deal." From in-room skin care amenities made from organic plant extracts to a glass works kiln that recycles all on-site glass to works of art, the resort's attention to detail proves thorough and inspiring. Sundance purchases enough Renewable Energy Credits annual to offset 100% of the resort's energy use, substantially reducing its ecological footprint. When you stay and ski at Sundance, you may very well experience one of the "greenest" vacations in Utah.
Green Awards: Renewable Choice partner, ongoing commitment to Green Building Policy
When You Go:
Get Around…on foot in the small base area; concierge services for resort lodging are happy to arrange transportation directly from Salt Lake City Airport to Sundance.
Stay…at the Mandan lodging area, which boasts cozy, rustic rooms, suites, and private cottages; the buildings are constructed using green building principles and feature handmade local amenities.
Fine Dining…Less is more at the award-winning Tree Room, where you'll dine in rustic elegance amongst Robert Redford's private art collection and enjoy a locally inspired, always fresh menu.
Cheaper Eats…Grab a made-to-order organic smoothie and browse homemade goods at the Sundance Deli.
Après...at the Owl Bar for creative cocktails and local wines; regional musicians play on Friday and Saturday evenings during peak season.
Shop...at the Sundance Art Gallery, located inside the Art Studio, for beautifully crafted glassworks, paintings, pottery and photography.
Off The Slopes…cast a line into the Provo River with a professional fly fishing guide; you'll enjoy a quiet day on the river while learning about local ecosystems.
Even before being purchased by Vail Resorts in late 2014, Park City took initiative to reduce waste and promote efficient energy use both downtown and at the massive resort. Park City draws international visitors for its sheer size (a whopping 7,300 ac), accessibility (40 minute drive from Salt Lake City), and extensive activity offerings in a bustling ski town. For those looking for the quintessential winter resort vacation, Park City is a prime option. And yes, you can still have a stellar après in Utah.
Going Green: As a part of Epic Resorts, Park City operates under Vail Resorts sustainability policies that encourage environmental awareness, sustainability practices, and community development. 2005 marked the year that Park City implemented major changes to their infrastructure to reduce energy waste and their carbon footprint. Through the use of more efficient snowmaking machines, implementation of a resort-wide recycling program, and building water filling stations across the area, the resort has reduced its carbon footprint by over 70,000 tons in ten years. Vail Resorts, through their EpicPromise Grants Program, gives $7 million annually to non-profit partners and local communities. When you stay and ski at Park City, you'll experience opportunities to integrate with a community that values building a bright and healthy future for the natural environment.
Green Awards: Utah Green Business Award
When You Go:
Get Around…using the free, skier-friendly, bio-diesel transit system; buses run between Park City and Canyons Village, with stops at recreational areas and the Historic District.
Stay…at Treasure Mountain Inn; this beautiful Park City institution prides itself on incorporating strict sustainability practices into energy use, cleaning products, food service and philanthropy.
Fine Dining… Indulge in fresh, nourishing fare at Talisker on Main, who prioritizes educating staff on menu items with field trips to local farms; they source many of their heirloom veggies from their rooftop garden.
Cheaper Eats…Indulge in one of 70 artisan teas or an organic coffee at Atticus, Park City's family owned and operated café and used book store.
Après...at High West Distillery, a ski-in/ski-out Park City institution that's crafted local whiskey since 2007.
Shop...for one-of-a-kind, hand crafted home décor pieces at Robert Kelly Home, which boasts an impressive selection of goods crafted from repurposed wood, leather, and metal.
Off The Slopes…see natural sights the eco-friendly way with an evening horse-drawn sleigh ride through Willow Draw.
Jackson Hole is a mecca for winter adventure enthusiasts, as it boasts the most challenging lift-accessed terrain in North America. But the old west charm of this resort town attracts more than hardcore ski bums: artists, foodies, hipsters, and skiers with an affinity for quaint downtowns find themselves falling in love with the community year after year. Similar to its mountain town counterparts, Jackson prioritizes preserving the natural environment, which, for them, includes a shared border with Grant Teton National Park.
Going Green: Jackson Hole Mountain Resort is a founding member of the Climate Challenge, a sustainability program specifically aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the ski industry. The resort's proximity to two major national parks -- as well as the unique beauty of the natural surroundings -- seems to impact its ecological consciousness. Environemntal responsibility is a clear priority for Jackson Hole, which is made clear by on-mountain educational programs about protecting wildlife, sourcing of on-mountain food from local and regional farms, and meeting high standards of third party environmental groups. The resort is only the second to achieve ISO 14001 registration of its environmental programs.
Green Awards: Climate Challenge founding member, ISO 14001 registration, 1% for the planet participating restaurants
When You Go:
Get Around…with the START bus system, which offers free rides around town and $3 rides to/from Teton Village; in the summers, rent bikes and avoid traffic on the paved bike paths that weave around town.
Stay…at Hotel Terra, whose eco-friendly philosophy is complemented by high-end spa services and rooftop hot tub.
Fine Dining… Book a table at casual fine dining favorite Trio, which boasts American bistro style cuisine like locally sourced beef tartare and heirloom tomato bacon salad.
Cheaper Eats…Don't miss Lotus, Jackson Hole's top spot for fresh-pressed juices, natural baked goods, and an extensive menu of vegan, gluten-free, organic and locally sourced eats; carnivores are also welcome.
Après...at The Spur inside Teton Mountain Lodge with local craft beer, spicy margaritas, and bacon bloody marys.
Shop...Navajo rugs and Pueblo pottery at family owned Two Grey Hills.
Off The Slopes…attend a free informational tour and meet the birds at Teton Raptor Center, a nonprofit that works to rehabilitate injured birds of prey.