Image: Cross-country skiing at Devil's Thumb Ranch
Devil's Thumb Ranch
Devil's Thumb Ranch in Tabernash, Colo., is a recipient of the 2006 Mountain Living Magazine award for Responsible Development in Tourism and a 2004 EPA award for environmentally sensitive development practices and sustainable growth programs.
updated 12/7/2007 1:50:56 PM ET 2007-12-07T18:50:56

Part of the beauty of cross-country (xc) skiing is the close connection with nature that this sport encourages. Naturally, xc ski resorts are at the forefront of environmental education and ecologically aware operations. These xc resorts—many of them small family-run businesses, take “going green” very seriously in order to preserve our winter experience.

Protecting scenic values and wildlife habitats, practicing water and energy conservation and reducing waste and reusing products has become a way of life for most of these family-run xc-skiing areas. These small resort owners design and build facilities in an environmentally sensitive manner, manage forest and vegetation and handle potentially hazardous waste properly.

The eco-active efforts of these resorts are not typically huge investments, but xc ski area operators have much to be proud of with many small but meaningful accomplishments. If everyone did their small part in protecting our environment, the problems faced by the world would be reduced. The editors of compiled this list of top eco-active operations.

Environmental awards
Devil's Thumb Ranch in Tabernash, Colo., is a recipient of the 2006 Mountain Living Magazine award for Responsible Development in Tourism and a 2004 EPA award for environmentally sensitive development practices and sustainable growth programs. A geothermal heating system warms the majority of its new buildings. The system of glycol-filled pipes is installed in the Ranch's on-site lake. Heat transferred to the glycol from the water is heated to 105 degrees by compressors in each building. The system cuts electricity use dramatically.

The White Grass Ski Touring Centerin Canaan, W.V., — the recipient of the West Virginia Environmental Council's 2003 Green Entrepreneurs Award — heats it facilities solely with wood and uses only about $2.50 worth of electricity a day. White Grass conducts regular environmental education outings at the W.V. Highlands Conservancy and the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

Raising awareness
The Keep the Winter White Nordic Tour Series schedules a number of recreational ski or snowshoe tours in Colorado to raise awareness about climate change. "Tour the Summit,” set for Jan. 13, on the recreational path from Gold Run Nordic Center in Breckenridge to the Frisco Nordic Center, takes skiers into the heart of nature. An easy point-to-point tour drops 600 feet in altitude within 10 kilometers (that's downhill!). Tours such as these provide a great opportunity for family and friends to ski together. Along the way, food and drink stations feature local Summit County restaurant specialties and coffee house brews. Skiers and snowshoers of all ages and abilities are invited to participate.

Tour participants take home action kits to help them reduce their carbon emissions including reusable grocery bags, CFL light bulbs, and tips about conserving energy. At the end of the tour, participants will take the Keep Winter White pledge and calculate their carbon emissions from different actions.

Participants that carpool to Tour the Summit receive store discount coupons. Others that take the pledge to reduce their CO2 emissions can also earn coupons. Other Keep Winter White tours include the Mineral Belt Historical Tour in Leadville on Jan. 27 and Bappa's Tour in Aspen on Feb. 9, plus, two others.

Ted Young of Boundary Country Trekking on the Gunflint Trail in Minn., offsets the carbon produced on the Banadad Trail (such as snowmobile grooming), by investing in reforestation in the area. He determined the cubic tons of carbon emissions associated with trail maintenance volunteers' transportation to the site and grooming machinery and other mechanical equipment used on the trail. They sequester a number of acres to match the amount of carbon taken by red and white pines to derive an equivalent dollar value to planting an estimated 75,000 trees with the "Gunflint Green Up" program. Boundary Country Trekking completes a sustainability statement and a comprehensive implementation plan that sets the standard in the xc ski world.

Environmental interpretive group programs and many trail signs to tell their environmental story can be found at xc ski areas across the country. For example, Kirkwood Cross Country in Kirkwood, Calif. lists recent wildlife sightings on its trailhead blackboard.

John and Sue Chase of A Fierce Chase in Maine, incorporate their concern for the environment into the development of their business plan and they seek to understand their impact on the Earth's natural systems. These two teachers educate skiers about different ecological issues at the area. Chase works with a local forester to design trails to minimize the disturbance of the wildlife habitat. Twenty self-guided wildlife stations at the area feature informational highlights. Special moonlight group tours lead by a local biologist search out nocturnal wildlife tour. And the ski area is a center for field research conducted by the Maine Wolf Coalition.

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Other eco-active examples
Soldier Hollow, the Utah site of the Nordic skiing events at the 2002 Winter Olympics, has an 11,000 square foot lodge built with recycled timbers used for building beams, columns, siding, the interior roof, baseboards, and casings. Approximately 90 percent of the wood used in the lodge was salvaged and reclaimed from a 1902 railroad trestle, abandoned in the 1950s that once crossed the Great Salt Lake.

Devil's Thumb Ranch recycled a Civil War-era barn from Indiana to frame its Broad Axe Barn with hand-hewn white oak and beech beams. In addition, the Ranch's roads and parking lots are constructed with recycled asphalt from a highway construction projects. The resort installed EPA-approved specially designed chimneys that minimize emissions from wood burning fireplaces and they use environmentally sensitive cleaning supplies.

Sleepy Hollow Inn in Huntington, Vt., runs its tractor on bio-diesel fuel comprised in large part of vegetable oil to reduce carbon monoxide emissions, provide better engine lubricity and most of all, to save money. Sleepy Hollow also offers free skiing (one time) to anyone, who drives to the area's trails in a hybrid, electric or bio-diesel powered vehicle.

Maplelagin Callaway, Minn., winds through an active tree farm on the White Earth Indian Reservation. The resort planted thousands of trees and created more than 20 ponds to benefit wildlife there.

Hardwood Hills in Oro Station, Ontario, designed and installed a septic system to recover most of the water that enters the system. The collected water is then filtered, diluted, and recycled for use in the snowmaking system.

Cross-country skiing brings people outdoors to appreciate nature. Kicking and gliding slowly through winter woods allows skiers to develop an extraordinary intimacy with nature's beauty and spiritual wonder. Many xc ski area operators, committed to creating and implementing innovative and effective environmental programs, enhance eco-awareness and foster responsible stewardship of natural resources. It is a natural relationship!


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