In the midst of new studies and warnings on the potential dangers of global warming, the consequences of climate change is already a reality being closely felt in the winter sports industry. Rising temperatures threaten the very livelihood of ski resorts around the world, causing an increase in snowmaking operations and, in some cases, causing some resorts to close down for a portion of the winter because there is no snow. Fortunately, for many leaders in the ski industry, preserving the environment and the natural surroundings of ski resorts is not only a top priority; it is essential to the lifespan of the business. From wind-powered chair lifts to green building policies, more and more resorts are beginning to implement eco-friendly initiatives. Here are 10 of the greenest ski resorts in the world and a look at their efforts to curb global warming:
Industry pioneer: When it comes to going green on the slopes, Aspen has been the industry's pioneer. Aspen Skiing Company, which runs the high-class resort, was the first in the ski and snowboard industry to announce a policy to protect the climate. Their eco-conscious efforts are not just aimed at the slopes but at the resort's tourism industry as well. Some of its most significant environmental initiatives include using biodiesel fuel in its snow-grooming machines, and making snow that is seeded with a speck of dust to lessen the amount of water and energy consumed during the process. The resort was also a first in the U.S. ski industry to offset 100 percent of its electricity use with renewable energy from wind farms. Now, 45 other ski resorts have followed their lead. In other areas, the resort's coke machines operate by motion sensors to reduce the constant compression cycles and two of the resorts newest buildings are heated and cooled by water from a nearby pond. Additionally, Aspen encourages activism through its own green Web site and employees have contributed $1 million to date for local environmental causes.
ISO-certified lift company: The survival of the Alps and its inhabitants is largely dependant on developing sustainable practices for winter tourism, and the eco-friendly practices of Austria's Kaprun resort are no exception. The resort is home to the first ISO-Certified lift company in Austria, which operates the Kitzsteinhorn lift at Kaprun and was recognized for its high standards of quality and safety. The lift is connected via a long pipe to the local sewage system, which helps prevent pollution on the mountain. The company also uses renewable energy to operate all its cableway systems. The resort also cuts down on automobile pollution by offering a free bus service from the resort area to the ski lifts. Additionally, Austria is part of the "Alpine Convention," an agreement signed by eight countries — Germany, France, Monaco, Italy, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Slovenia — in 1991 that states the mutual interest of these parties in helping prevent damage to the Alpine environment.
Greening the Games: As Whistler is gearing up to be the host mountain for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, the resort is also focusing its energy on green initiatives for the rest of the world to take notice. Whistler is making sustainability the theme of the upcoming winter games by incorporating environmentally friendly construction and operation of all events. The Games will also showcase Whistler's use of alternative energy sources, which has been a long-standing priority at the resort. In the past two years, Whistler's conservation initiatives have reduced electrical consumption by more than 18 percent. The resort is also working with wind generation companies and hopes to have a wind monitoring station on the mountain within the next year. Other exemplary efforts by the resort include dedicating $320,000 to conservation initiatives this season, and reducing waste by more than 540 tons per year.
Greenway resort: Since the Méribel resort opened in 1938, the mountain has maintained architectural standards that cater to the environment. Recently, the resort mandated roof and wall insulation be added to each building to save energy. Méribel has also paid a hefty price to subsidize other green initiatives, including a free shuttle bus system and its recycling operation, which is mandatory at the resort. In an effort to minimize traffic in the area, Méribel built a 20-mile long pedestrian trail, a first for the French mountain resorts, which allows visitors to walk over both valleys of Méribel and neighboring Courchevel. An extensive network of inter-linked gondolas and cable cars aids travel between the two resorts. After the ski season ends, the resort organizes clean-up days in conjunction with the local mountain protection associations.
Offsetting greenhouse gas emissions: As one of the biggest holiday resorts in the Alps, Davos takes its responsibility to the environment seriously. In fact, the entire municipality of Davos believes it has an obligation to reduce its contribution to global warming. The city is a founding member of the "Davos Climate Alliance," an initiative of the World Economic Forum to alleviate carbon-related risks. The resort community also partially funded a study to identify where the majority of CO2 emissions come from, and found that 75 percent comes from its heating systems and 17 percent from road traffic. With that, Davos set a goal for itself to reduce its annual carbon emissions by 15 percent by the year 2014. In order to meet its goal, Davos is focused on implementing renewable energy sources and providing information to the local population on ways they can also contribute.
Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Wind-powered resort: If you're looking for another reason besides beautiful surroundings to go skiing in Jackson Hole, consider going there to support the resort's 100 percent wind-powered initiative. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has purchased enough renewable energy to reduce its carbon emissions to the equivalent of taking 3,822 cars off the road, or planting 5,282 acres of fully-grown trees. Already, Jackson Hole uses wind energy to power several of its chairlifts. Last year, the resort received the highest environmental distinction when it became ISO certified as a "green company." Only three ski resorts in North America can claim this distinction for responsible management of environmental impacts -- it shares the honor for the U.S. with Aspen. Some of the resort's other efforts include cutting private vehicle usage and switching to eco-friendlier fuel in all its snow machines. In the past two years, Jackson Hole has already seen a 19 percent decrease in cars around the resort and a 30 percent increase in bus ridership. The resort offers free parking to skiers who arrive with at least three people in their vehicles.
Park City, Utah
Public transit provider: Park City is not just home to the famous Sundance Film Festival; it is also a resort where several green initiatives are underway including transportation, land use, recycling and energy use. Park City recently won two major awards for its efforts in pursuing alternative forms of energy. Currently, 20 percent of the energy used by the resort is wind-powered. The resort continues to be a leader in Utah for its recycling efforts, and supports the local community's initiative called "Recycle Utah." Park City also sponsors seminars and workshops to encourage renewable resources and green building. Additionally, Park City operates a free public transit system that is the second largest in the state and has helped reduce traffic significantly in resort areas. In the coming years, Park City's efforts will go towards implementing a green building policy as well.
Low-emissions snowmaker: Killington Resort has one of the largest snowmaking systems in the world, which means tons of energy consumption in keeping the mountain up and running. Good thing Killington has been aware of its economic impact for a while and is already taking several steps in the right direction. The resort is in the finishing stages of a seven-year project to replace its diesel-powered snowmaking compressors with newer low-emissions machines; Killington projects that the switchover with reduce its total emissions by 50 percent by next year. The resort also supplements the water used for snowmaking with cold water from the Woodward Reservoir, which also helps reduce the amount of energy needed to cool the water in the machines. Killington also saves 30,000 gallons of fresh water a day from its recycled waste water system that operates in the restroom facilities of its six base lodges.
Squaw Valley, Calif.
Ecology awareness-raiser: Squaw Valley resort at Lake Tahoe has taken an educational approach to its green initiatives by creating programs that raise awareness about ecology for visitors and the community. The resort won the Silver Eagle Award from the National Ski Areas Association in 2005 for outstanding environmental outreach. Some of its programs include sponsored highway cleanups, hosting eco-tours of the resorts facilities, and planned activities for Earth Day and Sustainable Slopes Day. In 2000, the Squaw Valley Ski Corporation adopted the National Ski Areas Association's Environmental Charter for sustainable slopes. The charter set environmental principles for planning and construction, operations, and education, and it outlines methods for achieving those goals. Squaw Valley's green Web site includes updates on the resort's environmental progress.
Sugar Bowl, Calif.
Planning a greener future: Since the summer of 2001, Sugar Bowl began taking action by forming an Environmental Committee of management and employees who are dedicated to improving the practices of the resort and who help set goals for a greener future. In the past six years, the committee has made significant headway, most notably in its partnership with 3 Phases Energy, a company that purchases renewable energy from California wind farms. With the purchase of wind-powered energy, Sugar Bowl has made a commitment to offset 100 percent of its energy use. The resort also implemented a container reduction and recovery program to properly dispose of hazardous waste materials such as solvent, antifreeze and petroleum. In 2003, Sugar Bowl constructed on-site garbage and recycling facility to help minimize waste handling and transportation.