Colorado resorts become leaders of sustainability in the ski industry

Colorado resorts become leaders of sustainability in the ski industry

Featured Image: Jason Lombard/Wolf Creek Ski Area

After Vail Resorts made a very epic, and public, promise last year, its flagship mountain is the first resort in the United States–and more impressively, the first mountain resort in the world–to earn the “sustainable destination” certification. This also makes Vail Mountain the first destination in the world to be certified to the Mountain IDEAL sustainable destination standard, an internationally credible and scientifically-based standard that elevates sustainability values any destination would aspire to.

Years in the making, this certification was a group effort by the town of Vail, Vail Resorts, Walking Mountain Science Center, the U.S. Forest Service and other public and private groups. Walking Mountain Science Center launched its Actively Green program–a sustainability training and certification program for local businesses–back in the summer of 2013.

Twilight view of Vail Valley during the winter. PHOTO: Jack Affleck

“Recognizing that mountain destinations are acutely threatened by climate change, waning freshwater resources, and seasonal tourism peaks, Vail has made important strides in balancing the needs of its delicate ecosystem with the wants of travelers and the local community,” said Geoff Bolan, CEO of Sustainable Travel International in a recent press release.

The collective effort paid off when the Green Destinations organization audited Vail last year and granted the resort a conditional certification. Follow-up work for the certificate included developing a multi-year strategy for sustainability efforts as well as integrating separate plans into a single, cohesive goal, according to Bobby Chappell, director of standards and monitoring at Sustainable Travel International. The certification lasts for three years and requires annual updates.

With this news hitting the airwaves, we wanted to highlight another Colorado resort that is the nation’s first ski area to be 100 percent solar powered. Located just 85 miles east of Durango, Wolf Creek Ski Area, with the help of the Penitente Solar Project, is now powered entirely by the sun. After 12 years of purchasing wind energy from the San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative to offset 100 percent of its winter and summer power usage, owner and CEO of Wolf Creek, Davey Pitcher, saw an opportunity brought forth by the state’s infamous 300 days of annual sunshine.

Construction on the 25-acre solar farm 50 miles from the resort was completed in November 2017 and operated the entire 2017-18 ski season without a hitch. In tandem with its solar efforts, Wolf Creek also boasts environmentally-friendly practices such as powering their snowcats on biodegradable grape seed oil and having three water-free restrooms, which produce zero discharge.

Vail locals participating in Town of Vail Clean Up Day. PHOTO: Jack Affleck

It’s the love and respect these resorts have for the mountains that fuels their sustainability efforts. Lucky for them, it also resonates with travelers. Research from Sustainable Travel International and Mandala Research shows that 60 percent–roughly 105 million–U.S.-based travelers—classify themselves as interested in sustainability with more than half of that group saying sustainability efforts play a role in their choosing of a travel destination.

“Over the years, the Town of Vail and community partners have taken steps to embed sustainability into the destination’s operations and throughout the entire visitor experience,” said Kristen Bertuglia, environmental sustainability manager for the Town of Vail in that same press release. “As a result, tourism development in Vail happens in a manner that protects nature, improves residents’ well-being, and preserves cultural heritage.”

The certification for Vail and the recognition for Wolf Creek tells travelers these destinations have gone above and beyond what a resort can do for their guests. At the end of the day, visitors are benefiting just as much as Mother Nature, and to us, that’s the best kind of win-win.

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