Without snow, there’s no skiing. That simple climate-dependent fact has triggered a spike of environmental activism among ski resorts over the last couple of decades. Since the National Ski Areas Association founded Sustainable Slopes in 2000, over 200 resorts have joined the program. Below, some of the top ski areas leading the way, making a change and inspiring travelers to reduce their carbon footprint as well.
Editor's note: Because some resorts have reduced capacity, guests should inquire about pre-purchasing lift tickets either through the ski resort’s website or by calling them directly.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort
Teton Village, Wyoming
In 2019, Jackson Hole made the shift to 100 percent renewable energy, thanks to wind power provided by Idaho’s Horse Butte Wind Farm, reducing the resort’s annual greenhouse gas emissions by 67 percent in the process. They use clean-burning biodiesel for their off-road heavy equipment and annually recycle 1000 gallons of cooking oil from mountain restaurants to fully power three vehicles. A partnership with Vertical Harvest, a multi-story, hydroponic greenhouse in nearby Jackson, provides fresh local food for the resort while saving water, fuel, and agricultural land.
Snowmass Village, Colorado
Aspen Snowmass has been tackling environmental issues since the mid-1990s. The Sundeck Restaurant, constructed in 1999, was one of the world’s first LEED-certified buildings, and the resort also built the ski industry’s first solar array in 2004. They’ve recently switched to energy-efficient snow guns and partnered with Taiga Motors to pioneer the use of electric snowmobiles. The resort’s most ambitious new initiative is a $5.5 million demonstration project that captures methane leaking from a nearby coal mine and converts it into electricity that goes back into the local power grid, providing enough energy to power Aspen Skiing Company’s four mountains for a year.
Olympic Valley, California
Squaw Valley was the first ski resort in the U.S. to prohibit the sale of single-use plastic bottles, and has set its sights on operating on 100% renewable energy. It hosts carbon-neutral ski racing events, runs a free Mountaineer shuttle service, and offers free electric car charging stations. Guests can add an extra dollar to their lift ticket as part of Green Bucks, which funds clean water programs for Lake Tahoe and the Truckee River. Squaw Valley is also the proposed location of the Olympic Valley Microgrid Project, forging a partnership with a local power utility and Tesla to house an innovative, eight-megawatt battery storage system linked to the regional energy grid.
Big Sky Resort
Big Sky, Montana
With a larger goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2030, Big Sky announced a program starting this year to convert all 38 of its lifts to run on clean energy. The resort has also installed solar arrays to power their system of avalanche beacon checkers and uses Snow How GPS technology to guide snow grooming vehicles with maximum fuel efficiency. Further steps include recycling hydraulic fluid and engine oil in a furnace that provides heating, and supporting the Skyline bus that gives free rides between Bozeman and the ski mountain, reducing fossil fuel use.
Vail, Colorado and various locations
Vail Resorts is such a big company that when they think globally and act locally, they’re also acting globally. Overseeing 33 ski resorts in 15 states, plus three in Australia and one in Canada, VR has an Epic Promise program that includes a strategy to reach a zero net operating footprint by 2030, including zero waste to landfill, zero net emissions, and zero net impact on the forest and natural habitat. Last year alone, they diverted 11.6 million pounds of waste from landfills and reforested ten acres of Colorado’s Gunnison National Forest. They’ve also joined a partnership to open an 82-turbine wind farm which will address over 90 percent of the electricity usage at Vail’s North American resorts.