Ski Greener This Winter

Guest post by Alison Drucker

Ski resorts — with their rampant development, energy- and water-intensive snowmaking equipment, and sprawling lodges — may not be the greenest industry, but mountains across the country are actively pursuing ways to be more sustainable.

After all, finding that critical balance between enjoyment and preservation of natural resources is crucial to their continued existence.

To help, the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) is at the ready with grants, assessment tools, and awards (in partnership with Clif Bar). Our region’s top resorts have all endorsed the NSAA’s environmental charter and are taking steps to lower their impact.

These Mid-Atlantic mountains are an easy weekend or day trip; they don’t offer the deep powder or panoramic vistas of the West, but they (almost) make up for it in convenience. Plus, without a carbon-intensive flight across the country, your trip will have a lower environmental footprint and no pesky checked-bag fee for your snowboard.

Pennsylvania’s largest ski area, Seven Springs, partnered with the Natural Resources Defense Council to assess ways to reduce its energy and water consumption. Among the results: a solar-powered pumping device was installed for its snowmaking apparatus, more than 6,000 light bulbs were replaced with energy-efficient fluorescents, and a new spa uses geothermal heating.

They also implemented a comprehensive waste reduction program, which included phasing Styrofoam out of their cafeterias. These and numerous other green initiatives didn’t go unrecognized – the NSAA gave Seven Springs a 2009 water conservation award and recognized them as a finalist for a clean energy award.

Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia teamed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the two endangered species found on the property, developing a 200-acre habitat conservation easement and earning the NSAA’s 2008 award for habitat protection.

Other initiatives at Snowshoe range from purchasing wind energy credits to recycling used motor oil and ski patrol uniforms. Snowshoe’s management also knows that the little things add up: thermostats are set back by a few degrees to reduce mechanical heating and cooling, and recycling is part of day-to-day office operations.

In Maryland, Wisp Resort audited its facilities to find ways to reduce energy consumption. They maintain a program to phase in more energy-efficient lights and appliances, and efficient water heaters have been installed throughout the resort.

Wisp’s management diligently tracks the results of their recycling program, publishing the quantities of glass, paper, metals, oils, and other recyclables leaving the resort. 550 acres of open space are now subject to a perpetual conservation easement, and development plans provide for approximately 1,250 additional acres.

Virginia’s Wintergreen Resort has long been committed to preserving the natural environment, balancing growth with sustainable development and partnering with the Wintergreen Nature Foundation to help protect the Blue Ridge Mountains region. In 2009, the resort donated 1,422 acres of wilderness to the foundation, permanently protecting it from development. Other eco-friendly practices include continual monitoring of stormwater pollutant levels and a comprehensive recycling program.

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