Maybe it’s the pureness of the powder. Perhaps it’s the magic in the mountains or allure of the trees or bonding between people who get it. Whatever it is, boundary-pushing play in the snow offers a great escape — nature therapy at its gnarliest.
It reveals wonderlands of remote, unparalleled beauty.
It shows us how to embrace a moment and chase our highest capabilities.
It rescues us from sadness or anxiety to bring renewed joy and inspiration.
It teaches us how to face fears all the way through to courage.
On the surface, skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and the like are cold, challenging, (mostly) fun activities. Underneath, these sports refresh our heads with simplicity and can teach life skills.
With all the meditative moments and endorphins the wild of winter stacks for us, we can (and should) give back the stoke to the mountains and close the circle, so to speak.
It’s no secret ski resorts have a destructive past… and present. They represent a beloved, star-crossed world — bonding with nature and loving it to death.
Little flakes mixed with epic actions are accumulating in cold country conservation though, snowballing a whole industry to a more sustainable model. Anyone can join in too, from the biggest business to the smallest shredder.
For many companies, going big on an eco-friendly future has moved beyond greenwashing. They’re changing wasteful habits, cleaning up snowmaking practices, planting trees and making commitments to lower emissions.
Vail Resorts, operating more than 35 ski areas around the world, has committed to a net-zero operating footprint by 2030. Although large ski conglomerates like Vail have received mixed reviews, especially on keeping the laid-back mountain culture people have grown to love, sustainability may be an area to watch as a potentially positive result of the takeover.
Meanwhile, more than 30 resorts voluntarily took the Climate Challenge last year, a program initiated by Sustainable Slopes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across North American resort operations.
These commitments make a statement about letting go of traditional profit-seeking above all else, adding the environment and collective good back into the equation. A rarity. (That’s not to say there aren’t clear economic benefits though).
Sustainable Slopes has updated its charter this year too. “The new pledge puts collaboration over competition when it comes to sustainability,” said Geraldine Link, National Ski Areas Association public policy director.
Even as resorts sit on a ton of adverse environmental impacts, outdoor playgrounds offer prime space for sustainability and climate action movements.
It’s assumed many people who value these snowy destinations already embrace the inherent reasons for preserving nature. If true, mountain towns are just catching up with their customers’ desires to be kinder to the environment.
“Sustainability has become the norm in business across the board. I think that it is pervasive, and resorts are very incentivized to connect,” Link said.
And now, it’s imperative to address for the future of the industry.
To encourage progress, Sustainable Slopes hosts the Golden Eagle Awards — established in 1993, as the “highest honors bestowed on a resort for environmental performance.”
With many impressive upgrades to resort operations across the winners, perhaps the most interesting category is innovation. Last year, nominees included Alta Ski Area in Utah for increasing wetlands as carbon sinks, Bogus Basin in Idaho for waste oil and vehicle maintenance materials recycling, and Snowbird (also) in Utah for the RIDE program and mobile app.
Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico won the innovator award for their investment in a mechanized dehydrator, turning food waste into nutrient-rich soil, which is donated to local farms.
It’s not just about the resorts though. This movement is grabbing hold everywhere the industry reaches.
Clothing brands have switched up materials — like Picture Organic Clothing using non-petroleum-based threads, free of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs). Snowboard companies like Lib Tech, Arbor and Capita are progressing the manufacturing process with environmentally-friendly materials and operations. Base layer businesses are stepping up their wool game.
These types of feel-good actions may not be top of mind when focussed on sniffing out some powder runs. We may see the occasional banner on zero-waste or renewable energy goals in the lodge as we throw a compostable beer cup away, without really realizing the big leaps companies are taking.
Awareness is growing, though.
Their destruction is no joke, but the ski industry has a chance to make better decisions for the future. Visitors can jump in by supporting the good.
Even though it’s not perfect (yet), efforts to clean up our relationship with the frozen outdoors are propelling through the mistakes and finding solutions that stick.
An idealish snow and mountain life
With each resort and brand taking on a different approach, it has propelled a diverse ecosystem for change.
As snow enthusiasts who want to support this shift in the ski industry, we’re visiting and reviewing the top eco-friendly resorts and brands to find out their stance on helping the planet.
By choosing brands and vacations based on commitments to a better future and supporting the most conscious businesses during trips — hotels, restaurants, retail, all of it — each of us can spend our dollars where our own values align.
From the massive ski conglomerates to the mom and pops, we’ll cover who’s sending it in the environmental movement. If the ski industry can shift its reputation to a more sustainable model, anyone can do it. Follow the journey this season!
“The definition of extreme is to go past your known limits by an unknown amount.” – Warren Miller