At perhaps one of the most unknown ski areas in America, in one of the most unexpected places, I rode up a lift for the first time. The rickety two-seater on Mt. Lemmon’s Ski Valley sits around 9,000 feet up and is an hour drive from the Tucson, Ariz. desert.
The short chair ride took, what seemed like, less than 10 minutes to get to the top. I made my first-ever attempt to fully strap down the snowboard bindings and ride down in fear and excitement, taking in a brand new perspective on how to chase blissful moments. My relationship with snow was officially taken to the next level that day.
That was almost 20 years ago. Although Mt. Lemmon rarely sees deep powder days, it managed to keep the snow-deprived population of Tucsonans happy every winter back in the day. Now, there are winters it doesn’t open for the entire season. Never making fake snow or receiving the permits to run the lift for downhill biking during the summer (yet), Ski Valley stays relatively unused, with a few exceptions on fortunate snowfall years and summer tourism.
I’ve since graduated past that beginner-perfect mountain, but carry a tinge of sadness that it’s not the snow-covered hill it once was. Unfortunately, this isn’t an anomaly for low latitude and low elevation ski spots. It’s a trend around the globe and adding to the magnitude of implications surrounding climate change.
There are now organizations dedicating their missions to protect our winters. As individuals, we can show we care about keeping ski areas around for the up-and-coming little shredders too. Here are some tips for greener snow trips, helping to mitigate future impacts of climate change and also showing nature some love in the now.
Cut carbon emissions from travel
As a family, or more than three people, driving is the lower-carbon footprint thing to do in most cases over flying. Making a road trip out of a ski trip is becoming more popular too with multi-resort season passes, like the Epic and Ikon pass. Resort-hopping on one pass opens opportunities to explore.
If flying is the most reasonable option though, there are still ways to green transport. Choosing ski areas an hour or two away from major airports means shuttling to ski areas and using public transportation to get around town. Some areas with both the airport shuttle and in-town commuting dialed in include: Park City, Utah (flying into Salt Lake City), Heavenly in Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada (flying into Reno), Breckenridge and Vail, Colo. (flying into Denver), and Whistler, B.C. (flying into Vancouver).
Another way to cut carbon emissions from travel — keep it local. It may not seem as glamorous as a trip to say Aspen, Colo., but some of us live near mountains in our own backyard we have never visited. After traveling to multiple ski towns through the years, checking off the top ten list, what I’ve discovered is locals always recommend those off the beaten path. Every mountain is somebody’s favorite because they all offer something different. The other bonus about the less popular, local mountains is they tend to be cheaper (and less uppity).
Eat greener during the trip
Not literally. We can’t survive on salad alone when venturing into mountains. But that’s also a misconception about eating vegetarian or sustainable. It’s not all leafy greens and tofu. Veggie burgers are a great substitute. Now that the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger have taken over menus, a ski trip is a great time to try one finally. Even if meat is a must for every meal, buying organic, grass-fed or local is a good compromise to keep it clean. Other hearty meatless food: nachos, a soup and sandwich combo, vegetarian burritos, Italian pizza and pasta, and endless fried appetizers for the apres, worry-free, you-earned-it attitude. Do a little research, and it’s possible to find the restaurants with big vegetarian selections and a commitment to local, farm-to-table dining.
Choose resorts with environmental commitments
Resorts across the country are shifting operations to become more sustainable. The standard across many ski areas include: composting restaurant wares and reducing waste, switching to renewable energy to run lifts and equipment and encouraging public transportation. Many of these adjustments are win-win-win — reducing operating costs, helping the environment and making visitors feel they are not negatively impacting the natural world they came to enjoy (too much).
We’re touring and reviewing the environmental actions in ski areas this season. You can find out which ones have risen to the top so far here. Also, Sustainable Slopes gives awards each year to resorts making significant shifts.
Make lodging eco-friendly
If possible, it’s worth doing a little research to see what hotels have dedicated their operations to environmental ways. There are hundreds of paths this can take, so each will offer a little something different, but this conscious decision doesn’t go unnoticed. The hospitality business has been adopting green practices partly because it brands the hotel as an ethical company and makes it more likely to be talked about and recommended. In addition, it’s good for their bottom line. Green tends to save green when it comes to energy efficiency, lowering waste and updating cleaning services.
If staying at those hotels isn’t an option, we can still be conscious of our own actions during the stay. We’ve all seen the sign asking towels to be hung up as a sign of reuse or only changing bedding if it’s requested. These small decisions add up. Other things we can do include: bringing zero-waste shampoo, conditioner and lotion (saving all those tiny plastic bottles from the trash); using a reusable water bottle to fill at restaurants, coffee shops and the gym; and turning off the heat when out for a ski day. To take it one step further, contact the hotel manager (via email or a phone message) and thank them for their conscious decisions towards a planet-friendly hotel.
Choose sustainably-made and used gear
As part of the #idealishsnowlife mission this season, we’re highlighting the eco-friendly and ethical ski brands that deserve some recognition. The theory — if we show these companies love, they will grow and the industry will follow demand. We talk a lot about being conscious consumers because where we spend our dollars can make a statement about what needs to be valued. Whether founded by a moral compass or just shifting in that direction, there are some awesome companies using more sustainable materials in manufacturing, reducing carbon footprints in the supply chain and pushing the whole industry towards good. So whether needing a new pair of goggles, pants or underwear, do a little research before buying and the money goes to an ethical place. Since gear tends to be expensive, buying second-hand is also a great way to keep it green and keep it real 🙂