Every year, the Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition (SACC) grades major ski resorts in the western half of the United States on their environmental stewardship. Although skiers and boarders are generally more environmentally inclined than the general populace, the business of operating a resort can be less than green. Think about it: Lifts take energy to run, expanding terrain can encroach upon wildlife habitat, and ski traffic contributes to air pollution. Knowing this, SACC endeavors every year to grade major resorts on their green practices. A resort’s environmental policies and practices are graded along four metrics:
1. Habitat Protection
2. Protecting Watersheds
3. Addressing Global Climate Change
4. Environmental Practices and Policies
Which major ski resort in Colorado is the biggest protector of habitat and watersheds and is most committed to addressing global climate change and environmental practices and policies?
Aspen Skiing Company
The top three environmental stewards in Colorado, in descending order, are Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, and Buttermilk Mountain. Snowmass comes in at a respectable seventh to round out all of Aspen Skiing Company’s mountains.
How does Aspen do it?
According to Matt Hamilton, Aspen’s Sustainability Manager, the ski company’s committment to the environment began in 1994 when Pat O’Donnell came on board as the CEO. O’Donnell had worked with other values-based companies (Patagonia, Yosemite Group) before taking the helm at Aspen. He is often referred to as a visionary for his emphasis on protecting the environment over the bottom line.
A decade and a half later, Aspen is still trailblazing. According to Hamilton, the social mission of Aspen is to create a liveable and workable environment in the Roaring Fork Valley. The list of projects, policies, and initiatives is long, but one highlight is the Environment Foundation, which is comprised of Aspen’s employees. Funds for this foundation are raised through matching dollars of voluntary payroll deductions. In its 13 years of existence, it has donated over $1.5 million dollars to health care initiatives, early childhood education, and of course, green projects.
In more tangible terms, Aspen became the first mountain to install an on-mountain array of solar panels. The 2.3 kilowatt array is part of the Aspen Highlands patrol headquarters at the top of the Loge lift. The solar panel system provides enough energy to run an average home for half a year. In the summer, the system runs the electric meter backwards, creating a credit for the next year.
Aspen Skiing Company also works on the federal level to address a growing national concern: climate change. Aspen is a member of Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP), which works with Congress to pass meaningful energy and climate change policy that is consistent with core green principles.
Is green profitable?
Certainly, installing solar panels and switching to biodiesel fuels cost money. But what Aspen gets in return is market differentiation. Guests at Aspen’s mountains indicate that they like spending their money at a resort that is truly dedicated, with annual sustainability reports, to preserving the mountain they ski or board at. Further proof is that Outside magazine counted Aspen among the top 50 places to work in America in 2010. This employee satisfaction transfers over to the guest experience.
What’s next for Aspen?
At the broadest level, Aspen Skiing Company is working on the local, state, and federal levels to address climate change. Its dedicated and educated Sustainability Department is constantly thinking of ways the company can reduce its carbon footprint. Renewable energy, in other words.
View the SACC report card on Aspen.