Taking a ski vacation is a wonderful way to get in touch with the natural environment, see stunning terrain, and have a great time with companions, but it can also have a big environmental impact if you’re not careful. There are steps anyone can take to ski green, the most impactful of which is to visit an eco-friendly ski resort.
Our list of top 10 green ski resorts in the U.S. is compiled using data from firsthand experience, employee policies, and information from Ski Area Citizens, which grades ski resorts in the following categories: habitat protection, watershed protection, environmental practices, and addressing global climate change.
Squaw Valley, CA
Squaw Valley is consistently near the top of every eco-friendly ski resort list, and it’s no surprise: the resort performs above and beyond in the area of habitat protection, managing to improve its ski terrain without encroaching upon new areas, thereby protecting species and their habitats. On the practical side, Squaw is a village-based resort, which reduces commuters in favor of guests walking to and bussing to lifts.
As one of four mountains owed by Aspen Skiing Company, Aspen Mountain scores highly on all lists for water conservation efforts and water quality. The ASC was one of the first ski corporations to turn to wind power, now off-setting 100 percent of its electricity. Plus, groomers use biodiesel.
Sugar Bowl, CA
Sugar Bowl is a founding member of the Sierra Green Building Association, whose mission is to promote environmental design in the community. The Sugar Bowl team is also pursuing long-term restoration of natural surroundings and habitats. As Sugar Bowl was my favorite ski resort growing up in Lake Tahoe, I’m heartened to see they’re committed to preserving the beauty of the natural landscape.
Sundance Resort, UT
I’ve already given Sundance a shout-out in our 5 best eco-lodges for winter vacations, but they can double-dip here as well. Sundance received full marks for habitat protection by Ski Area Citizens, and is committed to renewable wind energy. Even better for guests: Sundance offers access to a full-time naturalist on site, and in winter, conducts their Sundance Ski Ecology program, which includes a guided nature and ecological tour of the mountain.
Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, MA
Jiminy Peak is a small resort making big changes. Because lower-elevation resorts such as Jiminy risk losing snowpack more quickly because of global warming, they installed a wind turbine to contribute power. Affectionately called “Zephyr”, the turbine powers over 30 percent of Jiminy Peak’s needs. Skiers and snowboarders can even tour Zephyr and learn more on-site.
Mt. Bachelor, OR
I love that my ‘home’ resort of Mt. Bachelor recently hired climatologists to conduct environmental studies on the mountain, in order to establish a long-term plan for reducing the resort’s carbon footprint. The same team is analyzing waste and recycling efforts, and management has already swapped transitional fuel for recycled cooking oil biofuel, green cleaners for housekeeping purposes, and recycled paper for warm-beverage cups.
Northstar California, CA
Northstar sets itself apart in eco-friendliness by snagging the WRAP Award (the State of California’s Waste Reduction Awards Program) for the past thirteen years. Additionally, Northstar donates wood pallets to a local firewood distributor for reuse as firewood, conducts recycling programs, and has–so far–diverted 255 tons of material from landfills. LEED certification was recently awarded for the new Zephyr Lodge, and the Village at Northstar was the first LEED certified village.
Alpine Meadows, CA
Alpine Meadows, owned in conjunction with eco-friendly Squaw Valley, consistently performs well in habitat protection, and urges its employees to use public transit (and pays for it). A perfect example of large resorts successfully reducing their carbon footprint, I love that Alpine guests won’t sacrifice anything in convenience or comfort while still enjoying a green vacation.
Park City Mountain Resort, UT
Park City joins Alpine Meadows in stellar habitat protection, performed well across the board on habitat protection, from maintaining undisturbed land to water quality conservation. On the small measures side, Park City has recently invested in more efficient lighting and fuel, conducting what it calls an ‘energy audit’ on the whole mountain. Their website credits this audit with reducing their carbon footprint by 15,000 tons.
Smuggler’s Notch Family Resort, VT
Vermont is known for eco-friendly lodges and resorts, so it’s no surprise that Smuggler’s Notch (or Smuggs, as it’s affectionately called) makes this list. The resort’s green initiatives include wildlife and habitat protection, energy efficiency, and recycling, but Smuggs strives to teach as well as do.
Because Smuggs places an emphasis on family fun and children, they structure their day care and ski school curriculum around environmental themes. Even their ski school mascot is known as “Mother Nature”, serving as an eco-friendly teacher on the hill.
If you like this post, be sure to read Best Ski Resorts in the US with Kid-Friendly Activities and Ski Vacation Costs: Where to Splurge and Where to Save.
Photo credit: trysil