"We should care about the environment for the same reasons one gives to charities," said David Crowley, operator of Wachusett Mountain Ski Area in Massachusetts, and a past chairman of the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA). "We should leave the world a better place than we found it, and we do that by charitable donations and trying to reduce our footprint wherever possible.
"If that's not a good enough reason by itself, here's another: Good environmental practice is good business practice, so you're saving energy, helping the environment and saving money."
NSAA has a long-running program called Sustainable Slopes, created to encourage ski resorts to reduce the impact of their operations on the environment by taking steps to conserve energy and reduce resource consumption.
That's nowhere more true than in management of energy consumption through use of renewable energy sources, and by reducing energy use through efficiency, particularly in snowmaking systems, which can account for two-thirds of a resort's electric use.
"Resorts are getting more diligent around measurement and management of their energy use and carbon footprint," said Judy Dorsey, founder of The Brendle Group, an environmental engineering company based in Fort Collins, Colo. The Brendle Group has worked closely with NSAA over the past decade to foster and track environmental stewardship among resorts.
"There's still strong participation in renewable energy credits - RECs - and carbon offsets, but also more awareness about investing in on-site projects," she said.
"Some resorts have started to back away from offsets and RECs because of some questions about the dollars leaving their communities for projects that are challenging to verify," she said.
She said these concerns are prompting some resorts to adopt a more varied approach to renewable energy credits and carbon reduction, and to look more closely at on-site investments and projects.
Dorsey cited Whistler Blackcomb's (B.C.) hydro project, Jiminy Peak's (Mass.) wind turbine, and Mt. Abram's (Maine) solar panel array as examples of on-site alternative energy projects that are attracting attention across the ski industry.
Whistler's Fitzsimmons Creek Renewable Energy Project will have a single 7.9-megawatt turbine that will use hydropower to produce enough power to match the resort's total annual energy consumption.
Jiminy Peak's 1.5-megawatt wind turbine will produce about one-third of the resort's annual power needs.
Mt. Abram's 2-acre solar power array will produce more electricity than the resort uses, with the excess being sold back into the grid.
The earlier popularity of RECs and carbon offsets led to a mini-boom in alternative energy. Buying renewable energy from existing suppliers was faster than building one's own alternative energy source, and in a tough economy it required less capital to buy from others than to build one's own.
The result? Dozens of resorts were, and still are, buying renewable energy to offset 100 percent of their electric use.
"As the number of ski areas purchasing renewable energy credits has continued to climb, so has the number of resorts offsetting 100 percent of their electricity needs. To date, 68 resorts are now purchasing green energy for their operations through RECs and 34 of these are offsetting 100 percent of their electricity use with the RECs. These 34 resorts are collectively purchasing 343,459,000 kilowatt hours of green energy, resulting in the avoidance of 497,270,000 pounds of carbon dioxide," Dorsey said at an NSAA regional meeting.
Dorsey said the use of RECs and carbon offsets continues, but resorts are increasingly looking at local projects and on-site efforts to meet environmental goals.
The NSAA 2010 Report on Sustainable Slopes reports that more than 190 resorts representing more than 75 percent of skier and rider visits in the U.S. have agreed to apply a green lens to 21 areas of operations and activities common to all resorts, to reduce impacts on the environment.
The 21 areas of operation and activities set forth in NSAA's Environmental Charter are planning, design, and construction; water use for snowmaking; water use in facilities; water use for landscaping and summer activities; water quality management; wastewater management; energy use for facilities; energy use for snowmaking; energy use for lifts; energy use for vehicle fleets; waste reduction; product re-use; recycling; potentially hazardous wastes; fish and wildlife management; wetlands and riparian areas; air quality; visual quality; transportation; and education and outreach.
NSAA's Sustainable Slopes states, "It is important to note that the Charter's Principles are voluntary, and in adopting them, resorts have committed to going beyond regulatory compliance in those areas where improvements make environmental sense and are economically feasible. Ski areas already should be meeting all applicable federal, state, and local environmental requirements. The Principles are the means by which the industry can collectively improve environmental performance. There are many incentives for going beyond compliance, including reduced environmental impacts, increased monetary savings, reduced regulatory liability, and increased positive public image. Good environmental practices are good business, and quite simply are expected by resort customers, the Partnering Organizations of the Charter, and other key stakeholders."
Should skiers and riders help? In what way?
Of course skiers and riders should help reduce the environmental impact of their sport on the environment. The way to achieve this is by applying a similar green lens to their own activities, with an eye to moderating impact. It can be simple: Ride to the slopes with a friend. It can be more complex: Coordinate ski trips with a group of friends, and go in one big carpool. Or it can involve the simplistic mantra of the Green Movement: Reduce, reuse, recycle.
Whatever path appeals, it's important to remember that we're in this together, and together we can find a way out.