Nirvana is the silent burst of innumerable stellar dendrites. It’s what skiers and snowboarders live for. The Greatest Snow on Earth. There’s a reason we write about it on our license plates. Utah’s snow is the result of a fortuitous cavalcade of factors—the perfect blend of density, moisture, and quantity—creating a fragile balance.
The operative word there is fragile. The uncomfortable irony is our desire to experience the ethereal charms of powder threaten its very existence, and our mountain lifestyle’s contribution to climate change is no secret. We spew carbon emissions when we drive to the resort. We deforest mountainsides to create ski runs. We contaminate water supplies with fluorocarbons from our wax and employ all manner of unsavory epoxies and resins when producing new gear.
Most skiers and snowboarders are conscious of the duality, as are resorts and mountain communities that depend on snow to thrive. In Utah, that’s manifested in a coordinated effort from people throughout the ski industry and mountain communities to ensure the Beehive State has a thriving ski environment and culture into the future.
Mountain Communities Rally to Protect Their Future
In October, Park City hosted the Mountain Towns 2030 Conference, a gathering of influential and innovative personalities from ski industry executives to environmental and community leaders to public officials. The three-day net-zero summit brought together a coalition from mountain towns committed to drastically reducing carbon emissions by 2030.
During the conference, Park City Mayor Andy Beerman outlined the town’s ambitious efforts to reach net-zero carbon emissions for all municipal operations by 2020 while achieving the same goal on a community-wide scale by 2030. Electrifying municipal transportation fleets, improving public transportation infrastructure and creating sustainable municipal buildings are just some of the steps being taken in Park City to curtail carbon emissions.
Even more crucial than local efforts outlined by Mayor Beerman were the similar commitments made by officials from mountain communities throughout the region, including Breckenridge, Frisco, Durango, and Steamboat, as well as by industry leaders from Vail Resorts, Alterra Mountain Company, Powdr Corp and more. Mountain Towns 2030 transformed Park City into the hub of radical environmental action to confront the existential crisis facing everyone who loves and depends on snow.
Salt Lake City is committed to achieving similar goals through the Climate Positive 2040 plan. A primary aim of the enthusiastic effort is ensuring 100% of community electricity needs are met via renewable energy sources by 2030. That goal is combined with an overarching clean transportation plan that will accelerate electric vehicle adoption, reduce air travel emissions and increase public transit use. The comprehensive plan, which also prioritizes creating a zero-waste community with a sustainable food system and highly efficient building infrastructure, is designed to ensure Ski City will continue to deliver The Greatest Snow on Earth for future generations.
Utah Resorts Aren’t Sitting Idly By
Utah resorts know copious powder is their greatest asset, and they’re well aware without climate action that resource is under threat. That’s why resorts throughout the state are stepping up to deliver more sustainable operations. Each has a comprehensive sustainability plan, which you can delve further into here, and some of the highlights are below.
- Snowbasin Resort has an energy reduction plan, which has eliminated 2.8 million kWh from its operation. They’ve also opened a priority parking lot for carpools with three or more people to reduce the number of people driving to the resort.
- Snowbird has introduced electric vehicle charging stations to complement it's waste reduction and watershed improvement programs.
- Sundance Mountain Resort has eliminated the use of plastic straws and offers a green lodging program for guests to save water and energy and reduce waste.
- Woodward Park City is committed to a 50% reduction in their carbon footprint over 10 years.
- Alta planted more than 1,500 trees last year.
- Vail Resorts (Park City Mountain) has committed to zero net emissions and zero waste to landfills by 2030, as well as zero net operating impacts to forests and the habitat.
- Powder Mountain has eliminated single-use plastic bottles from their resort.
- Solitude Mountain Resort introduced sweeping transportation initiatives this year, including reduced parking fees for guests who carpool, investment in a ride-sharing app called The Ride Space, shuttle vans for staff transportation, and support for Breathe Utah through a monetary donation. In addition, Solitude funds complimentary access to the UTA Ski Bus for all Ikon Pass holders, regardless of the destination.
- Deer Valley Resort is heavily invested in waste reduction, energy reduction and participation in local and national sustainability projects.
What Can I Do to Help?
The biggest question faces each of us. What can I do to help? It would be great if every skier and snowboarder had the willpower and resources to transform into a better, more sustainable versions of ourselves, but the reality is making a series of small choices every day can have a huge impact.
Buy less gear: I know, I know. We all love the latest and greatest gear, whether it’s innovative new shapes for powder skis or a new ultra-dry fabric membrane for our outerwear. I’m not saying you need to go full Kondo Method here, just squeeze another season out of your gear when it’s reasonable and you’ll drastically reduce your carbon footprint.
Drive less: The average daily driver emits somewhere around 28 pounds of CO2 into the air each day. If you like snow, that’s not good. Reduce how frequently you’re a culprit. There are two ways to do this: carpool or take public transportation. We already mentioned Solitude’s novel in Utah strategy of charging people who don’t carpool for parking, but other resorts also getting in the game like Snowbird with their rideshare app and Snowbasin with their priority lot for carpools of three or more. Park City is awash in convenient bus lines that allow you to park near Kimball Junction instead of contributing to traffic and pollution by stop-and-go-ing all the way into town to ski at Park City or Deer Valley. Leave five minutes earlier than you used to, and enjoy the smug satisfaction of knowing you’re making at least a small difference. For more information on riding the bus, visit our complete ski bus guide.
Consider eco-friendly gear alternatives: When it does come time to purchase new gear, try doing a little research and investing in products and businesses that prioritize green-friendly sustainability. A good example is mountainFLOW eco-wax, which produces high-performance ski wax using environmentally-friendly, plant-based materials that don’t pollute our water systems with fluorocarbons and other nastiness.
Reduce Waste: Carry a reusable water bottle to the mountain so you don’t waste plastic cups. Many companies make collapsible bladders you can stash in a pocket.
Stay informed and ask questions: Think about where you’re spending your money, and make sure the resorts and brands you support align with your priorities. As skiers, the number one impact we have on the industry is where and when we open our wallets. Couple that by partnering with a non-profit group like Protect Our Winters that helps turn everyday shredders like us into effective climate activists working together for systemic change. Climate change isn’t waiting on us, so it’s up to each of us to do our part in pushing the Utah ski industry towards achieving our goals and preserving our snow today.