Sparking the Conversation: Climate Change in the Ski Industry

By Yeti Jun 23, 2023
How ski industry trade organizations, including Ski Utah, are championing the fight against climate change.
Sparking the Conversation: Climate Change in the Ski Industry

Both ski resorts and trade organizations that represent them are leading the charge in efforts to keep winter cold and snowy!

National Ski Areas Association (NSAA), the national trade organization for ski area owners and operators, has promoted environmental consciousness among its membership since long before it became popular to do so. In 1993, it established the Golden Eagle Award, the industry’s highest recognition for ski resort environmental excellence. NSAA doubled down on its commitment to the earth in 2000 with the creation of its Sustainable Slopes environmental charter, which serves as a framework for ski resorts to achieve sustainability in ten operational areas, ranging from water use and waste management to transportation and navigating the supply chain. The Sustainable Slopes grant program, designed to provide ski resorts with cash and in-kind funding to support sustainability projects, was created by NSAA in partnership with HKD Snowmakers in 2009.

NSAA zeroed in its sustainability efforts on reducing carbon emissions in 2011 with the introduction of Climate Challenge, a voluntary program that recognizes ski resorts’ commitment—both individually and collectively—to reducing climate impact. Results of the 2020–21 Climate Challenge showed high emissions reductions—both in total and on average—mostly from building and heating efficiency projects and waste reduction or food waste composting.

“In addition to tools to achieve operational sustainability, we've also given ski areas tools to communicate the importance of climate action to their guests. And this is where we all must do more to move the needle,” says Adrienne Saia Isaac, NSAA director of marketing and communications. “Because, to really make moves on reducing climate change impacts, we need broadscale legislative and regulatory change. A small, independent ski area may not have the resources to dedicate to, say, an emissions audit, but it's free for a business leader to write their policymakers and reiterate the importance of a stable climate to their constituents. That makes a difference.” 

Another outdoor industry trade group, Snowsports Industries of America (SIA), has formalized its commitment to cutting CO2 emissions around ClimateUnited, a two-part approach that gives SIA members meaningful support, education and tools in addressing climate change and its impacts. The first step is the ClimateUnited Pact, a promise formalizing each member’s commitment to building unity within the industry and working toward a zero-emissions future. The effort’s second step involves ClimateUnited Lab and 1.5C Business Playbook, a framework of resources, action tools, guidance and advocacy opportunities for businesses to manageably achieve their individual climate strategy goals. (1.5C refers to the Paris Agreement's goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 to limit global warming to 1.5 Celsius.) As of July 2022, more than 70 businesses had signed the ClimatePact.

“, we will be updating the Lab with more recent resources and tools, including new video conversations with industry colleagues, addressing a number of important topics,” says Chris Steinkamp, head of advocacy for SIA. “Our focus is to increase engagement in the Lab with member brands so that, as a community, we are collaborating. We can solve these issues if we share knowledge and work together.”

In January 2019, NSAA and SIA teamed up with the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) on the Outdoor Business Climate Partnership (OBCP) to amplify the business voice of the outdoor industry and implement climate change solutions. The OBCP’s first order of business was “Lead On Climate 2020,” the largest ever call-to-action from the business community to the U.S. Congress to protect the nation’s outdoor industries from climate change. Through this partnership, the three trade industry groups continue to use advocacy and policy tools to support a net-zero carbon emissions future and a healthy outdoor recreation experience for everyone.

Closer to home, Ski Utah—the marketing arm of the Utah ski and snowboard association—is also firmly dedicated to doing its part in protecting winter. In 2022, Ski Utah took a hard, green look at its operations with help from Climate Neutral, a nonprofit organization that measures CO2 emissions created by businesses. By engaging in Climate Neutral’s carbon audit process, Ski Utah was not only able to purchase legitimate credits to offset its existing carbon footprint but also formulated a doable plan to lessen its impact on the climate moving forward. One of its strategies, for example, is that all Ski Utah employees are now responsible for reaching individual enviro-centric goals; things like infusing its popular Passport programs with sustainability information, changing collateral materials to recycled and recyclable paper, supporting climate protection bills on behalf of the ski industry, promoting sustainable and responsible travel in Utah and partnering with companies with a strong environmental ethic, like Stio and Wild Tribute.

“Everyone at Ski Utah understands that our number one asset is snow, and we need to do everything we can to protect it,” says Ski Utah President Nathan Rafferty. “Along with our resorts, Ski Utah has implemented sustainability initiatives and we continue to partner with brands that have done the same. We’re thrilled to have been certified Climate Neutral and are committed to maintaining the certification. We also plan to reduce our emissions in the future to ensure that we continue to have beautiful, snowy winters here in Utah.”

Finding Common Ground for the Common Good

Environmental advocacy within the ski industry is not limited to its trade organizations, however. In June 2021, North America’s four largest ski resort owners/operators—Alterra, Boyne Resorts, POWDR and Vail Resorts—joined forces to form the Climate Collaborative Charter. Through this commitment, all four of these ski industry conglomerates have agreed to operate their respective resorts with sustainability at the forefront and use their collective voice to advocate for effective public policy on climate action with the end goal of leaving a positive legacy for future generations of skiers, snowboarders and outdoor enthusiasts.

“We are very proud to be a part of this historic action and to co-create the industry’s first Climate Collaborative Charter,” said David Perry, Executive VP, ESG, Alterra Mountain Company. “This is an incredible opportunity for industry leaders to engage in healthy competition while educating, sharing best practices and knowledge, and motivating each other to put our best efforts forth to help support the urgent and core issues of sustainability.”