Wild Women of the Wasatch | ep14 | Sustainable Shredders

By Yeti Feb 4, 2019
Meet three women in Utah stepping up as leaders in seeking sustainable balance for the environment at Vivint Solar, Snowbird and Alta Ski Area.
Wild Women of the Wasatch | ep14 | Sustainable Shredders

Words by Amy David

The Utah mountains receive the cream of the crop snow for powder skiing. As skiers and snowboarders, it’s time to take action to sustainably shred The Greatest Snow on Earth. The Earth is heating up, the environment is being negatively affected by human activity and we have the intellect to make a difference. Now what? Meet three women of the Wasatch stepping up as leaders in seeking sustainable balance for the environment.

Meet three women leading the sustainability movement in the Wasatch:

Sylvia Semper - Senior Legal Counsel for Vivint Solar

Sylvia’s mind and personality is as bright as the sun the company she works for is aiming to harness. As a senior legal counsel for Vivint Solar, she is in the thick of understanding and implementing policy for clean and renewable energy systems.

Growing up in New York, Sylvia became a high speed skier chasing her brothers around the mountain. She competitively ski raced for the state of New York and Williams College in Massachusetts which led her to a race at Snowbird. This was Sylvia’s fist taste of Utah powder, and she knew she’d return one day. In 2018 Sylvia was hired as Senior Legal Counsel for Vivint Solar, based in Utah. 


Sylvia explains, “Vivint Solar is here to harness the sun’s power. It's a resource we can use that’s clean, renewable and is something that you, me and every consumer can have access to.”

Solar energy utilizes a process called photovoltaics. This is the direct conversion of light into electricity at the atomic level. The materials used on solar panels absorb photons of light and release electrons which are captured to create an electric current. Let there be light! This is the start to transitioning to clean, renewable energy. Sylvia, and her team at Vivint, are working to make this transition affordable for all people. It’s a long process to make the full change, but starting with small adjustments will help lower the overall impact of society’s energy consumption and the effect it has on the environment. 

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Hilary Arens - Director of Sustainability and Water Resources for Snowbird

Bold, prepared and skilled is what makes Hilary such a ripping telemark skier. Her assertive intelligence and courage to take action is what has propelled her beyond being a good skier. She has created her own career in the environment she loves, maintaining the mountain ecosystems that we love and need. 

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Water is precious. Especially to Hilary Arens who has made water resource management her life. After earning a masters degree in Watershed Science, Hilary worked for the Utah Division of Water Quality where she was responsible for the surface water runoff of Little Cottonwood Canyon. In January 2016, Hilary proposed creating a Director of Sustainability and Water Resource Management position at Snowbird. They agreed and offered her the job. Her primary goals at Snowbird are to increase air and water quality, decrease carbon emissions and waste reduction and increase engagement of employees and guests. She’s adamant about walking the walk while being a leader in ski area sustainability.

Snowbird is located at the top of two different watersheds (American Fork Canyon and Little Cottonwood Creek) which are main sources for Salt Lake City's drinking water. “When a snowflake leaves Snowbird and goes into Little Cottonwood Creek, it’s 24 hours before it’s processed by the metropolitan water district and ends up in our taps. It’s really important that what we’re doing at Snowbird is protective of human and environmental health because it’s what we’re drinking in 24 hours” noted Hilary.

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The most recent action item for the Snowbird Environmental Center is launching the RIDE application for public transportation incentives. RIDE stands for Reducing Individual Driving for the Environment. The app connects people for carpooling, tracks public transit bus use and rewards users with prize incentives. The app will launch this spring.

Hilary’s advice for furthering environmental stewardship is to educate yourself, speak up and take action with your knowledge. “It takes extra mindfulness to be an environmental steward, but if we get our kids used to that early on, we’re going to be better off in the long run.” 

Maura Olivos - Director of Alta Environmental Center

As a young girl growing up in Oregon, Maura would wander through the forest for hours on end admiring the trees where her dad worked. She has always been fascinated with ecology, and eventually earned a degree in Environmental Science. Her story at Alta Ski Area started when she began working at the ticket office and soon took over as director of the Environmental Center only six months after it launched. Maura is brilliant and truly loves ecology.

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Maura's role oversees two primary purposes. The first is to guide Alta in sustainability efforts and goals. These revolve around reducing the carbon footprint, managing transportation, land conservation, waste management and water resources. The second is to act as a liaison for active parties visiting Alta for sustainable efforts. Alta Ski Area operates on leased US Forest Service land which is also a protected watershed and forest. Many groups utilize the land for research on plants and wildlife while encouraging everyone to play a part in maintaining the environment’s health.

One of Maura’s favorite aspects of her job is summer restoration and land management projects which improve impaired lands with native vegetation. This involves monitoring surveys, planting 1,500 trees and 3-5,000 plants each year. The public is always invited to participate in the tree salvage and restoration projects with the help of Cottonwood Canyons Foundation, Friends of Alta and Tree Utah.

To combat the transportation challenges of Highway 21, Maura and the team have implemented a preferred parking section at the base of the Wildcat lift for carpool groups with three or more in the vehicle. "The systems that exist within an ecosystem can easily be carried over to your social aspects. No single entity can really stand on its own, no one is more special than the other because the parts that make up the whole are all interdependent,” said Maura.

Global Climate Change Overview

Agreed upon by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.” According to NASA, the current vital signs of the planet are changing significantly. The global temperature has increased 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880, satellite data show Earth’s polar ice sheets are losing mass by 413 gigatonnes per year, and the global average sea level has risen nearly seven inches over the last 100 years (currently 3.2 millimeters per year). The Arctic ice is decreasing 12.8 percent per decade and in 2012 the Arctic ice shrank to the lowest extent on record.

The big kicker is carbon dioxide levels are at their highest in 650,000 years which is correlated to human activity. Challenges with high carbon dioxide is the Greenhouse Gas Effect. Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree the main cause for the current global warming trend is the human expansion of greenhouse gas effect. This is “a layer of greenhouse gases – primarily water vapor, including much smaller amounts of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide – act as a thermal blanket for the Earth, absorbing heat and warming the surface to a life-supporting average of 59 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius).” The problem is, too many gasses tip the scale to overheat the Earth’s surface and is very challenging to reverse.

The effect of our changing climate currently hinders both the environment, wildlife and human life.

What can you do to be an environmental steward?

Everyone has a lever, an angle to leverage your personal influence on the world around you - big or small - we all can make a difference. Here’s a quick list of action items we all can do starting today.
  1. Hold yourself accountable and educate yourself! Knowledge is power. NASA.gov is a reliable scientific source to get the story straight.
  2. Purchase and consume food as locally sourced as possible. The emissions from shipping food is through the roof!
  3. Fly less. Air travel is one of the largest contributors to individual’s carbon footprints. 
  4. Properly insulate your house. Begin transitioning to efficient, clean, renewable energy. Vivint Solar is an example of where to start for affordable solar energy.
  5. Reducing driving miles. Make an effort to ride bikes, public transit and carpool! Consuming and burning less fuel will decrease CO2 emissions. 
  6. Change light bulbs. LED bulbs reduce financial and carbon output with light lasting up to 10 years. 
  7. Consume less. In a material world, especially with new outdoor products pumping out every year, it’s hard to not buy the hottest gear items. Be wary and research the carbon impact and power consumption from the companies producing and shipping that new gear.
  8. Buy from local companies taking action to change their operations for low-carbon use.
  9. Hold members of Congress accountable. Write letters and call your politicians. Communicate the need for solar and wind power over fossil fuels. 
  10. Talk with your friends, colleagues and social media network about how to make positive change for the environment. 

The ski industry is nestled at an interesting intersection. Passion and recreation are based around the natural environment while the business aspect currently produces significant emissions and consumer products to make it possible for the masses. Stepping up to face this reality, the National Ski Area Association (NSAA) is committed to improving ski areas environmental performances across the country. With their Sustainable Slopes program, Climate Change program, The Green Room and the Golden Eagle Award, NSAA provides funding, education and support for resorts. For more information go to http://www.nsaa.org/environment/.

Resources to learn about environmental sustainability in the Wasatch:


Stay up-to-date on winter happenings in the Wasatch with @SkiUtah and join my personal snowy adventures on Instagram @AmyJaneDavid. Thank you for reading and watching the stories of the Wild Women of the Wasatch!

Watch Ep01 - Adaptive Sports
Watch Ep02 Chicks Who Rip
Watch Ep03 Dawn Till Dark
Watch Ep04 Escape the Heat
Watch Ep05 Mountain Canine Companions
Watch Ep06 Steep Jobs
Watch Ep07 Local Pioneers
Watch Ep08 Boarder Babes
Watch Ep09 Spring Fling
Watch Ep10 Who Are the Wild Women of the Wasatch
Watch Ep11 Gnarly Nurses
Watch Ep12 Mountain Mamas
Watch Ep13 Bike Bosses