Today's travelers love to go green, and ski resorts all over the world have jumped onto the bandwagon. Through energy and water conservation, buying locally, and being involved in their communities, eco-resorts limit their impact on Mother Nature, and guests can't tell the difference. Make no mistake: Green travel doesn't mean restrictive or boring on the slopes.
Destinations all over the world turn to renewable energy and carbon credits as an easy way to green up operations. The National Ski Area Association's Green Power Program has 68 participants, from Aspen and Vail to Sunapee and Sugarloaf. Started in 2006, it encourages the use of renewable energy to help reduce emissions, and today their combined efforts represent a reduction of 500 million pounds of CO2.
That doesn't mean you'll be facing cold showers or trudging uphill. You won't have a backdrop of windmills on the horizons at most resorts, either (though it does make Big Rock, or Jiminy Peak in Massachusetts, the perfect retreat for "über-eco geeks"). Instead of using energy from clean sources, the majority of resorts purchase RECs -- Renewable Energy Certificates -- as carbon offsets.
As a wind turbine creates power, that power moves into the utility company's grid and mixes with energy from other sources. The utility company has a limited number of RECs for sale based on how much of its power comes from renewable energy. Resorts fund and encourage further development of solar power and wind farms without affecting the services they provide guests.
Eco-resorts lessen their impact in a variety of ways that customers never experience firsthand. The difference in water-saving snow guns goes unnoticed by the average skier, despite enormous savings. Heavenly Mountain Resort at Lake Tahoe saves 1.3 million gallons of water a year through its Easy Street Run Enhancement project. The resort reduced its need for snowmaking by 65 percent without impacting guests at all.
Snowmaking can make or break a resort during a low-snow year. Changing to low-energy snow guns, such as those used at Sugarloaf, or more efficient machines, such as the tower guns at Maine's Mount Abram, works to conserve water and energy.
"The investment we made this year in new snow-making technology, as well as newer, more efficient water pumps, has allowed us to make nearly twice as much snow in the early season than we could before, while using the same amount of energy," says Ethan Austin, of Sugarloaf in Maine. The new methods work well for their customers, too.
"The snow we've been able to make has been very dry, very high-quality snow," Austin says. "We received rave reviews from customers on opening day saying we had some of the best opening-day conditions they had ever seen."
When you talk about sustainable travel, traveling by yak through a Nepalese village may come to mind. Don't let the verbiage fool you. Luxurious U.S. resorts work to preserve their local economic and cultural ties.
Earth Rider Cycling Boutique and Hotel, located in Brodhead, Wis., offers guests modern, convenient, green travel. It hires local workers, invests in nearby businesses and promotes activities in its community. Offering Internet service, television, a workout room and a bevy of activities -- skiing included -- it successfully minimizes its impact while catering to clientele.
Chalet Eiger, in Taupo, New Zealand, provides these and more. The mountain retreat boosts the community, while giving guests a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. It's the best of both worlds, and the trend spans the whole world. According to the International Ecotourism Society, going green draws in business at a faster rate than any other advancement today.
From switching out old technology for new, finding different energy sources and focusing on the local community, ski destinations are increasingly able to focus on both sustainability and guest experience. The next time you're headed for a slope-side vacation, give a few different resorts a call. You'll be surprised at how easy it is to make a difference.