Copper Mountain owner Powdr seeks to share insights from award-winning conservation efforts
Powdr is continuing to prove it’s one of the ski industry’s leaders in sustainability.
The National Ski Areas Association has noticed its efforts, awarding three out of four of its Golden Eagle Awards for Environmental Excellence to the Utah-based company this year.
Copper Mountain Resort won the Innovation in Sustainability Award for its native seeding initiative, Eldora Mountain Resort won the Climate Change Impact Award for its carbon reduction efforts, and Powdr Director of Corporate Responsibility Laura Schaffer won the Hero of Sustainability Award for her work in creating the company’s Play Forever corporate responsibility commitment.
Schaffer said it was an honor to see two of her company’s resorts recognized for the work they do every day, and her award was the cherry on top. She said while her name is on the Hero in Sustainability Award, it’s the Powdr resort teams that deserve the credit for “making the magic happen.”
“It really was about a combination of really building this culture that we need to actually influence change and then driving our environmental and community work forward in meaningful ways,” Schaffer said.
Jeff Grasser, efficiency manager at Copper, said there are many different ways one can connect with nature at the resort, which means climate change will have a strong impact in the future.
“Play Forever is the idea that we need to work to make sure that we can play forever and that none of these things ever come to an end,” Grasser said.
Grasser said when looking at sustainability, Copper focuses on three pillars: energy efficiency and the acquisition of renewable energy, waste reduction and caring properly for the mountain’s land.
This third pillar is where Copper was recognized for its innovation. Grasser played a big role in implementing the mountain’s native seed collection program, something no other ski resort has yet to take on. He said seed collecting hasn’t really left the world of academia or been operationalized in many places, and there are only a few other conservation groups working on it.
Grasser said Copper is in a better situation than other local forests when it comes to biodiversity, in part due to the seeding program and other aspects of the mountain’s advanced restoration and conservation plan. The mountain’s history also played a role in the resort’s philosophy.
“Copper’s a really lucky mountain that we’re already standing on a legacy of really successful conservation from the past,” Grasser said. “Copper’s founder Chuck Lewis really believed in taking a more sensitive approach to how we built our mountain.”
Grasser said the mountain is partnering with local organizations and land managers to share its restoration techniques. He added that it’s important to make sure the seeds being replanted on the mountain are ones that are native to the environment in Summit County.
“Even though it’s great for Copper Mountain to be this little island of conservation, in the whole bigger picture, we need more than that,” Grasser said. “We can’t just have one island of conservation. That doesn’t get the job done. We need a region of forest conservation and biodiversity conservation.”
The resort collects and processes seeds from various wildflowers and grasses, then volunteers and staff members go back to plant the seeds in hopes of enhancing biodiversity and restoring areas that have been disturbed, like existing ski slopes.
“The creation of that ski slope was a pretty high-intensity disturbance,” Grasser said. “… If you’re walking on a ski slope in the summertime they tend to be pretty sparse. There’s not a lot of biodiversity found on our ski slopes.”
Grasser described biodiversity as “nature’s insurance policy against change.” The seeding process allows the resort to move seeds from areas that have plenty to areas that have few, building greater resistance and resilience in case of a disturbance.
The resort is also working with established partners like Peak Ecological to design a scientific study that can prove the impacts of its efforts by looking at the changing amount of carbon in the mountain’s soil. After looking at the soil next summer, the resort will look at the mountain’s soil again in 10 years to compare changes.
“We’re doing this in an intentional way to take the seeds that we collect using our secondary restoration methods to intentionally support the natural carbon sequestration abilities of our ski slopes,” Grasser said. “We’re aiming to offset our future carbon footprint, in some regards, in a very natural way that doesn’t harm the ecosystem.”
Grasser said he hopes that Copper winning this award will spread awareness of the conservation work that needs to be done everywhere. He said the resort is looking to expand and share its conservation methods to work toward larger-scale changes.
Schaffer said the ski company will continue working with its employees and guests to understand how they all can make a difference. She said this work is about changing mindsets and showing those that love the resort that they, too, can make a difference.
“We know that we could bring our footprint down to zero, and that still barely moves the needle on this climate crisis that we’re in,” Schaffer said. “We have guests and employees who are so happy and at peace and in their element on the mountain, and we want them to be able to understand that there’s work that needs to be done to be able to continue playing forever.”
The next volunteer opportunity for seed collection at Copper Mountain is scheduled for Sept. 22 through the Friends of the Dillon Ranger District.
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