Vail Resorts’ 2022 EpicPromise report tracks progress to net-zero goals
In 2017, Vail Resorts announced an ambitious goal to reduce its operating footprint to net zero by 2030.
In its recently published 2022 EpicPromise Progress Report, the company gave updates on its three targets within that 2030 goal: zero net emissions, zero waste to landfills and zero net operating impact on forests and habitat.
“When we think about our commitment to zero, specifically our sustainability goals, we truly believe that we need to be stewards of the lands that we operate on, as well as do what we can in our internal operations and through our advocacy work to mitigate the worst effects of climate change,” said Fritz Bratschie, Vail Resorts’ director of sustainability. “If we’re not setting goals big enough that we don’t really know how to get there yet, they’re not big enough to solve climate change.”
In the beginning, the corporation needed to understand the starting point and collect data from each resort it operates to understand what needed to be done to accomplish each broader goal.
“We put a lot of effort into understanding what the impact is so then we can tailor and measure program effectiveness against those goals,” Bratschie said, adding that this methodology especially comes into play as Vail Resorts acquires new resorts. “The first thing we do is really focus on trying to understand what the effect is at that resort or group of resorts and then try to work with those local teams on the ground to understand what we can do to effect change.”
Zero net impact to the environment
While the first two goals primarily deal with the resorts’ internal operations, perhaps the most publicly visible goal for Vail Resorts as a whole is its net-zero impact to the environment.
It’s also, perhaps, the most challenging as a corporation that relies on access to federal and public lands for the operations of many of its resorts, including Keystone Resort and Breckenridge Ski Resort.
As John Plack, a senior communications manager for Vail Resorts, put it: “We believe in expanding access to the outdoors and creating a welcoming environment.”
“As a part of that mission, it’s important to remember that the White River National Forest is the most visited national forest in the United States, and so we play a special role in helping people recreate on and experiencing this land within our special use permits,” he said. “By having guests recreate on our prepared and maintained trails and facilities, it also means less pressure on the rest of the forest while also creating opportunities for investment and engagement in sustainability programs.”
One key to Vail Resorts’ achievement of this net-zero goal is offsetting its environmental impacts.
“Our goal that we set in 2017 is a net-zero impact to forest and habitat. So any permanent disturbance in our boundaries — such as new ski runs or new restaurants that have been installed — that acreage there, we’re working to offset that with restoration work elsewhere,” Bratschie said.
Last year, Vail Resorts had around 80 acres of permanent disturbance, Bratschie added. To offset this disturbance, he said Vail Resorts “worked on restoration efforts with the National Forest Foundation to do restoration efforts in Colorado and California on 80 acres of national forest.”
These 80 acres were spread across projects in fire-affected areas that included the Cameron Peak Fire, Peak 2 Fire and Eiler Fire areas in Colorado as well as in the Lassen National Forest in California. Specifically, the report states that this partnership and restoration were in the form of 18,498 trees planted across these four areas.
Vail Resorts has been in the news recently regarding negative environmental impacts on the land it operated, including, locally, a snowmaking spill in 2021 at Golden Peak in Vail that resulted in the death of many fish in Gore Creek and has required corrective action. It has also been at the center of ongoing controversy and legal proceedings over its employee housing proposal on bighorn sheep habitat in East Vail. It has also resolved public health issues in its construction of lifts at McCoy Park at Beaver Creek, and faced an environmental review at Keystone following its bulldozing of sensitive Alpine tundra while expanding the Bergman Bowl.
The latter incident, which delayed the lift-served expansion at Keystone by a year, is mentioned in its 2022 report, stating that the accident “was due to a misunderstanding by our construction team, which impacted the environment that we work to protect every day.”
It continues that the company has worked with the Forest Service to develop and implement a plan to “fully restore the impacted area.” This plan was discussed earlier this year by Keystone Resort Chief Operating Officer Chris Sorensen at a COO Summit, stating that it was “one of the most thorough plans the U.S. Forest Service has ever seen,” and adding some of the impacted areas are already seeing native growth.
Vail Resorts’ efforts, Bratschie added, also include some mitigation work on the areas it operates on, stating that the company’s employees “work full time all summer (and winter) long to avoid impacts” to the environment.
Zero net emissions
Overall, there are two main metrics Vail Resorts used to track its progress toward zero net emissions: the utilization of 100% renewable energy in North America and a 53% reduction in market-based greenhouse gas emissions since 2017, a 17% increase over the previous year.
One other way the local mountain operations teams are tracking toward reducing emissions is with automated technology for company vehicles. This includes the implementation of an automated technology called SNOWsat by grooming teams, which tracks routes and data to figure out how to run the snowcats more efficiently and reduce idling, Bratschie said.
One change emphasized in the report is the expansion of a companywide idling policy to reduce the idling of any corporate fleet vehicle to under one minute. This is the first year it has been established across the company, so there is not yet any data to manage the efficiency of the policy.
Zero waste to landfill
At a high level, the 2022 report claims that Vail Resorts achieved a 29% reduction in waste to landfill in the fiscal year. This, it denotes, does not include campgrounds, employee housing, Hotham, Falls Creek and any resorts acquired after July 31, 2022 (which includes Andermatt-Sedrun in Switzerland, which it closed on purchasing in August).
Moving forward, the report states that the company will no longer focus on diversion percentages in tracking toward its 2030 goal, instead focusing on reducing what it sends to the landfill.
The report also highlights a few specific efforts made to recycle and repurpose internal materials, including an effort with Helly Hansen, its official uniform supplier, to repurpose old materials into other goods like backpacks and bags to be sold as well as an effort to repurpose 110 wooden chairs from Beaver Creek to Breckenridge.
Over the past few winters, Bratschie said that with the help of University of Colorado Boulder grad students, waste audits have been conducted to understand what waste could be diverted from the landfill. One thing found by the audits was that plastic film — including plastic bags, packaging and more — was one of the largest (by volume) items being sent to the landfill.
Another big area where these two local resorts are focusing is on composting, particularly within the resort-owned restaurants and at events. While Vail Resorts is working to bring composting to all its resorts, and tracking closer to that goal, it is not there yet.
One of the challenges with waste and diversion is that the resorts have guests from “different cultures, different locations, different (waste) systems where they come from, different languages,” Bratschie said, adding that the company’s solution was to implement employee sorting of “pretty much all guest waste across the resort.”
The recent report not only details these efforts toward net-zero impact but also the three other pillars of Vail Resorts’ EpicPromise corporate responsibility platform: community impact, its employee foundation, as well as its diversity and equity efforts.
“We really, truly believe, as an organization and as a company, that the future of our sport and our industry is to be inclusive and to bring new folks into the sport that otherwise maybe didn’t have access to it before,” Bratschie said.
According to the report, some of the local examples of these other efforts include a five-year, $300,000 donation to Habitat for Humanity Vail Valley to support its construction of affordable housing; $4.6 million given to 36 Eagle County nonprofits focused on youth critical needs, inclusive access to the outdoors and more; $1.5 million donated through the Ski Conservation Fund to the National Forest Foundation in Eagle and Summit counties for improvement projects in the White River National Forest.
The 2022 report tracks and provides data on many of these broader goals within Vail Resorts and its 41 resort properties across the world — goals, which according to the report, it is on track to complete by its 2030 deadline.
“We are working to implement strategic plans across all of our resorts to meet the remaining portions of our goals,” Plack said.
This story is from VailDaily.com.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.
Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.
Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.