Vail Resorts shares progress on climate goals at national climate summit in Breckenridge
Vail Resorts and the 'Big Four' ski companies reaffirm their shared commitment to climate action
The second annual Climate Solutions Summit for mountain towns kicked off Tuesday in Breckenridge, with a focus on inspiring immediate action and collaboration among community and resort leaders.
Dr. Michael Mann, one of the most prominent climatologists in the United States, set the tone for the conference in an opening keynote speech that called for everyone to resist the urge for doom and despair and instead seize the present-day opportunity to work towards zero-carbon emissions.
Mann introduced the famous “hockey stick” graph of climate change in 1998, appearing in a co-authored report that tracked temperatures in the northern hemisphere from 1400 AD through the 20th century. The sharp incline in temperatures starting in the mid-1900s illustrated the direct correlation between fossil fuel emissions and global warming, and created a searing image that has remained at the forefront of climate change activism for decades.
The increase in global temperature has only grown steeper since the first publication of the chart, but Mann assured the audience that there is still time for action that can stop the trend before consequences become irreversibly catastrophic.
“It’s a monumental task. It is still doable,” Mann said. “The obstacles aren’t technological, they’re political.”
With a shrinking window of time to act, Mann advocated for all communities to pursue immediate action rather than waiting for future technological fixes and hypothetical adaptations. With enough collective willpower and decisive action, he assured the audience that a world without carbon emissions is possible and necessary.
This is the message that is fueling the MT2030 nonprofit and all of the community stakeholders and representatives participating in the conference this week.
Moving the needle, together
The ability of many mountain towns to achieve zero-carbon emissions is heavily dependent on the actions of the resorts that center their physical, social and economic environments. That is why the four largest ski companies in North America — Vail Resorts, Alterra Mountain Company, Boyne Resorts and POWDR Corporation — formed the Mountain Collaborative for Climate Action at the first MT2030 summit in 2019.
The Mountain Collaborative is a joint commitment from the “Big Four” ski companies to combat climate change across their collective 77 resorts, spanning from coast to coast in North America. It is the ski industry’s first unified effort in this space and ensures that climate action remains at the center of the companies’ business strategy.
“We all believe that climate change is the most critical issue that we have to face as mountain operators and leaders and as inhabitants of planet Earth,” said Jay Scambio, the chief operating officer at Boyne Resorts. “It is important to work together to find solutions because one little place isn’t going to make it happen for the entire planet, or even just on our continent.”
The collaborative published its founding charter in June of 2021. The charter includes a written commitment from all members to reduce energy use and carbon emissions, reduce waste, advocate for public policy, support environmental stewardship and share best practices with other companies and communities. It does not include specific metrics for meeting these goals, as these are left to the individual companies to determine for themselves.
At the MT2030 summit, representatives from each of the four companies shared the progress they have made toward their individual sustainability goals. Vail Resorts adopted three overarching climate goals in 2017 as part of its “EpicPromise” mission: to achieve zero-carbon emissions, zero waste to landfill and zero operating impacts on forests and habitats by 2030.
Kate Wilson, the senior director of sustainability at Vail Resorts, shared that the company is currently offsetting 85% of its emissions with clean energy. This success is largely credited to Vail Resorts’ partnership with energy company Ørsted and its new Plum Creek Wind Farm in Nebraska.
Wilson discussed how achieving the company’s goal of zero waste to landfills by 2030 is proving to be a more complex challenge. Thus far, Vail Resorts has achieved 47.1% reduction in waste to landfills across its properties, but the final 53% will require creative solutions.
“We know that recycling across the U.S. is a challenge,” Wilson said. “It’s a patchwork of different opportunities in different cities, states, regions, counties, and those opportunities all get a little more challenging at elevation, where there are less economies of scale. That’s what we really need to make recycling viable.”
Recycling and upcycling are areas where collaboration across multiple resorts is necessary to meet the quantity thresholds required for participation in many recycling programs. Wilson invited company and community representatives in the crowd to reach out if they are struggling to find waste diversion solutions that meet their needs, and to bring forward ideas for partnership opportunities.
“We’re not waiting for technology to save us by any means,” Wilson said. “We are taking action every day right now within our operations, and there will be some solutions that don’t exist yet, so we’re looking forward to being with you these next couple of days to come up with those together. It will take all of us.”
While celebrating the strides made in carbon and waste reduction, Wilson did not talk about Vail Resorts’ third and final sustainability goal: to have zero operating impact on forests and habitats.
Vail Resorts has been implicated in a number of negative environmental impacts at local resorts this past year. These include a fish kill in Gore Creek resulting from a Vail Mountain snowmaking spill in 2021, bulldozing an unauthorized road through Alpine tundra during an expansion of Keystone Resort in August, and ongoing controversy over a proposed employee housing development on bighorn sheep habitat in East Vail.
The EpicPromise 2021 progress report shows that Vail Resorts’ primary means of offsetting operating impact is to restore an acre of forest for every acre permanently impacted by expanded operations. The company has restored three acres of the White River National Forest by planting 1,349 seedlings in an area that burned during a 2017 forest fire.
The other three companies are pursuing similarly ambitious goals, and are meeting with each other on a regular basis to swap ideas and lend support. Certain areas of potential action for the collaboration — most notably lobbying power and climate policy advocacy — remain to be seen, but all four reaffirmed their commitment to the charter. The message was clear that for ski resorts, climate action is no longer an afterthought — it is now an essential part of the business.
“This isn’t just some charitable thing,” said Raj Basi, vice president of sustainability at POWDR. “We really take this and put it into our business plan because there is a return on investment.”
This story is from VaiDaily.com.
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