Vail, renowned for its acres of unparalleled skiing terrain and legendary back bowls, visitors come to take on the mountain, and stay to explore the European styled villages awash with restaurants and shops.

We spoke with Vail Resorts’ Senior Director of Sustainability to find out how Vail is committing itself to zero impact on the environment whilst keeping the powder hungry happy. It’s a challenge they are not willing to fail. 

In 2017 Vail Resorts announced Commitment to Zero, an industry-leading goal to achieve a zero net operating footprint by 2030 across the entire enterprise (which includes 37 resorts in 15 states and three countries). Commitment to Zero creates the opportunity for one mountain resort company to have a big impact on preserving the environment through its three pillars: zero net emissions, zero waste to landfill and zero net operating impact on forests and habitat. 

How are Vail Resorts dealing with expansion of the slopes versus environmental impact? 

We have an obligation and opportunity to protect the incredible landscapes of Vail. An essential part of our sustainability goal, Commitment to Zero, is our pillar to have a zero net operating impact on forests and habitat. We seek projects offering the greatest benefits for biodiversity and wildlife through partnerships with environmental organisations, rather than limiting project scopes to planting trees within resort boundaries.  During the 2019/20 season, 39 acres were permanently impacted across our resorts. By using native seedlings to restore this land through a partnership with the National Forest Foundation, we helped to replant an area damaged by a large spruce beetle infestation and offset the acres impacted by our operations. 

To meet the 2030 goals, what needs to happen, and what impact will it have on visitors to the resorts?

By 2023, we’ll reach 93 percent renewable electricity. That’s due to two major investments: the Plum Creek Wind project (a large scale wind farm we enabled) and the Elektron Solar project (solar farm). Through the Plum Creek Wind project, we’re bringing new, clean energy to the North American power grid in our 12-year commitment. Additionally, when we launched Commitment to Zero, we set a sub-goal to reach 50 percent waste diversion from landfill by the end of 2020. We officially reached that milestone at the end of March 2020, almost a year ahead of schedule. Our partnership with Eco-Products is crucial to reaching zero waste to landfill, guests will see we’re eliminating all single-use, guest-facing conventional plastic products across our resorts. Eco-Products ensures all disposable food and beverage items like cups, utensils, grab-and-go containers are plant-based products that align with regional waste streams. Vail Resorts and PepsiCo are also partnering with international recycling leader TerraCycle to create picnic tables and Adirondack chairs out of recycled snack and candy wrappers for guests to enjoy at Park City, Keystone, Beaver Creek, Vail and Breckenridge. 

What are the biggest offenders in terms of energy usage on a ski-resort? 

Snowmaking, buildings (heating and lighting), and lifts. That’s why, as part of Commitment to Zero, we’ve committed to investing $25 million in innovative, energy-saving projects in those three key business areas before 2030. Since 2017, we’ve invested $5.3 million. During the 2019/20 season, investments included nearly $600,000 for installation of LED lighting across several resorts, lift heater controls at Park City Mountain and an independent energy audit at our three Tahoe resorts. Additionally, we’ve upgraded more than 400 snowguns across our resorts to a high-efficiency system that creates more snow with less energy.  

Is there anything we can be doing already to try and make a ski holiday more environmentally friendly? 

Reaching zero waste to landfill by 2030 is arguably the most challenging pillar of Commitment to Zero, and we couldn’t get there without our guests’ support. Together, we’ll reach this goal by reducing landfill waste, as well as composting and recycling.  

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