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Ski Areas: Reasons to Change
Table of Contents
Background and Overview
Reasons to Change
Environmental Management
Preventing Pollution
Where To Go for Help
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Greening Your Ski Area
The handbook provides environmental strategies for on-mountain operations, as well as for management...

Ski areas rely on the quality of the environment surrounding their area to attract skiers and a stable climate that creates conditions for natural and man-made snow. To preserve the environment upon which the ski area depends, ski areas must consider on-mountain operations that affect local climate, water and energy use, hazardous and solid waste generation, water quality, and public perception. Some ski areas go even beyond that. Aspen-Snowmass, for example, has a three-pronged approach: efficiency, renewables, and lobbying.

Ski areas must also consider environmental concerns that are not directly related to on-mountain operations such as wildlife habitat and transportation to and from the ski area. However, these topics, while extremely important from an overall environmental and sustainability perspective, are outside of the scope of this topic hub.

Global Climate

Global climate change may be the most important environmental issue facing the ski industry and might drastically impact operations in the near future, as the trend toward global warming continues. Warming, of course, shortens the length of the ski season and reduces the quality of snow. Air pollution from burning non-renewable fuels seems to be a major factor.

Long-range planning presents a great opportunity to incorporate pollution prevention into daily operations that can help ski operations be viable. Many ski resorts are actively involved in global climate change issues. They are greening their operations, educating guests on ways to "Keep Winter Cool", and working with local, state, and federal governments to mitigate global warming and drought.

To collectively address the long-term challenges presented by climate change and continue its commitment to stewardship under the National Ski Areas Association Sustainable Slopes program, members adopted a climate change policy.

Water Use

National and local concerns over water supply place ski areas under pressure to reduce the large volume of water used for snowmaking. Snowmaking requires about 75,000 gallons of water to create a 6-inch deep layer of snow over a 200- by 200-foot area. Snowmaking can convert more than 2,000 gallons of water into snow in about a minute. Ski areas also use water for food preparation, building operations, and hotel/condominium guests, so it is possible for ski areas to benefit financially from implementing water savings techniques and technologies in all of these areas as well.

Energy Use

The energy bills at ski areas are complex and include several tiers of charges. Many ski areas are in a unique position in that they set the peak demand for energy use in a given billing period. Consequently, energy use can be among a ski area's largest regular expenses. Ski areas that focus on their billing structure, peak demand, obtaining energy from renewable sources, and energy conservation can significantly reduce monthly operating costs.

Hazardous Waste

The time and effort involved in managing the proper disposal and record keeping for hazardous waste generation at a ski area can be significant. Mismanagement of the hazardous waste can also cause significant environmental damage, risk human and habitat health, and lead to costly fines. It is possible for even a large ski area to eliminate its hazardous waste generation or at least reduce the volume to the point that it attains conditionally exempt small quantity hazardous waste generator status. The liability and labor savings are significant reasons for this change.

Solid Waste

Ski areas generate solid waste primarily during construction and deconstruction activities, but also in office buildings, purchasing department (for example, packaging material), vehicle maintenance, food and beverage services, building maintenance, lodging, and grounds maintenance. Limited space in mountain-community landfills can lead to higher tipping fees at landfills and the potential for the landfills to meet capacity, which can cause ski areas to have to transport solid waste significant distances for disposal. This increases not only the cost for disposal, but also impacts associated issues with fuels use and emissions from waste transportation. The rising cost of solid waste disposal forces ski areas to consider alternatives to solid waste disposal in landfills.

Water Quality

Construction activities, grounds maintenance practices, and chemical use on ski areas will potentially create sources of pollution. For example, pollution can be introduced to sensitive water bodies through groundwater runoff and snow melt. Runoff issues present growing challenges to communities that rely on water for residential, commercial, and industrial uses.

Customer and Public Perception

Perception and public opinion are important factors in ski area management decisions. Ski Magazine published a two-part series on the issue of the evolving public opinion on ski areas and their relationship to the environment.

Ski areas on the forefront of creating a positive public perception involve their employees and customers in developing policies and action plans that address environmental and pollution prevention concerns.

Uncertain Economic Conditions

With skier days also down due to a worldwide economic slowdown, ski areas must use technologies and long term strategies that give the best return on every dollar spent. Solutions for sustainable winter and mountain sports and recreation are being tried throughout the world.


The Topic Hub™ is a product of the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange (P2Rx)

The Ski Areas Topic Hub™ was developed by:

Peaks to Prairies Pollution Prevention Center
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Hub Last Updated: 12/2/2013