Utah skiing is getting greener; Sustainability a priority at 3 of the state’s ski destinations
January 20, 2018
While Utah's land has been a hot topic in the news lately with a controversial reduction of Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante, many areas in the state are actively working toward efforts of environmental sustainability.
Last winter, I had a first-hand look at three destinations in Utah that specialize in ski tourism: Sundance Mountain Resort, Park City and Alta Ski Area. According to a written statement that landed in my email inbox from Ski Utah this past fall, "Utah's resorts are committed to mitigating their environmental impacts and protecting their communities for future generations to enjoy."
This is one of many reasons to make a trip over to Utah, especially since many of the ski resorts and affiliated towns are making big efforts to promote a lasting love of the land. Ski Utah has a partnership with Protect Our Winters — an organization known commonly as POW — with a goal to reduce the effect climate change imposes upon local sports and economies.
'Preserve a great deal'
Sundance Mountain Resort was the first stop on our March tour with Ski Utah. Since Robert Redford purchased the property and established the resort in 1969, Sundance has consistently followed Redford's philosophy to "always develop very little and preserve a great deal."
"Here, we try to make it so development is very slow, organic and carefully thought out," said Chad Linebaugh, president and general manager at Sundance Mountain Resort, "keeping in mind that nature and preservation comes first."
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Lovely and rustic lodging at Sundance welcomes guest with true mountain charm. While the property is only about an hour from the airport, staying in this magical canyon feels like a world away. The ski mountain and buildings below it are surrounded by true wilderness. The Sundance Preserve was established so that of the 5,000 acres owned by the Redford family, 2,700 acres have been permanently preserved. The resort offsets 100 percent of energy use with the purchase of renewable energy credits.
In addition to fun outdoor winter activities like downhill skiing, groomed Nordic trails and a winter ZipTour, Sundance offers daily wellness activities like yoga classes, as well as art classes — including pottery, jewelry making, painting and soap making — in the Sundance Art Studio onsite. A majority of the soap that is used in the Sundance lodging units and around property is handmade right at Sundance.
After a day of play, settle in for a taste of local flavor. I tried the fried Brussels sprouts to start out dinner at The Foundry Grill, followed by a delectable dish of seared scallops with jasmine rice, curry cauliflower and black kale.
In addition to an extensive recycling program throughout the resort, and because recycling glass in Utah can be challenging, Sundance Mountain Resort installed its own glass works kiln. Wine and other glass bottles used at Sundance Mountain Resort are recycled onsite and turned into art and houseware for use around the property. The glass blowing artists use up to five 30 gallon barrels of glass each day and are able to produce as many as 500 glasses each day.
Many guests drive themselves to Sundance, although public transit is also a way the resort is focusing on sustainability. The Utah Transit Authority's 880 bus route runs to Sundance daily, with stops in Provo and Orem. Ski passes come with a complimentary bus pass to ride the 880.
"We have so much more than skiing," Linebaugh said. "I think skiing and snowboarding is definitely an important part of this place, but so are the arts and wellness, and everything else that we stand for."
Park City sustainability
Back on the beaten path, Park City is no stranger to ski tourism, as well as a full range of summer happenings, so the town has made a pledge to make sustainability a priority.
On our visit through town and after a full day of skiing through the diverse and expansive terrain of Park City Mountain Resort, we sat for a visit with Luke Cartin, environmental sustainability manager for Park City.
As he explained, the town of Park City has set the nation's most ambitious climate goals with a pledge to be net-zero carbon for municipal operations by 2022 and net-zero carbon community-wide by 2032. In moving forward with this promise, Park City launched six zero-emission electric buses to the already free public transit system. Also, this past summer, Park City became the first town in North America to operate an all-electric bike share program and has distributed 89 electric bikes at six locations throughout Park City.
Local businesses are getting on board as well. Our apres-ski discussion with Cartin was at Old Town Cellars, a business that values sustainable practices and community outreach efforts. Our host told us that Old Town Cellars has a 10-year goal to be a Gold LEED Certified urban winery that is fully self-sufficient and off the grid.
We stayed overnight at the Grand Summit Lodge after enjoying dinner at The Farm Restaurant, a locally sourced eatery in Canyon's Village. It's becoming increasingly apparent that the social consciousness of Park City's population is leading a push for sustainable development in the state. Even the Sundance Film Festival, held at the end of January, often rides on the wind of this movement.
"Sundance itself is about social consciousness," shared Dan Howard, director of communications at Visit Park City, during our visit to Old Town Cellars. "Including the movies that are selected and the messages that are coming out of it, and it's connected to Park City in such a fundamental way, even though it's only 10 days of our year."
Howard said it feels good that Park City has a voice that's heard, whether within just the ski town or throughout Utah.
"Just knowing that we have a lot of outspoken people in this town," he said, "and it's OK to be asking for people to be thinking bigger, and thinking globally. It's just a part of our culture here."
The movement will no doubt have a ripple effect. The Swaner Preserve and EcoCenter in Park City focuses on inspiring and empowering the next generation through educational programming for kids, families and adults.
"This is for the next generation of our environmental stewards, naturalist, scientists and enthusiasts," explained executive director Nell Larson during an afternoon visit we took to the preserve. "We hope kids will take what they learn from here into whatever else they love."
Starting the sustainability conversation in regard to ski areas may raise a few eyebrows, especially since ski resorts do develop land and use natural resources to create slopes and blow snow on them.
Our trip to Alta displayed how much the ski area is an environmentally conscious leader in the industry. While they do make snow when needed, as most resorts do these days, snowmaking on the lower portion of the mountain is done with the use of an energy-saving, gravity-driven and siphoning system.
Recently the resort began using a new, unique "green groomer" to help eliminate pollution and energy waste. Known as the "Green Machine," the German-manufactured PistenBully 600 E+ is diesel-electric which makes it more efficient.
In 2012, Alta received LEED Silver Certification for the mountain's Skier Services Building, and in 2017 Alta was awarded with the National Ski Area Association & Ski Magazine Hero of Sustainability Award.
Alta has a designated Environmental Team to maintain objectives that include pursuing sustainability internally for Alta Ski Area through the conservation of energy, water, land and business, acting as a resource for the community and encouraging environmental education and research. Utah Transit Authority also provides bus service to Alta for those looking to catch a ride and save some fuel.
The quality of skiing feels good, too. While known for expert terrain, Alta can be a great place for families to learn and ski together, with over 25 percent of the resort featuring beginner terrain and over 40 percent featuring intermediate terrain. For lunch or a snack, stop mid-mountain during the day at Collins Grill for delicious food and great views.
And if you didn't bring your gear along for the ski trip, then contact Ski Butlers for ski and board rentals delivered to your door. Packages can include delivery of boots, skis, snowboards, poles and a personalized fitting by a ski technician.
For your overnight accommodations, Alta Lodge is a classic and intimate ski lodge that's designed for a relaxing mountain getaway. Over dinner in the dining room, enjoy an amazing sunset overlooking the beautiful Utah landscape, and you'll see there is no doubt why it needs to be protected.