Vail Resorts’ 2022 EpicPromise report tracks progress to net zero goals
Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek are leaders among Vail Resorts' properties in its ‘commitment to zero’
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 tracks its progress in the last year toward its three targets within that 2030 goal: zero net emissions, zero waste to landfill 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.”
Locally, both Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek resorts started ahead of the company’s many other assets, even serving as an example for newly acquired and other resorts across the corporation. Whistler Blackcomb and Park City Mountain Resort, Bratschie added, are also among the leading resorts in these climate action initiatives.
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“A lot of times we’re kind of copying best practices and programs that have worked at places like Vail and Beaver Creek,” he said. “Vail and Beaver Creek, definitely amongst kind of the legacy resorts, have a long history of energy reduction, waste reduction dating back almost more than two decades now.”
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.
Since 2017, Bratschie said that the company has spent just shy of $2 million at Vail and Beaver Creek on facility improvements toward the achievement of its energy and emissions goals. This includes upgrades to high-efficiency snowmaking equipment, and most recently, upgrading its control systems to decrease the amount of natural gas required to heat its lift terminals and shacks. The latter, Bratschie said, was done at Beaver Creek last year and is currently being done at Vail.
Locally, Vail Resorts’ goals around energy are helped significantly by Holy Cross Energy, Bratschie said.
“We’re really lucky here at Vail and Beaver Creek in particular — and we know this is not the case across the country — is we’ve got an awesome partner in Holy Cross Energy with their aggressive goals to reach 100% renewable electricity by 2030 and they’re well on their way there,” he said. “The actual electricity that not just Vail and Beaver Creek use, but all the local folks that are serviced by Holy Cross will have access to and be really close to 100% renewable here in the coming years. They’re working really hard and have some great projects that have come online, and there’s more to come.”
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 Vail and Beaver Creek’s grooming teams, which tracks routes and data to figure out how to run the snowcats more efficiently and reduce idling, Bratschie said.
Looking ahead, the focus for the two local resorts is reducing emissions, Bratschie added. This means looking at “fuels that we burn at Vail and Beaver Creek, so natural gas in particular for heating and cooking and then diesel and unleaded fuel in vehicles,” he said.
One company-wide change emphasized in the report is the expansion of a company-wide 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 at both Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek 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.
“While it wasn’t a ton of weight in our waste, it’s a lot of volume in terms of taking up space in dumpsters,” Bratschie said.
As a result, Vail and Beaver Creek now have a system to collect plastic and recycle it with Trex (which turns it into plastic lumber products), a program that the report claims has led to the diversion of 10,000 pounds of plastic film being recycled.
Another big area where these two local resorts are focusing is on composting, particularly within the resort-owned restaurants and at events.
“Since 2019, Vail Mountain alone I think has diverted 550 tons of food waste from the landfill,” Bratschie said, adding that this compost effort was bolstered by the composting resources and facilities in Eagle County, particularly as Vail Honeywagon came online with composting a few years ago, as well as organizations like Walking Mountains Science Center, which provides its zero waste teams and tents to help with diversion and education at events.
This includes this weekend’s Birds of Prey World Cup races at Beaver Creek where the company is targeting 90% diversion, 2% higher than its diversion rate at the event last year.
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.”
“Certainly at all of our restaurants at Vail and Beaver Creek, you’ll see sorting stations where we want our employees physically taking the waste from the guests and sorting them into the proper stream,” he said.
With its waste and energy goals, Vail Resorts — particularly at Vail and Beaver Creek — has already hit many of the “low-hanging fruit” to reduce its impact, Bratschie said.
“As we continue to get closer to achieving these goals, the teams at Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek are finding new and more creative ways to reduce energy consumption as well as reduce waste coming into our operations,” said John Plack, a senior communications manager for Vail Resorts.
At these resorts, in terms of waste, Bratschie said the focus is “on what’s left in the landfill.”
“We’ll be continuing to do audits and identify kind of what is that remaining stuff that comes out of our operations and then work to not only find ways to divert it, but ways to go back with our procurement strategies and work with our different partners on reducing the actual waste before it comes into our operations so that we don’t have to divert it,” he added.
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 zero net 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 Vail and Beaver Creek.
As Plack 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.
“Our best practices and our policies overall show that we are working and do make a huge impact in terms of mitigating and reducing that (impact) on both Vail and Beaver Creek, but across all of our resorts, especially ones that are on public land and National Forest permits,” he said, adding that these practices and policies include “efforts from our teams that are out there every day working on soil, vegetation, re-vegetating, trail work, habitat work on our permits.”
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.