Vail working to recertify its 2018 designation as a ‘sustainable destination’ |

Vail working to recertify its 2018 designation as a ‘sustainable destination’

First designation in 2018 has to be renewed, meaning initial work was just the start

Auditors from Green Destinations evaluate criteria including the efficiency and energy offsets for Vail's heated streets and the snowmaking equipment on Vail Mountain.
Some criteria Green Destinations, the organization that audits community sustainability efforts, has several criteria to certify a destination, including:
  • Wildlife preservation.
  • Stream health.
  • Energy conservation.
  • Historic preservation.

VAIL — Sustainable Travel International in 2018 named Vail the world’s first mountain “sustainable destination.” But that was just the start of a long-term effort.

That first designation was provisional, and town officials are now working on a recertification effort. There’s a lot to that certification.

Kim Langmaid, the founder of Walking Mountains Science Center and a member of the Vail Town Council, has been part of the certification effort since its beginnings in 2013.

Langmaid said there are in the neighborhood of 55 criteria and 72 other items that destinations have to meet. That’s a lot to monitor.

Beyond the basics — “People, Planet, Profit” — Langmaid said a lot of effort goes into managing the fine details of those big-picture items.

Participate in The Longevity Project

The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.

That includes collaborating with partners. In Vail’s case, that includes the U.S. Forest Service, Vail Resorts, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, Holy Cross Energy and others.

“Nobody recognizes the boundaries” between the national forest, the ski resort and the town, Langmaid said, adding that all the partners share the same goal: reducing the resort’s environmental impact and making Vail a better place to live in and visit.

“I feel like we’re always getting a little bit better,” Langmaid said, acknowledging there are occasional setbacks.

One of the big issues is offsetting the town’s energy use, particularly from the town’s heated streets.

Is there an offset?

No one has suggested turning off the heated streets, but Langmaid said the town is exploring ways to offset those impacts by the use of solar energy and other ideas.

Vail Environmental Sustainability Manager Kristen Bertuglia spends much of her time working on ways to lessen the town’s impacts. Bertuglia said there aren’t many alternatives for powering the street heating system, so it looks like some sort of offset is the best option.

One of those options was a Vail Town Council decision in 2019 to buy all of its electric power from Holy Cross Energy from renewable sources.

“The request from Green Destinations is to constantly evaluate (energy use), and try to become best in class,” Bertuglia said.

But, she added, Green Destinations doesn’t have much information about what “best in class” means when it comes to mountain destinations.

With that in mind, Bertuglia said Green Destinations has asked for more information about reducing the carbon footprint from snowmelt and snowmaking systems.

While Vail Resorts’ new snowmaking system on Vail Mountain is more efficient in energy and water use, it’s hard to quantify those improvements.

Then there’s the fact that this certification applies to tourist destinations.

“The guest experience is part (of the evaluation), too,” Bertuglia said.

That experience also includes local attractions, Langmaid said. While Vail doesn’t really use that term, the idea includes monitoring and protection of cultural heritage areas and sensitive ecological sites.

“I’d think the auditor would be pleased with the effort that has gone into (Gore) Creek — that’s one of the things we can be most proud of,” Langmaid said.

The town and its partners, including the water and sanitation district, have spent a lot of time and money on the “Restore the Gore” project, an effort to improve aquatic life on the stream.

That effort is starting to bear fruit, with the return of small bugs — macroinvertebrates. Those bugs are the foundation of all other aquatic life on the stream.

Growing ‘Actively Green’

In addition, the town has expanded its “Actively Green” program. That program was started by the town and Walking Mountains in the runup to the 2015 FIS World Alpine Ski Championships.

That program is growing, Langmaid said, adding that it’s also received attention from other mountain resorts.

Kim Newbury-Rediker is the assistant general manager at the Antlers Lodge, one of the first businesses certified in the program.

Newbury-Rediker said that the program at the Antlers is led by conference services manager Gabe Kossman. In fact, she said, Kossman was inspired by the program to earn a degree in environmental sustainability from Colorado Mountain College.

Being actively green takes some effort at first. But, Newbury-Rediker added, “It’s no more work once the programs are in place.”

That includes more efficient lighting, recycling and using mugs instead of disposable cups for meetings.

Those efforts pay off in guest reactions, Newbury-Rediker said.

“People tell us they like it that we don’t have disposable everything,” she said.

But, Bertuglia said, groups seeking destinations frequently ask about sustainability in their requests for proposals.

“It’s more expected now,” she said. “It’s part of (groups’) decision making.

And make no mistake, it takes a lot of work to earn that sustainable destination designation.

“There are hundreds of indicators to track,” she said. “It’s no small feat.”

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at or 970-748-2930.

Support Local Journalism