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Ski Resorts Go Green, But Is It Enough?

Associated Press

The ski and snowboard business is especially vulnerable to global warming’s detrimental impact on the environment.

Resort owners lose money as temperatures rise and winter shrinks – and climate scientists are predicting a more than 50 percent loss in snow in the western United States over the next 80 years, says recreation and environmental writer Porter Fox.

Some mountain resorts, including Lee Canyon outside Las Vegas and Diamond Peak in the Reno-Tahoe area, have taken measures to up their sustainability game.

Jim Seely is with Lee Canyon Resort. He said the resort has improved recycling programs, instituted energy efficiency programs and is using solar panels for power. They also started a carpool program for employees and are working on a carpool app for guests.

Seely said the company that owns Lee Canyon has long been supportive of reducing the impact of climate change.

"Powdr [Corp] does believe in climate change," he said, "Since their inception 25 years ago, they want to protect the areas that we recreate in."

Carl Kish is a cofounder of STOKE, a certification program for sustainable surf and snowboard resorts. The group just certified Diamond Peak in the Lake Tahoe area.

He said the resort earned the certification because of a number of sustainability efforts, including waste disposal, watershed protection and reducing the impacts of snowmaking.

Kish said STOKE certification is an easy way for skiers to make choices about where their dollar goes.

“We’re trying to give them an easy solution for supporting sustainable ski areas with their season pass or lift tickets dollars," he said.

While recycling programs and solar panels are good, Fox argues, they're not enough. He believes the industry and public need to get more active in politics in order to effectively fight climate change.

“The larger problem that is going to affect places like Lee Canyon is not going to be solved by that type of work," he said, "That work needs to be simultaneous with getting into politics, with pushing for national climate change legislation, policy shifts, supporting the Clean Power Plan.”

As an example of this being done successfully, Fox pointed to efforts in Aspen, Colorado, to elect a utility board with more climate-conscious members that will advocate for renewable energy choices.

Seely said he understands what Fox is saying but he believes Lee Canyon's efforts are the first step toward bigger changes.

Kish believes there may be a future where individual resort areas will have to advocate for more changes to stop climate change, but that could also depend on where the resorts are located.

“In California, for example, ski resorts on the other side of the state line in the Tahoe Basin, they’re in a progressive state where there’s a lot more incentives and mandates that are already in place that are pushing those businesses and utility providers towards this clean energy, climate-neutral future,” he said.

In Nevada and Utah, where there are more conservative ideas on climate change, resorts might have to lobby more for clean energy, he added.

For his part, Fox believes there will be dire consequences for resorts that do nothing.

“I would argue that inaction is going to be the end of a lot of ski businesses,” he said.

He also says it is time for skiers, snowboarders and winter sports enthusiasts of all kinds to only spend their money at organizations that are already working on national policy changes and to demand more from those that are not.

Porter Fox, writer, New York Times, Outside, National Geographic Adventure;  Carl Kish, cofounder STOKE certification program for sustainable surf and snowboard resorts,​ Diamond Peak Ski Resort;  Jim Seely, Lee Canyon Ski Resort 

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Desert Companion welcomed Heidi Kyser as staff writer in January 2014. In 2018, she was promoted to senior writer and producer, working for both DC and KNPR's State of Nevada. She produced KNPR’s first podcast, the Edward R. Murrow Regional Award-winning Native Nevada, in 2020. The following year, she returned her focus full-time to Desert Companion, becoming Deputy Editor, which meant she was next in line to take over when longtime editor Andrew Kiraly left in July 2022. In 2024, CEO Favian Perez promoted Heidi to managing editor, charged with integrating the Desert Companion and State of Nevada newsroom operations.