PCMR and Deer Valley, reliant on good snow, outline their sustainability efforts
Resorts outline progress, but say more must be done, and soon
The changing climate imperils few industries more than it does ski tourism.
A 2010 study by the University of Colorado and American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education found that by 2030, Park City Mountain Resort’s ski season would be one week shorter; that by 2050, skiing after mid-March might not be possible at the base area; and that by 2075, the snowline might creep 1,300 feet higher than where it is now.
Or as County Councilor Glenn Wright put it in a meeting this fall, “Projections are, in 2050, the (Salt Lake) Valley will have a climate like Las Vegas without the wine, women and song. In 20 years, (we’re) probably still a ski resort, not a world-class ski resort. By 2050, (we’re) probably not a ski resort.”
So when PCMR and Deer Valley Resort recently announced 100% of their energy would come from renewable sources by 2023, it might have been to secure more than goodwill from eco-conscious visitors.
“As climate changes and Utah sees shorter, drier winters, we are at the mercy of the environment in our industry,” said Victoria Schlaepfer, a member of Deer Valley’s green team. “… It is the responsibility of every company to do their best to improve their operations to help our planet and Deer Valley is certainly no exception to that.”
PCMR and Deer Valley have undertaken projects to reduce their environmental impacts by diverting waste from landfills, composting, pursuing renewable energy projects and investing in more efficient snowmaking operations.
“Climate change is big. It’s something that’s not just going to affect the ski industry, it’s going to affect the whole world,” said Tom Bradley, regional sustainability manager for PCMR owner Vail Resorts. “We operate in beautiful settings, we rely on natural resources and we feel obligated to do our part to protect natural resources.”
Vail Resorts has implemented company-wide sustainability goals to hit by 2030: zero net emissions, zero waste to landfills and zero net impact on forest and habitat.
“They’re definitely bold goals and we’re figuring out how to get there, and tracking very well,” Bradley said in a recent interview with The Park Record.
He said that sustainability work is hard, and without clear paths to achieve goals, but added that his team was excited to have met a benchmark to achieve 50% landfill diversion by 2020.
“We do not have a blueprint that says, ‘Here’s how we get to zero,’” he said. “It’s seeing what’s out there, seeing what changes are made in our areas. … It’s a constant looking at ways to keep reaching towards zero.”
PCMR has tried some innovative things to reach the goals, like establishing a store where employees can recycle construction materials to use for their own projects, working with PepsiCo to create recyclable packaging products and trying to eliminate single-use, disposable items.
And Bradley indicated a key piece of technology in the Salt Lake Valley called a biodigester allows PCMR to recycle more food waste than other Vail Resorts properties.
To meet the resort’s goal, everything sold or consumed on-site that would normally end up in a landfill has to be either eliminated or recycled.
Schlaepfer wrote in an email to The Park Record that Deer Valley was diverting more than 45% of the waste that would typically end up in landfills. Both ski resorts ask their guests to sort their trash into separate streams for food scraps, recyclables and waste. Resort employees help the sorting initiatives.
Bradley said that many Vail Resorts restaurants are achieving 70% to 80% waste diversion. But he added that improving beyond relatively easy-to-implement changes will be much harder than the work done to date.
Bradley indicated that PCMR’s access to a biodigester has shifted the resort’s focus from composting food scraps to sending them to be converted for fuel. He said the biodigester can accept a wider range of material than can be composted, and offers slightly relaxed contamination thresholds.
For years, both PCMR and Deer Valley have composted locally, which Deer Valley continues to do. Schlaepfer said the food scraps formerly feed pigs on a farm in Kamas. Bradley said PCMR recently used its compost to improve soil near the Cabriolet lift to give native grasses a boost in their competition with weeds.
Both resorts, along with regional partners including Park City and Summit County, have signed on to a project to build a large-scale solar farm in Tooele County that will create enough power to offset 100% of their energy use starting in 2023.
Schlaepfer said Deer Valley already purchases more than a third of its power from solar sources. Vail Resorts has committed to buy nearly 90% of its energy from a massive wind farm in Nebraska that recently came online.
Schlaepfer indicated that lowering greenhouse gas emissions remains a challenge, with a lack of sustainable alternatives on the market for machinery like snowcats or snowmobiles.
Bradley said Vail Resorts was concentrating on its internal operations, and not considering offsetting the greenhouse gases created by guests traveling to vacations.
As for stewarding the forests on which the ski resorts sit, Bradley said that Vail Resorts offsets any permitted land disturbance — like planting trees elsewhere for those felled during ski run expansions.
Both resorts said they invest heavily in efficient snowmaking machinery. Neither entity would say how much water they use annually, but each estimated about 80% of the water they use for snowmaking is recovered.
“Sustainability is important to our business as we rely so heavily on the environment,” Schlaepfer said. “… We need to do our best to protect the beautiful environment we are so fortunate to call our home.”
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