These sustainable practices are not typically million dollar investments but they are meaningful accomplishments and the collective will disseminate information about many of their practices to hundreds of other XC ski areas across the US and Canada.
At Devil's Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa in Tabernash, Colorado, a geothermal heating system is used throughout the resort. The system consists of glycol-filled pipes that have been installed in the Ranch's on-site lake. Heat is transferred to the glycol from the water, and then heated to 105 degrees by compressors in each building. The resort has also installed EPA-approved specially designed chimneys that minimize emissions from wood burning fireplaces and used recycled asphalt for paving. "We continue to make a concerted effort to work with local suppliers and businesses and reduce our carbon footprint at every level," said General Manager Sean Damery.
The White Grass Ski Touring Center in Canaan, WV has been awarded the WV Environmental Council's Green Entrepreneurs Award. The facility is heated with wood and uses about $6.66 worth of electricity a day. Environmental education is a key element at White Grass as there are regular outings in the WV Highlands Conservancy and the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, which they helped to establish.
In the northeast US, the Maine Huts & Trails organization has built eco-lodges that are off the power grid with solar energy, wood fired heat, and composting toilet systems. Stump Sprouts Guest Lodge and Cross Country Ski Center in Hawley, MA produces more electricity than it consumes with its solar panels, and the lumber for buildings, furniture, and firewood is harvested on the property. They try to serve as much locally grown food as possible and grow most of their own produce and all food waste is composted. Lloyd Crawford of Stump Sprouts stated, "We use half the fuel that we used 10 years ago after upgrades to our vehicles and equipment." The Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center in Gorham, NH upgraded an old micro-hydro system, which now supplies 80% of electric needs. They've also converted a van that tours up to the top of Mt. Washington to run on propane gas and installed an electric vehicle charging station, too.
Craftsbury Outdoor Center in VT has incorporated sustainability in its mission statement to be carbon neutral. They use 8 tracking solar panels for 35% of their electricity, highly efficient wood-fired boilers for heating, and a solar hot water system. Starting this winter, the waste heat from their snowmaking system generator will help to heat several buildings. Sleepy Hollow Inn Ski & Bike Center in Huntington, VT gets a total of 32 kW of power from solar panel arrays to provide for electric needs that include power for a snowmaking system used to guarantee snow early in the season. A solar hot water system heats 50% of the hot water use at the inn and the lights on the ski trail are being converted to LED lights. Sleepy Hollow Proprietor Eli Enman commented, "By the end of the year, we're looking forward to seeing that close to 100% of our total electricity would've been powered by solar energy and that includes our all-electric snowmaking system water and air pumps."
A sustainable Canadian resort that practices what it preaches is Nipika Mountain Resort in BC, which is off the public power grid. It uses solar panels to supply energy needs. The resort's furniture was built on site with wood from trees that were killed by the Mountain Pine Beetle. Hardwood Ski & Bike in Oro Station, Ontario uses eco-friendly principles in the maintenance of their trail system and they work closely with the county forester to ensure that the forest remains healthy and vibrant through active management.
Boundary Country Trekking on the Gunflint Trail in MN offsets the carbon produced on the Banadad Trail (such as snowmobile grooming) by investing in reforestation in the area. This is a planting estimated at 75,000 trees. Boundary Country Trekking is one of the few XC ski operations that have a sustainability statement and a comprehensive implementation plan. Another Minnesota XC ski area, Maplelag Resort in Callaway is an active tree farm where it has planted thousands of trees and has created more than 20 ponds to benefit wildlife there.
XCSkiResorts.com editor Roger Lohr is the coordinator for the collective, who stated "For people who seek beautiful destinations to cross country ski and want to patronize businesses that fight climate change, the resorts in this collective are the places to visit. The Cross Country Skiing Against Climate Change collective will disseminate information about sustainable practices to other XC ski areas across North America in an effort to share ideas and stand as an industry against global warming, which threatens many of the XC ski areas that exist today."
Andy Newell, US Ski Team and Olympic competitor in cross country skiing created "Athletes for Action" before he set off for the Sochi Olympics. The idea was to coordinate athletes to encourage definitive government action on climate change. "We're expecting more out of Washington and from world leaders," he commented.
Newell recently was joined by fellow Olympian Alex Deibold, (snowboardcross bronze medalist from Vermont) on a visit to the US State Department to speak with the US special envoy for climate change, Todd Stern and he wants to work with other athletes from around the world and have them address the leaders in their countries, too.
Newell recognizes that as a world-class athlete who travels around the world to compete, his carbon footprint is probably larger than most but he opined, "We compete outdoors every day, so we're in tune with the environment and I feel that it's our responsibility to speak up." Before the Olympics, Newell rallied 105 athletes from the US and other countries to sign a letter to world leaders calling them to action on climate change.
After returning from Sochi, other Olympic cross country skiers from Vermont recently joined the cause including biathletes Hannah Dreissigacker and Susan Dunklee and Nordic racers Liz Stephen and Ida Sargent. They saw poor snow conditions while racing in Europe at many races last winter. The Olympians recently spoke with VTDigger.com about their views on climate change.
Dreissigacker commented, "We need to put a price on carbon emissions." Liz Stephen said that the majority of her races this year were on narrow tracks on machine-made snow that was slushy and colored brown with rocks and dirt. While it is true that Vermont had much better snow conditions last winter compared to Europe, Sargent said that Vermont should model Europe's action on carbon emissions such as driving smaller cars, using public transportation, and installing rooftop solar panels. She also supports the Kingdom Community Wind Project in Lowell, VT, a project that has stirred an emotional debate on the state's energy future.
Biathlete Susan Dunklee voiced her concern about the Montreal-Portland Pipeline, which brings crude oil from South Portland, ME to Montreal and could be reversed to transport heavy Canadian crude oil. "We're enabling a system that's depending on fossil fuels and we need to be finding more creative solutions."
Newell would like to welcome athletes from the summer Olympics and non-Olympic athletes such as NFL and MLB players to participate in Athletes for Action. "I'd like to see it grow to where athletes from all disciplines and multiple countries are involved."
Burton Snowboards in Burlington, VT is working to make snowboarding sustainable well into the future. Burton is the dominant snowboard product company, and as such this commitment to sustainability can be an example for other businesses in the snow sports world to emulate.
The environmental focus is generally known in the world of business where each decision takes root with an eco-influence. Since 2008, Burton has focused on improving not just the use of sustainable materials, but the process as a whole. From the production of snowboards and outerwear to luggage and apparel, Burton incorporates the sustainable perspective everywhere possible.
In 2012, Burton unveiled an enhanced manufacturing code of conduct and an extensive restricted substances list associated with Burton's finished goods factories and key sub-suppliers. Audits of Burton suppliers are now being conducted to evaluate and address Burton's social/environmental compliance with applicable global regulations and industry best practices. A social compliance policy is in place that ensures contracted factories uphold Burton's standards and meet targets for continuous improvement and supplier contract clauses deal directly with working conditions.
Ali Kenney, Burton's Global Sustainability Director commented "We're seeing great progress throughout our supply chains. We've been able to reduce packaging dramatically, we have factories all over the world collaborating with us on an environmental facilities assessment, and we even have factories coming to us with new ideas around sustainability."
An employee-run environmental committee named EPIC (Environmental Protection, Integrity, Conservation) focuses on fun ways to improve the company's impact on the environment.
Burton has placed in the top two spots in the Vermont alternative-commuting challenge and has received the silver ranking Bicycle Friendly Business by a national bicycle organization. The facility has showers, a secure bike shelter called "The Wheelhouse" (in photo) and 15 loaner bikes for anyone to use around town. Community-building experiences like free bagels for alternative commuters, critical mass group rides to work, and an annual competition for the most creative commute encourage green commuting. A partnership with the local transportation agency offers free bus passes to all employees. Carpoolers get preferred parking with the slogan "Two or more, closer to the door. Carpool, fool."
There are 18 composting and recycling stations throughout Burton's headquarters and a group sorts through all of it to determine the progress toward zero waste and educate employees. Organic vegetable plots are available on site for employees, who want space to grow their own. This space has more than 6% of all employees tending plots.
In the mornings, Burton employees are offered complimentary organic fruit from a local food co-op and organic coffee and espresso from a Vermont coffee roaster. They've also partnered with a local company that supplies locally made organic hand soaps to employees.
Other social mores at the company include bringing dogs to work, casual dress and flex Fridays in the summer (they get to leave at noon!), and a free pass to a local mountain for unlimited snowboarding. Burton also offers fitness membership reimbursements to make staying healthy affordable.
Burton's Women's Leadership Initiative programs help to attract, retain, and promote women, increasing the number of women in leadership and influential positions throughout the organization. There are educational and social events for women throughout the year, like Learn to Surf outings, Women's Ride Days, Learn to Skate Nights, and career development workshops.
Kinda makes you want to work there, eh?
Located in the beautiful wilderness region of Western Maine, Maine Huts & Trails offers backcountry hut-to-hut adventures coupled with comfortable and friendly accommodations in lodges that are equipped as self-reliant and sustainable.
Maine Huts & Trails provides outdoor enthusiasts of all levels, ages and interests activities such as hiking, mountain biking, paddling, swimming, fishing, cross country (xc) skiing or snowshoeing. At night, lodge staff prepares home-cooked meals prepared with locally-sourced organic ingredients, warm, comfortable beds and hot showers.
The trails will be 180 miles long (groomed for xc skiing) when the system is completed and there'll be 12 huts to visit. There were three huts along the trail that existed and then a fourth, the Stratton Brook Hut opened in most recently in December 2012.
These huts were designed by a member of the Maine Huts & Trails organization board and they are built as eco-lodges with distant access to public energy so they are off the power grid, applying solar energy, wood fired heat, and composting toilet systems. The Tarm heating system employs radiant floor heat and includes a highly efficient gasification boiler that is filled with wood two times daily and leaves very little residue. The solar panels on the lodge are for heating domestic water use and for electricity that is from batteries fed by the photovoltaic solar panels. There is a backup generator if necessary for power.
The Poplar Hut, which was the first lodge constructed has a small hydro plant supplying power, too. The staff at the lodges check the batteries, rake the snow off of the solar panels, and fire up the boiler.
The newest hut at Stratton Brook is different from the first three huts in that it is connected to the public grid for electricity. It has 32 solar panels for power that is sold back to the electric company. There is no need for back up power or batteries in the newest hut. The lodges each accommodate as many as 40 overnight guests and include as many as four private rooms with amenities normally associated with any downtown inn. Tours of the lodge energy systems are available to the public.
In 2008, an effort to create software was undertaken by a group of companies representing about 100 apparel brands to measure environmental impact of products from "cradle to grave" or more explicitly, from raw material to garbage dump.
According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, this so-called Eco Index was intended to perform similar to the Energy Star rating of appliances. The Eco Index concept was officially announced in August 2010 at the Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City. It provided comparative perspectives of brands with relation to environmental and human rights issues. Another way of looking at it is as a sustainability barometer for operations or a litmus test for product greenness.
Some of the companies involved in this effort included Nike, Levi Strauss, Target, Adidas, Timberland, Columbia, and Patagonia. Most consumers are not aware of factors involved with the apparel business such as the toxic chemicals used for leather tanning, crude oil used in the manufacture of synthetic fabrics, incredibly low wages and no benefits for foreign workers, and excessive shipping distances for manufacturing various aspects of apparel. In 2008, Americans discarded 12.4 million tons of textiles, up from 1.8 million tons in 1960.
The Sustainable Apparel Coalition was formed in 2011 and the Higg Index 1.0 was developed and launched in July 2012 as primarily an indicator based tool for apparel that enables companies to evaluate material types, products, facilities and processes based on a range of environmental and product design choices. The Index asks practice-based, qualitative questions to gauge environmental sustainability performance and drive behavior for improvement. It is based largely on the Eco Index and Nike's Apparel Environmental Design Tool, however it has been significantly enhanced through a pilot testing period.
The Higg Index 1.0 is a tool to help organizations standardize how they measure and evaluate environmental performance of apparel products across the supply chain at the brand, product and facility levels. It enables rapid learning through identification of environmental sustainability hot spots and improvement opportunities and it's a starting point of engagement, education, and collaboration among stakeholders in advance of more rigorous assessment efforts.
The Higg Index 1.0 will help both small and large companies to identify challenges and capture on-going improvement. It targets a spectrum of performance that allows beginners and leaders in environmental sustainability, regardless of company size, to identify opportunities. The Eco Index software provided a self-reported score of points on various questions regarding raw material, production, shipping, and disposal. A brand could score points with for example, a wastewater purifying system, a recycling program, good labor standards, less bulky packaging, and even washing in cold instead of hot water. There were estimations involved in the scoring system and proof was not required. In the future, the Higg Index is intended to provide more quantitative feedback, weighting of factors, and verification of the details. It will also be extended to footwear and equipment businesses.
This industry index concept is a beginning but we do not know how much of a motivational factor that it may become in the eyes of consumers. It is admirable that competitors have come together to work on this concept and many of the participating companies have previously undergone an internal analysis of these issues. Environmental issues are driving some product design these days such as printed info on garments instead of separate tags and using less or recycled packaging. And not surprisingly, many of the applicable design ideas save processing costs, too. If such a self-analysis helps companies to change and vie for a higher score, we all will win.
Recently, a gentleman from Quebec drove his 2012 Ford Focus Electric car up the Mt. Washington Auto Road to the summit of the Northeast’s highest peak. This was the first mass produced all electric vehicle to reach the peak taking the winding 8-mile road with an average grade of 12%.
Sylvain Juteau of Three Rivers, Quebec drove the car 800 miles from his home town to a vacation in Maine and then decided to take the car to the summit of nearby Mt. Washington, located in Pinkham Notch, NH. He commented, “You can easily get 100,000 miles from your batteries and brake pads and the real time data you get from the car teaches you to drive more intelligently while the brakes regenerate the battery when you slow down.”
The car requires 2.5 hours to charge and can run on the charge for about 100 miles. Juteau used about half of his available charge on the way up and he recovered and recharged on the way down the mountain road. The auto road is one of the nation’s oldest man-made attractions opening in 1861. In fact, the first automobile that climbed the road in 1899 was a Stanley Steamer driven by Freelon O. Stanley himself. For info about the auto road check www.mtwashingtonautoroad.com
This story brought back memories of my first ride in a hybrid Toyota Prius in 2001with a friend, who was a newly elected official in Colorado. One of the perks of his political position was a vehicle to use and my friend felt compelled to request a hybrid car instead of a 4-wheel drive that the other officials had always requested. Over the years, this memory encouraged me to often suggest that all government automobile purchases should be electric vehicles�and while the government might put its money where its mouth should be, all public buildings should have roof top solar collectors, too. Can you imagine what this level of purchases would do for these products or how it could lead the way to fight climate change?
Instead, even though there were 200,000 of the Toyota Prius sold in 2012, it was announced that General Motors has idled the assembly plant, which manufactures the electric Chevy Volt because they’ve sold less than half of their annual projection (13,500 cars sold and 40,000 projected sales). The electric Nissan Leaf had sold 4,288 in 2012 through August. And the Ford Focus Electric vehicle, the car that made it to the top of Mt. Washington had sold only 169 (in the USA). Think about the number of vehicles if every level of government (town, city, county, state, Federal) was mandated to purchase electric vehicles starting this year�hmmm, that’s a big number.
Electric Vehicle Charging Station Installed on Auto Road
In an August 2013 followup to the above story, the Mt. Washington Auto Road has installed the first ever Electric Vehicle Charging Station. Less than 24 hours later, the all electric vehicle, a Tesla S Model, pulled in for a charge. The Auto Road does not "charge for a charge", though a donation slot is there for those so inclined. Fifteen more Teslas from the New England chapter of the Tesla Car Club arrived for a drive to the summit.
Auto Road GM Howie Wemyss decided this was the year to have the Clipper Creek CS 90 charger installed. "Considering that we are hosting the Mt. Washington Auto Road Alt Energy Summit event here on September 14 and 15, there couldn't be a better time to make this kind of energy available onsite," Wemyss noted. "We are looking at adding an electric vehicle to our line-up sometime this year and have been evaluating various alternative fuel sources for our stages, as well," Wemyss added. The Auto Road currently derives about 80% of the energy used for the base building operations from an onsite hydro power source.
Daniel Einspanjer, a Tesla S model owner and organizer of the group's gathering commented, "The trip up and down the mountain was as breath-taking as always and everyone enjoyed it. As expected, the trip down was excellent. The cars could not have been built better for descending a mountain. Stable, low to the ground, and aerodynamic, the cars handle wonderfully on the road. Additionally, the regenerative braking means that you don't have to worry about a straining engine or overheating brakes as the car gracefully glides down at a comfortable and safe speed requiring only occasional touches of the brakes at the hairpin turns."
Perhaps even more impressive than the view and drive down was the energy consumption data: "The 8 mile long and 4,600 feet high ascent consumes somewhere between 12 and 14 kW of energy (about 40 to 45 miles of rated range), while the descent reclaims between 5 and 7 kW of energy (about 20 to 23 miles of rated range) through regenerative braking. There are currently more than 13,000 Teslas on the road in the US" Einspanjer noted.
Erik Sports, a Nordic and snowshoe equipment supplier for more than three decades decided to increase company sustainability by addressing building power and heating needs in its Tranquility, NJ location. The company is most known for the White Woods brand of Nordic and snowshoe products.
Company president, Michael Messler spoke with XCSkiResorts.com about the renovation projects including an upgrade to plant lighting, retrofitting the boiler, and solar panel installation for thermal and photovoltaic purposes. These projects brought both environmental and financial advantages to the company's operation.
The lighting upgrade provides improved light and it will result in 65-70% in energy savings, A wood boiler replaced the oil-powered heating system. This system will be integrated with a solar thermal unit so that the wood will be used only as a backup. These undertakings and investments make Erik Sports one of the most sustainable product companies in the business.
Swix Sports USA based in Haverhill, MA has a new facility that features high efficiency heating systems, motion-controlled lighting throughout the warehouse, and a self-regulated low flow water system. The solar array on the roof covers the 53,000 square foot warehouse sending about 343,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year back to the grid. The $1.5 million solar project was thanks to an agreement with Leewood Realty and it displaces more than 600,000 pounds of CO2 and could provide electricity for 34 homes for a year.
Fischer Ski Company has had a biomass CHP plant for heat in its Austrian manufacturing facility since 2001. Special water treatment filter systems have achieved a reduction of 40% in the use of industrial water. A Fischer ski production plant in the Ukraine was changed to 100% renewable energy in 2009, but details were not available in the company information about the plant. In the years 2001-2010, Fischer operations have lowered carbon emissions by 84.7%.
Madshus, a brand within the K2 Skis company has introduced some cross country ski boots in its line that do not incorporate PVC (poly-vinyl chloride), which is claimed to be harmful to the environment. PVC is a material that is often used in boot soles.
More green efforts accomplished by product suppliers will be posted in the Green Room as they become available.
One of the most eco-oriented resorts in the world is Nipika Mountain Resort in Canada's Kootenay National Park near Invermere, British Columbia. Proprietor Lyle Wilson told XCSkiResorts.com, "We operate in non-consumptive ways and when people drive here and park their cars, we remind them to keep their car keys in an obvious place so they can remember them because while they're here, they'll forget about their cars all together." The resort has 13 buildings including a lodge, cabins, and other facilties that are off the power grid.
The car-free holiday at Nipika Mountain Resort is an extravaganza of 100% self-propelled nonmotorized recreational activities like snowshoeing, cross country skiing, mountain biking, paddling, hiking, ice skating, and sledding. The resort has 13 buildings that were mostly hand-built using timber from trees that grew within 100 meters of the site. Even the furniture in the lodge and cabins was built in the resort's woodworking shop, much of it by hand. The pine beetle infestation has killed many trees in the area, but it has also supplied plenty of wood so there was no need to use live trees for the construction.
Nipika Mountain Resort powered by 20 solar panels, which produce 3,500 amp hours stored in batteries. The energy transforms from the battery power to AC using inverters for electricity. There are few appliances (no TV or phones) at Nipika and Wilson proudly asserts that the entire resort uses one third of an average family house in the city.
The facilities are heated with a central wood boiler that sends hot water to radiant floor piping and a heat exchanger tank to keep the lodge and each cabin warm. And there are wood stoves and a propane-based backup system to assure comfort at the resort.
Nipika has an organic vegetable garden to grow mostly root crops. And an older grooming machine is employed to maintain the trails, which has a smaller engine and saves fuel compared to current snowcat groomers. Wilson is investigating the use of biodiesel fuel for the groomer, too. The staff works to enhance the wildlife habitat on the property and there is an interpretive cabin that is used as a learning center about nature and history in the surrounding area.
So if you want to experience a highly sustainable operation in action situated in a vast wilderness playground, visit Nipika Mountain Resort.
The recent news about the impacts of climate change on the snow sports industry is frankly not news to those in the cross country ski world. While a small segment of the $12.2 billion snow sports business, the cross country ski world has been vulnerable to the vagaries of Mother Nature since its inception (commercial cross country ski areas in the US began in the late sixties, but cross country skiing dates back to drawings on cave walls in 4,000 BC).
The report called Climate Impacts on the Winter Tourism Economy in the United States, was commissioned by Protect Our Winters (POW) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) with scientists at the University of New Hampshire (UNH). The study results tie specific climate data to hard numbers relating to projected business losses for the snow sports industry and the U.S. economy as a whole.
Professional skiers and snowboarders went with POW to Washington last year to lobby Congress to act on legislation to curb climate change and they painted a "clear picture" of how warmer weather is impacting winter sports. Senators from both sides thanked POW and the athletes for their view but they said they needed to know about the economic impact in their states before they could think about climate legislation. So POW joined forces with the Natural Resources Defense Council to place a value on winter and the data shows that winter tourism is a $12.2 billion industry in 38 states. For the 2009-10 winter season New York state alone had a winter tourism industry that supported more than 14,000 jobs and generated $846 million.
Jeremy Jones, founder of the POW organization is scheduled to attend and be recognized as a "Champion of Change" at a White House ceremony on April 11, 2013. A letter signed by 75 of the top snow sports athletes including World Champion Cross Country Ski Sprinter Kikkan Randall, will be handed to President Obama at the ceremony. The letter references the data in the report and asks the President to take action on climate, on behalf of all of us who love and work in snow sports. It'll be a powerful statement from the snow sports community, delivered by our sports icons.
The report based on University of New Hampshire research claimed that the alpine ski industry draws $1 billion less revenue during a poor snow season than it does during a good one and such a business downturn translates to a loss of between 13,000 to 27,000 jobs. Of course, the alpine ski business deploys machine-made snow, so only cold temperatures are needed to cover the slopes with snow. But the rise in temperatures can impact snowmaking opportunities thus cutting the depth of the snow and the length of the ski season. With cross country ski areas the lack of snow (particularly if it rains when it's not cold enough) can kill prime segments of the ski season such as the holiday period or key weekends. Fewer than 40 commercial cross country ski resorts in North America use snowmaking machines to cover trails; see article at Snowmaking at XC Ski Resorts Becomes Imperative.
“The industry hasn’t done a good job on educating leaders on the raw science and hasn’t made enough of a public statement on climate,” Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability at the Aspen Skiing Company resort area in Colorado told the New York Times. “It needs to ramp that up radically in the same way that the insurance industry has recognized climate change as an existential threat.”
NSAA, the ski area association in the USA stated that it adopted its Climate Change policy in 2002 that includes a three- pronged strategy in fighting climate change: reduce, educate, and advocate. Moreover, ski areas have been weighing in on energy and climate legislation in Washington for more than a decade.
NSAA also launched a “Climate Challenge” program two years ago, through which participating resorts inventory their green house gas emissions, set targets for reduction, reduce their carbon footprint and take other measures. At this point, while the alpine ski industry can "weather" the challenge with snowmaking, the cross country ski industry and snowmobile industry are more susceptible to climate change, and they need some action to begin turning things around.