Author: Audrey Gamsby (STOKE Intern | Sophomore, San Diego State University)
Thread the needle through the greenwash
It’s hard to find the perfect place to ski and snowboard. Sifting through greenwashing to find a sustainable ski resort? Even harder. No need to stress though, because I’m going to tell you about two amazing AND sustainable mountain destinations. Luckily, I had the privilege of interviewing these two fantastic ski areas and am ready to report back to you. By the end of this, you’ll be reaching for your snowboard or skis and buying lift tickets!
First let’s talk about Diamond Peak (pictured above), located in Incline Village, Nevada, Tahoe’s first STOKE Certified ski resort. In 2019, Red Bull mentioned Diamond Peak on their list of the “9 Most Stunning Places to Ski on Earth” which is quite a flex if you ask me. This is the perfect beginner-friendly resort. Diamond Peak offers lessons for all experience levels and even hosts ski races. They have the 4th most rideable vertical in Tahoe, and a variety of features for riders of all levels. If snowboarding and skiing aren’t your thing, they also offer snowshoe hikes up the hill so you can still enjoy the scenery of the Lake Tahoe basin. The base lodge has a beautiful view of the slopes while you enjoy some BBQ and drink local brews, and the Snowflake lodge offers stunning panoramic views. Diamond Peak cares deeply about guaranteeing a positive experience for guests while protecting the environment.
Sounds great, but you may be asking yourself… How sustainable are they REALLY?
Well, they are STOKE Certified, which is an independent third-party assessment of their environmental and social impacts, but let’s get into the specifics.
You won’t have to worry about renting a car and driving around because Diamond Peak has tons of convenient transportation options. A shuttle is offered with 13 stops throughout Incline Village that deliver guests to the slopes for free every day. The Tahoe Area Regional Transportation also operates a free shuttle throughout Incline Village and Crystal Bay and has free curb-to-curb van-share rides from 8am – 12am through the winter. Saving money and the environment? Yes, please!
Diamond Peak was the first Tahoe resort to invest in an efficient snowmaking system, which creates artificial snow while reducing large amounts of energy and water usually used to make snow. Since the ski area sits right on top of Lake Tahoe, a majority of the snowmelt returns to the watershed. The ski area’s grooming machines are equipped with Pistenbully’s SNOWsat snow depth monitoring technology, which shows real-time snow depth as they groom the slopes. The data ensures an ideal snow surface for riding even during lean snow years. The system also tracks all aspects of the snowcats operations including, run time, gas consumption, GPS tracking, and service maintenance, for greater efficiency.
They offer a program called ‘Drink Tahoe Tap’ that offers reusable water pouches and a map of water bottle refill stations throughout the Tahoe Basin. The refill stations get a lot of use and have cut down the number of single-use plastic water bottles. Score!
Some sustainability initiatives they currently have in the works are working with the Nevada Green Business Certification program and their “STOKE Show” which are a collection of videos from community partners and their passions in the Tahoe Basin. They are also working with the Desert Research Institute about its work on microplastics in the snow, and the Tahoe Institute for Natural Science to learn about staying fire safe. These projects will continue to educate the guests as they can view them anytime on their growing YouTube library.
I know what everyone’s thinking, how are they handling the worldwide pandemic? Fair question.
Diamond Peak stays up to date with the latest recommendations from the CDC and local guidelines to ensure guest safety. They have gone as far as to conduct multiple vaccine clinics available to all their employees and their dependents, and increased wages to starting at $17 an hour. The cleaning supplies and disinfectants are all eco-friendly products, so they can sanitize surfaces often. It’s a place that prioritizes its guests, employees, community, and environment.
Diamond Peak is also heavily invested in supporting its community. There are several annual committee reports done with local stakeholders, to maintain the business in the hands of the people, which is a breath of fresh air if you ask me. They offer interpretive ski tours called STOKE Mountain Tours to teach visitors about the human history of Incline Village and Diamond Peak along with information about the ecology of the Tahoe basin that inspires guests to check out the Tahoe Environmental Research Center down the street. They even offer a survey consisting of questions about their sustainability initiatives and what they can do to the improve guest experience.
If you’re planning on coming to Diamond Peak, bring your kids! The Children’s Ski Center is an excellent resource for the Tahoe community. The Sierra Scout program is for children of any skill level, it teaches them about animals, trees, and ecology indigenous to the Tahoe area. For younger kids, the Sierra Sliders program is awesome, complete with lift tickets, equipment rentals, and coloring books filled with images of local natural history.
On to the next!
I’m excited to tell you about the first STOKE Certified ski area in the world, Mt. Ashland! With Covid sending outdoor recreation into high demand, they had a record year with 106,000 visitors! This really built up the community and cool vibe that they have, as everyone continued to rally for the resort as they safely navigated a pandemic. I would say this place has such a homey feel. It’s mostly friendly locals, unlike some of the more mainstream blown-out snow resorts — this is a fun and welcoming place to ride.
In their Covid-19 protocol, they follow local, state, and federal guidelines and adopt everything sent their way. They also took part in the National Ski Area’s Association program called “Ski Well be Well.” Another thing I find impressive about the resort and their safety protocol is that they source their very effective hand sanitizer from a small local Oregon distillery. The workers are even paid above minimum wage.
Now into the good stuff, the sustainability breakdown…
They too have a shuttle to transport people to and from the mountain. They have different sizes depending on the weather, where they are headed, and how many people are going in order to use the most efficient vehicle.
They just recycled all their uniforms by sending them to countries where they are needed, and to use less fabric, they purchased a spring vest as opposed to another jacket. It cut on transportation emissions from shipping one box full of vests as opposed to many boxes of jackets. Any that don’t fit are taken to a local tailor.
- Doing a feasibility study on installing rooftop solar project at the lodge to add to their 85 panels on top of the garage.
- Using the most sustainable source for creating snow, mother nature! They don’t use any extra water or energy to create snow since they have no snowmaking equipment.
- Implementing and monitoring a soil and water conservation plan to mitigate erosion and help restore native habitat (pictured to the right). They take the time to make sure restoration sites are addressing the right issues thanks to a workshop hosted by Integrated Environmental Restoration Services.
- Putting all staff through sustainability training during orientation as well.
They are fantastic at upcycling materials as a new feature on their terrain. For example, an old water tank, used tires, and juice barrels have all been upcycled and used in attractions like “the playground.” The crew finds very creative ways to use railing or old signs for riders to bounce off of and create an urban aesthetic.
Cultural heritage preservation is a huge part of Mt. Ashland’s identity. They offer annual snow blessing ceremonies, showing respect to the mountain. People from several indigenous communities and a rabbi join. There’s a song, dance, and prayer — it’s an expression of love for the mountain, the people, and local cultures.
Mt. Ashland also offers wonderful interpretive tours, from programs with college students from Southern Oregon University to Snow School for the younger kids. The college students get to learn about water conservation, the infrastructure, and even advice on how to chase their dreams, while the kids in Snow School go outside and learn about science. They also have historic tours of the lodge, when you go in you learn about the history of skiing in Oregon and the Tudor-style architecture of the lodge. The resort is located between three mountain ranges and is known as one of the most biodiverse areas of the country, so they teach people about geology and what’s unique about the ecology in the Siskiyou wilderness.
Mt. Ashland puts on many events in the community that foster relationships between the locals and their home mountain. Newcomers are greeted with warm welcomes and treated as locals. The managers don’t hide in the office, they make sure the guest is having a great time and go interact with the community. Some events they host are Women of Winter, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, My Turn Ski program, Annual Ski Against Hunger, Winter Wellness Day, After School Youth Program, and many more. The Winter Wellness day involved donating winter clothes to kids of families who aren’t able to afford snow gear.
I hope you’re STOKEd to check out these ski destinations — now is the time to start buying passes (check out their pass partnership deals here and here) and planning your trip for the 2022/23 season. Hope to see you out there next winter!