Established in 1993, these are the highest honors bestowed on a resort for environmental performance. For over 25 years, the NSAA Golden Eagle Awards for Environmental Excellence have celebrated the best North American ski area sustainability programs and the people who make them happen. Recognition is awarded in four categories: Environmental Excellence, Innovation in Sustainability, Climate Change Impact, and Hero of Sustainability.
Winners will be announced at the 2022 NSAA Awards Ceremony during our National Convention in Nashville, TN, May 14.
OVERALL ENVIRONMENTAL EXCELLENCE
Alta Ski Area, UT
To understand Alta’s commitment to the environment, look no further than the Alta Environmental Center (AEC). The AEC’s approach to environmental stewardship was years in the making. They boast impressive land conservation and restoration programs and are not afraid to look the most daunting projects in the eye. This year, the AEC identified some of their largest emission-producing processes: They committed to purchasing renewable energy credits (RECs) worth an amount that matches 100% of the ski area’s electricity use, resulting in estimated savings of 3,567 metric tons of carbon dioxide (MTCO2) annually. Judges appreciated the AEC’s acknowledgement that RECs are not the final climate solution and the commitment to directly support renewable alternatives at local, state and national levels. The AEC also worked to divert food waste in Little Cottonwood Canyon, engaging community organizations and partnering with fellow Golden Eagle finalist Snowbird. What started with a pilot food collection in program in 2019 turned into sending food waste to a digester to create biomethane (a renewable natural gas) and ended in diverting over 41,000 pounds of food waste from the landfill in one year.
Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, CO
Arapahoe Basin has become known for their authentic approach to sustainability, both greening their operations and using their voice to speak up for climate action policies. A-Basin created a strategic sustainability plan in 2018, with seven goals to reach by 2025, culminating in the ski area becoming a 100% carbon neutral operation. At roughly their halfway mark, the ski area made large strides toward their goals this year. A-Basin installed new EV chargers. By putting these in coveted parking spots —offering free charging for the inaugural year and including a healthy dollop of signage — the ski area made clear how much they value sustainability in collaboration with guests. Judges also considered the significant and bold climate advocacy as a compelling argument in A-Basin’s favor. The organization has signed on to business letters and even written their own op-ed urging for climate action at state and federal levels. Furthermore, they continue to engage their guest base, posting on social media for #SustainabilitySundays and placing collaboration over competition with fellow mountain town organizations.
Snowbird made the decision to replace their 35-year-old cogeneration plant with an entirely new one, and this massive undertaking has proven totally worth it. The new cogeneration plant is 60% more efficient electrically than its predecessor and generates 90–100% of the resort’s power via natural gas. The upgrade saves the ski area roughly 62,000 dekatherms of natural gas annually, the equivalent of burning 4 million pounds of coal per year. By mostly eliminating the mountain’s demand on the utility grid, Snowbird has removed its dependency on coal and carved out a reliable energy source in a high-altitude, difficult-to-access environment where renewable energy like wind and solar face many challenges. Judges loved that the heat produced in the process is recycled through the system and used to heat buildings across the resort and that Snowbird took the opportunity to have fun with the branding of such an endeavor (for more on that, see our Marketing Awards). This project, paired with green initiatives across the mountain like glass recycling and food composting, stood out among applications this year. The resort demonstrated a takeaway we can all keep in mind while working to be more sustainable: Do what you can with the resources you’ve got in the space you have.
CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACT AWARD
Arapahoe Basin, CO
A-Basin earned multiple Golden Eagle nominations for the multiple ways in which they tackle environmental work. They promote climate action and advocacy at a resort level, and encourage their consumer base, community and political leaders to do the same. A-Basin’s strategic sustainability plan culminates in the ski area becoming a 100% carbon neutral operation by 2025. Their new EV chargers, free for the first year and placed in some of the best parking, encourage guests to be more green themselves. Arapahoe Basin is directly contributing to the continued removal of barriers to EV adoption in mountain towns and being vocal about it. The organization has signed on to business letters and even written their own op-ed urging for climate action at state and federal levels.
Vail Resorts, CO
Vail Resorts set a lofty goal for 2030: to reach net zero emissions across their North American resorts. By the end of 2021, the company’s ski areas were powered by 85% renewable energy thanks to the 82-turbine Plum Creek Wind Project they enabled. In the first full year of operation, the renewable electricity generated reduced Vail’s market-based GHG emissions by 50.5% versus the previous year — that’s the equivalent of removing over 230,000 passenger cars from the road for a year. Vail Resorts is continuing to take advantage of their wide network of ski areas to share ideas and learnings to advance progress in the field of sustainability. Their continued accomplishments in many environmental initiatives, from waste diversion to energy efficiency, are noteworthy examples of a holistic approach to sustainability.
Wild Mountain, MN
Wild Mountain is on a mission to “Keep It Wild,” and the team there are experts at encouraging their guests to help them do so. Just this past year, they saw a 26% increase in season passholders; that’s a 26% increase in a consumer base to engage on sustainability. Wild Mountain boasts an impressive accomplishment in the environmental field: Carbon Neutral Certification. Even with this under their belt, Wild Mountain continues to green their operation in whatever ways they can. They improved their recycling program; replaced trail lighting with more energy-efficient lighting; offered more eco-friendly retail gear and clothes; and eliminated over 500,000 pieces of single-use plastic from the waste stream. This progress led to a 12.5% reduction in GHG emissions year over year — no small feat for a smaller team.
INNOVATION IN SUSTAINABILITY
Arapahoe Basin, CO
How can a resort’s nominations stretch across three categories? A-Basin not only produces results, they do so in an innovative way. The team at A-Basin worked tirelessly to provide unique and new ways to fund their sustainability projects. By engaging with local companies and funding partners, they were able to purchase their new EV chargers at 20% of the cost. The ski area promotes climate action and advocacy at a resort level and encourages their consumer base, community and political leaders to do the same. A-Basin’s strategic sustainability plan culminates in the ski area becoming a 100% carbon neutral operation by 2025.
Snowbasin Resort, UT
Snowbasin realized that many employees and guests don’t know much about sustainable habits. People know they should recycle, not how to recycle; they know they should choose products and transportation responsibly, they just don’t know how to do so. In today’s info-saturated world, Snowbasin sought to cut through the clutter with something new and engaging to increase education and drive a culture of sustainability across the resort. Every other Sunday, the Snowbasin team hosted games with sustainable prizes to educate guests on environmental practices. They rotated through a variety of clever challenges, including digital scavenger hunts around the mountain. Through promotion and effective content, the team saw a nearly 300% increase in participation. The judges also took note that Snowbasin practiced what they preached: They offered discounted bus passes, carpool parking lots and engaged on sustainability across their social media channels.
Sunlight Mountain Resort, CO
Sunlight approached a common project, EV chargers, and looked at it differently. How can a family ski area high in the mountains install new EV charging stations? Sunlight worked with Colorado organizations and local partners to find support, receiving funding grants for this process. The ski area knows how important showing your guests what you’re doing is to inspiring action in them, and they offered two for one lift tickets during opening weekend for all EV drivers. Sunlight’s creativity in installing EV chargers was just the start. The ski area has installed snow fencing to harness more natural snow; repurposed old snowboards for trail signs; implemented solar-powered webcams and metal scrap recycling; optimized their irrigation systems; and revegetated defunct manmade areas at the base.
HERO OF SUSTAINABILITY
Bonnie Hickey, Bridger Bowl, MT
Bonnie Hickey is a pioneer, advocate and mentor in ski industry sustainability. She works tirelessly to find new and creative ways to preserve and protect Bridger Bowl and its surrounding natural landscapes. Hickey has led initiatives to support regenerative grazing and carbon sequestration through local partnerships right in their backyard of the Northern Great Plains of Montana; spearheaded an innovative on-site vertical flow water treatment wetlands project; and led to completion many other impressive projects, including a 50 kWh solar project right next to their mid-mountain lodge. The outcomes of Hickey’s work demonstrate her environmental prowess: Bridger Bowl won the Environmental Excellence Golden Eagle in 2020, was the first ski area in Montana to host a Global Sustainable Tourism Council training event, and got Bridger featured in National Geographic’s Geotourism MapGuides for its sustainable business practices. Combine these accolades with her tireless advocacy on climate solutions in a conservative state and her mentorship of new NSAA Climate Challengers, and you have a great example of what it means to be a Hero of Sustainability.
Kate Wilson, Vail Resorts, CO
What does it take to oversee strategy and execution of Vail Resorts’ ambitious Commitment to Zero? Strong leadership, determination and a willingness to get your hands dirty. Kate Wilson embodies all of these traits as she has grown Vail Resorts’ sustainability team from nine members to 15 in the last six years. Getting to zero across all Vail Resorts’ properties is no easy feat when operating in varied, unique mountainous regions across the globe. Wilson oversees local sustainability teams to implement strategies specific to each resort and works with leaders across the company to ensure the full employee base is inspired by, and contributing to, Commitment to Zero. Kate also lends her aptitude in sustainability to collaboration and advocacy in the ski industry, most recently stepping in as chair of NSAA’s Environmental Committee. She has ensured Vail Resorts uses its business voice to call for climate action and played an essential role in forming the Climate Collaborative Charter between Alterra Mountain Company, Boyne Resorts, POWDR and Vail Resorts.