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As avid outdoorists here at SKI, we love the mountains and hope to spend many more years blazing down slopes on skis and bikes. Yet as soul-soothing as that is, we can’t say we’re not worried about the impacts of climate change on the future of our sport—or even the impact that the ski industry itself has on the environment and what we can do to stem the damage. We might not agree on how to do it, but we know we have to change how we do things—in the ski industry and across the globe.
To that end, the National Ski Areas Association has been rewarding the good work done by ski resorts around sustainability and environmental issues since 1993 through its Golden Eagle Awards. These awards actually originated as a partnership between SKI and NSAA designed to recognize resorts, programs, and people in the industry making strides toward sustainability.
While SKI is no longer involved, the NSAA continues to move the needle, announcing its Golden Eagle Awards winners for the 2020-’21 ski season last week—three resorts and one individual helping to shine a light on issues of sustainability in every corner of the industry.
The 2021 Golden Eagle Award Winners
This year, the Golden Eagle Award for Environmental Excellence went to Boyne Resorts, Mich, which was acknowledged for its Forever Project, rolled out across its 13 ski and lake resorts last season. The initiative is multi-pronged and includes moving to 100-percent renewable electric energy solutions, collaborating with industry experts and partners to determine the right path forward, and continuing to improve best practices in resort operations such as grooming and snowmaking. The company’s goal is to become carbon neutral by 2030.
The Innovation in Sustainability Award was rolled out in 2018 and recognizes efforts by resorts to engage the community in the stewardship of our recreational land. Copper Mountain, Colo., took home the honor this year thanks to a multi-year project collecting harvested and restored native foliage to the resort’s land. What’s more, by reaching out to local volunteers, Copper turned the effort into an education experience, and is now sharing its intel with other local resorts with hopes to grow the program.
Learn About Copper’s Native Seeding Program
The Climate Change Impact Award went to two resorts this year: Taos Ski Valley, N.M., and Colo.’s Eldora Mountain Resort. Taos was recognized for its work in setting up the Rio Grande Water Fund, established after the devastating Las Conchas fire of 2014 burned over 150,000 acres on Santa Fe National Forest. The Water Fund is working toward the reforestation of upstream lands to ensure fresh water in the Rio Grande Watershed. For its part, Taos is training employees to become Type 2 Wildland Firefighters who can perform active forest management and help create more sustainable forests that won’t be so easily demolished by wildfires.
At Eldora, the onus to help fight climate change is shared throughout the company on all levels, and employees in every department are empowered to think about—and act upon—ways in which they can help make an impact. From large-scale carbon-reduction projects to recycling nitrile gloves, Eldora knows it takes a village.
This year’s Hero of Sustainability, Laura Shaffer, is the creator of POWDR Corp’s Play Forever initiative, which is the company’s sustainability and corporate responsibility commitment across its 17 resorts. During the pandemic, Shaffer deftly pivoted and created POWDR’s Play it Forward effort to help the local communities that are home to the resorts weather the financial, social, and medical impact of Covid-19.
On That Topic: Outdoor Brands Give Back
Not directly related to sustainability but rather the growth and longevity of our sport, NSAA’s Conversion Cup award recognizes efforts by resorts to turn beginner skiers and snowboarders into repeat participants. Finalists this year included N.J.’s Big Snow American Dream and Mich.’s Crystal Mountain, but top honors ultimately went to Sky Tavern, Nev., a tiny, volunteer-run nonprofit ski area that’s hooked generations of young Nevadans on the sport. SKI profiled this amazing operation in our January 2021 issue. Read the story here.
Find more information about the NSAA’s awards, including runners-up and how finalists are chosen, click here.
More Sustainability Stories from SKI
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71 Competing Ski Resorts Unite to Fight Climate Change Under New Charter
Finally, a Way to Keep Old Ski Boots Out of the Landfill