Photo: Sunrise Park Resort/www.sunrise.ski

Skiing That Gives Back

This winter, skip the mega-resorts and consider a lower-profile alternative at these smaller ski areas making huge strides in land conservation and access.

Many ski resorts across the country do far more than simply shuttle skiers and snowboarders up the mountain so they can schuss back down. They also give back, supporting noble measures, from sustainability and land preservation to diversity initiatives, designed to ensure skiing and riding has a future by making it more accessible and ecologically sound. But while plenty of bigger, corporate resorts have dedicated PR teams touting such programs, countless ski areas with a smaller footprint make a large impact outside of the limelight. So, when you’re planning your next winter trip, consider the following resorts where you can ski and ride assured that your recreational dollars are helping make a difference. 

Respect for Traditional Land Inhabitants

Two ski-resort members of the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) are owned by Indigenous groups. With the slopes managed by the same people who have inhabited them for centuries, you know your lift-ticket purchases directly support those lands and their original stewards.

  • Ski Apache, located in southern New Mexico’s Sierra Blanca range, is owned and operated by the Mescalero Apache Tribe. Established in 1883, their 463,000-acre reservation borders Lincoln National Forest near the scenic town of Ruidoso. Reflecting the entrepreneurial vision and resilience of the Mescalero Tribe, the country’s southernmost (major) ski resort sits on the flanks of Sierra Blanca Peak, considered sacred ground for the tribe. Fun fact: The eight-lift resort has the only gondola accessing ski slopes in the state.
  • Sunrise Park Resort, ​​owned and operated by the White Mountain Apache Tribe, sits 9,200 feet up on the Colorado Plateau atop the White Mountains. There, the 1,200-acre resort consists of three mountains named Sunrise Peak, Cyclone Circle, and Apache Peak, making it the largest ski resort in Arizona—located near the town of Greer, Ariz., on the 1.6 million-acre Fort Apache Indian Reservation.

DEI Efforts

Check out these ski areas working to ensure equitable access to all skiers and riders, regardless of race, color, religion or economic background.

  • Mountain Creek is the New York City metro area’s closest four-season mountain resort. As such, the New Jersey area goes out of its way to include programming that makes its 46 trails and eight lifts accessible to everyone. “It has one of the most diverse staffs and consumer bases of any ski area in the country,” says NSAA’s Adrienne Isaac. Credit an innovative system that eases resort transit via buses and other mass transportation, beginners programming designed to ease the learning curve and boost retention, plus an operation that’s paired with Big Snow, the country’s first indoor skiing facility.
  • Mountain High, just an hour-and-a-half drive from downtown L.A., bills itself as “where Southern California learns to ski and snowboard.” As such, the ski area offers a slew of programs designed to foster diversity on the slopes, from transportation programs to a robust beginners’ platform designed to facilitate entry into the sport. “It traditionally has one of the largest Asian-Pacific Island consumer groups in the country,” says Isaac. “Even its signs are translated into highly used languages.” 
Photo: Sunrise Park Resort/www.sunrise.ski

Sustainability

These ski areas stand out for their noteworthy efforts to actively reduce their carbon footprint. 

  • Arapahoe Basin has earned multiple Golden Eagle nominations from the NSAA for its environmental initiatives, from promoting climate action and advocacy at the resort level to encouraging its customer base and local politicians to do the same. Its sustainability plan calls for the high-elevation Colorado ski area to become 100% carbon neutral by 2025. Advocating the removal of barriers for EV adoption in mountain towns, it recently installed new EV chargers in its parking lot, free for the first year, pushed for climate action at state and federal levels, and encouraged more-environmentally friendly actions (like ride-sharing) from guests. 
  • Bridger Bowl has emerged as an environmental leader, as the first ski area in Montana to host a Global Sustainable Tourism Council training event and winner of the NSAA’s Environmental Excellence Golden Eagle Award in 2020. Its sustainability practices include: regenerative grazing and carbon sequestration through local partnerships in their backyard of Montana’s Northern Great Plains; an innovative on-site vertical flow water treatment wetlands project; and a 50-kWh solar project adjacent to the resort’s mid-mountain lodge.

Land Preservation

While every ski area exists within a larger framework of land use and management—roughly half of all U.S. skier visits take place in a national forest, where 122 NSAA areas operate in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service—a few are making notable conservation strides.

  • Powder Mountain, which operates in the Utah shadow of other Wasatch Range resort giants, is quietly promoting everything from sustainability to land preservation. Most recently, the ski area partnered with the Ogden Valley Land Trust to conserve 877 acres of open space through the Utah Land Conservation Easement Act, preserving the land in perpetuity. It also employs strict building guidelines to preserve as much land as possible, including enacting an ICC-700 National Green Building Standard for energy efficiency, water conservation and other green practices. Other initiatives include minimizing grooming, eliminating plastic bottles, and relying 100% on natural snow without snowmaking—which requires huge amounts of water consumption and electricity, to the (average) tune of 20,000 cubic meters of water and 600 gigawatt-hours, respectively, to cover a mid-sized slope. 

Nonprofit Causes

Around 20 ski areas in the country are owned by nonprofits, all of which invest back into their communities. And while a lot of ski areas give back to the towns that sustain them, Isaac says, for these nonprofit entities, “it’s their guiding principle to do good—they don’t have to force it into their culture.” Here’s a handful among them whose efforts stand out most.

  • Sky Tavern Ski Area is owned by the city of Reno, Nev., and operated by Sky Tavern, a 501(c)(3). The oldest nonprofit snow-training facility in America, its motto is “by the community, for the community.” A member-run ski area without any staff, participating adults pay a registration fee to join and work a two-hour shift each weekend in the job of their choice, be it in the kitchen, lift line or ski school. Children who don’t have a participating adult can get transportation via bus from several locations and receive a two-hour lesson before free riding.
  • Winter4Kids is a Vernon, N.J., ski area dedicated to changing the lives of youth. It champions a variety of programs to get Black and other non-white youth on the slopes, helping kids “develop improved attitudes about themselves, health, nutrition and becoming lifelong enthusiasts.”
  • Skeetawk, a nonprofit ski area all the way up in Palmer, Alaska, located on Hatcher Pass in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, has programming specifically tailored to facilitate Native Alaskans getting out on the slopes. It was named for the Athabaskan word Shk’ituk’t, meaning “the place where we slide down.”

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.

MORE STORIES