The New Eco-Apres Ski Hospitality Starts Greening Up Its Act

Ski travel, by nature, is a few shades less than green. By the time most powderhounds hit the slopes this winter, chances are they’ll have flown to their mountain of choice, checked into a high-footprint hotel and ascended to the peak in a diesel-powered lift.

So the least that eco-minded skiers and snowboarders can do is make a few green choices when it comes to their aprés-ski options. A growing environmental awareness at some U.S. resorts means that winter travelers will find new ways to dine, imbibe and unwind with an eye towards sustainability.

“As a company and as a ski culture, we’re really addressing things differently,” says Julie Klein, who was named Vail Resorts’ first director of environmental affairs in 2007. The ski-hospitality megalith runs operations at five major ski resorts across the West, including the hills at Vail and Breckenridge in Colorado and the Heavenly Mountain Resort at Lake Tahoe, plus a host of swank hotels in mountain-culture hotspots nationwide. The company’s environmental commitment is characteristic of the slow greening of hospitality as a whole, and it’s as much a marketing effort as a dedication to sound practice.

Still, a quick look at the 42 200-volt solar panels installed last year atop Vail’s mountain activity center suggests that the ski industry’s eco-emphasis is getting more serious.

Alpine Wine and Dine

Hotel Jerome’s garden terrace in Aspen. © Hotel Jerome

The best place to find sustainability in ski country is increasingly in the kitchens. There, the relatively opulent nature of ski hospitality tends to give chefs real creative license. At Aspen’s historic Hotel Jerome, for example, culinary director Chris Keating goes well beyond an insistence on hormone-free meats, organic dairy and responsibly harvested seafood. An aprés-ski meal in the hotel’s Garden Terrace comes served on local pottery, fired in kilns run on recycled cooking oil from the Jerome kitchens. Chef Keating sources organic eggs and veggies from a nearby CSA, grows his own herbs and micro-greens on-site and is about to begin construction on a 500-square-foot greenhouse atop the hotel, allowing for seasonal produce without the “food mileage.”

“It’s about simplifying things,” says the chef, a longtime Aspen resident. “The shelf life is long on many of our ingredients since they didn’t come from California in an 18-wheeler—they came from down the road.”For many skiers and snowboarders, a good aprés-ski scene is less dependent on the dining room than the barroom. At the base of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s gondola in Teton Village, Wyoming, the ultra-posh, LEED-certified Hotel Terra hosts afternoon wine receptions where guests sip glasses of organic and biodynamic vino from California’s Bonterra Vineyards. Beer and wine are also available at the resort’s Terra Café, a modern-chic diner with a local/organic menu, stunning views and comfy chairs made from recycled seatbelts. At Vermont’s year-old Stowe Mountain Lodge, the usually hopping Hourglass Bar pours pints of Vermont-brewed Wolaver’s certified organic ale. Order a margarita and the blender is powered by wind and other renewables that fulfill half the resort’s energy needs.

Even hardcore shredders appreciate rounding out the aprés experience at the spa, and for many resorts, organic, locally sourced and low-impact treatments are becoming the norm. Chill Spa at Hotel Terra uses exclusively organic products and eschews bottled water in favor of strategically placed water stations. The RockResorts Spa at the Arrabelle hotel in Vail offers body rubs made from the same cypress and mountain juniper that color the ski hill in summertime.

It’s all pretty luxe, of course, and the ski industry has only just begun the process of softening its impact on the planet, but some see mountain culture as fertile ground for new sustainable hospitality initiatives. “There is an environmental consciousness in the ski community,” says Keating, “and that’s something we can tap into.”