Let Us Play Forever!

Image: Rob Aseltine
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Let Us Play Forever!

Earth Day celebrated its first birthday in 1971, the same year Snowbird opened its doors. The Clean Air and Clean Water Acts were also passed in the early 1970s. Snowbird’s growth paralleled the beginnings of our country’s environmental movement and the Bass Family’s belief that environmental protection was integral to Snowbird’s values and longevity. Snowbird has maintained that focus throughout its 50-year tenure, continuing after the Cumming Family took ownership. In 2016, I joined the Snowbird team as the first Director of Sustainability to help deepen this commitment. 

Snowbird Mineral Basin

Good environmental stewardship tends to go unnoticed. This is a good thing; it means we’re doing our jobs by preserving the health of the land. As such, much of what we’ve accomplished as part of our Play Forever initiative is unknown and unseen by a wide audience. The Snowbird community is passionate about saving our natural resources, both within Little Cottonwood Canyon and beyond. Our goal is to engage the community so that we may all contribute to helping this delicate ecosystem thrive.  

Snowbird Weed Pull

Long before “sustainability” was a buzzword, Snowbird had the foresight to finance projects designed to protect the environment. Initiatives were often at great cost to the business but considered imperative to align with Snowbird’s stated mission. In 1971, Snowbird spearheaded the installation of a sewer line down Little Cottonwood Canyon, contributing to watershed protection efforts making Salt Lake City’s drinking water some of the purest in the country. Later, Snowbird utilized the same pipe corridor to install a natural gas line to their new Cogeneration facility in the mid-1980s. The original Co-Gen, the only of its kind at a ski resort in North America, both powered the resort and captured waste energy to heat The Cliff Lodge for more than 30 years. This original facility was recently decommissioned and replaced with a new version as part of Snowbird Power Systems (SPS). This new facility means that Snowbird supplies significant power to itself. The amount of natural gas saved is the carbon emissions equivalent of not burning over 4 million pounds of coal a year. SPS is a finalist for the National Ski Area Association’s (NSAA) Golden Eagle Award for Environmental Excellence, and we excitedly await the news at NSAA’s National Conference next month.

Snowbird Power Systems

Our goal to protect the environment and deliver memorable experiences in the mountains for generations to come informs much of what we do. To meet those goals, we’ve taken action both at Snowbird and more broadly. We’ve implemented major waste reduction practices as a resort, recycling almost 100 tons of glass and composting almost 30 tons of food since I started. We have also installed the largest array of Electric Vehicle charging stations at a ski resort in Utah while continuing to provide free charging to our guests and employees. Slopeside, Snowbird has focused on erosion control and increased habitat biodiversity projects through native seed harvesting and replanting with Cottonwood Canyons Foundation. Additionally, we have worked on watershed protection and restoration projects in Mary Ellen Gulch and American Fork Canyon with nonprofits such as Trout Unlimited and TreadLightly! We provide support for the National Forest Foundation and Forest Service on various watershed and land protection projects including funding the regular cleaning and maintenance of the White Pine Trailhead restrooms. And we continue to work closely with American Fork City, Utah County, Salt Lake City, Utah Division of Water Quality and Region 8 EPA.

Snowbird Flowers

Snowbird recognizes that we have a platform and the ability to impact climate awareness and action at both an industry and national level. We do this by supporting organizations such as Protect Our Winters with whom we recently lobbied the Utah legislature on air quality protections, and by continuing to participate in the NSAA’s annual Climate Challenge. We have increased our financial support towards climate action with our weekly Play Forever Wednesday fundraisers that recently raised close to $20,000 in March alone for several Utah non-profit organizations with a focus on the environment including Utah Climate Action Network, Utah Clean Cities Coalition, Cottonwood Canyons Foundation, TreeUtah and Wasatch Graffiti Busters.

Snowbird Earth Day

As Snowbird looks toward the next 50 years, I am grateful to be a part of a team that is a leader in environmental stewardship and protection. The stakes are getting higher, and the winters are getting shorter. We are all contributors to this great earth, and with more considered actions, I hope that we all may Play Forever.

About the Author

Hilary Arens is Snowbird’s Director of Sustainability and Water Resources. She has a Masters in Watershed Science from Colorado State University and worked at the Utah Division of Water Quality as the watershed coordinator for Utah Lake and Jordan River basins. Her focus at Snowbird is to help guide the resort towards reducing carbon emissions and waste, improve water and air quality in Little Cottonwood and American Fork Canyons, and provide education and advocacy opportunities to guests and employees.   

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