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SAM Magazine—Vail, Colo., Oct. 24, 2023—The third annual Mountain Towns 2030 Climate Solutions Summit (MT2030) took place Oct. 18-19 in Vail, drawing more than 500 attendees from more than 40 U.S. and international mountain communities.1From left: Kate Wilson (Vail Resorts), Darcie Renn (Alterra), Raj Basi (POWDR), and Tom Bradley (Boyne Resorts). The Summit featured keynote presentations and sessions with government, business, and community leaders with a focus on actions that can be taken to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2030. 

Former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter Jr., now director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University, kicked off the event with a keynote presentation, “The Clean Energy Transition is Here to Stay.” 

Ritter called the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) “the best legislation passed in this country in a very long time,” and shared that Colorado is pacing ahead of its goal to reduce overall statewide carbon emissions by more than 80 percent by 2030. Further, consumer rebates and tax incentives will help the state meet a requirement that 82 percent of new car sales must be electric vehicles (EVs) by 2032.

Ritter has also been aggressively promoting the development of geothermal energy throughout the state, he said.

Mountain Collab for Climate Action

Leaders from various mountain resorts joined panel discussions and sessions, with collaboration and advocacy a primary focus. Kate Wilson, senior director of sustainability at Vail Resorts led a discussion with Raj Basi, POWDR VP of sustainability, Tom Bradley, VP of sustainability at Boyne, and Darcie Renn, Alterra’s VP of sustainability. The four operators, which represent more than 75 ski areas in the U.S. and abroad, formed the Mountain Collaborative for Climate Action ( in 2022.

“Climate change is bigger than each one of us,” said Wilson, of the collaboration. “None of us is going to get there without everyone in the room, and it’s beyond a good advantage to work together.”

Basi said the collaborative serves as an incubator for ideas. “We're going to take ideas and throw resources at them, report the challenges and successes, then distill it into something that's easy to replicate,” he said. “It’s not just a collaboration between our companies, but with communities and individuals. We’re lucky that a lot of customers and employees are so connected to nature that we already have a receptive audience that are a great source of inspiration, information, and ideas.”

The group has partnered with PepsiCo’s Cirqu recycling program, in which Pepsi provides recycling collection bins and storage materials and tracks collection volumes in real time. By working collectively, resorts can scale-up the effort, making it more viable financially and more sustainable, said Wilson. Beyond ski areas, the Cirqu program has 250 host locations in 10 states and 58 communities. 

“In addition to looking at opportunities that we can pilot on the ground together and scale over time, we're also looking at how we can be better advocates in our mountain communities and beyond, and there are advocacy opportunities at every level, from local, state, and federal,” added Renn. 

Wilson concluded the discussion with the official launch of the Mountain Collaborative Innovation Challenge, which calls on communities to submit ideas, projects, and unique needs to the group.

"This challenge will help us align nearly 80 mountains to amplify our impact across communities,” Wilson said. “We really do want to make this a collaborative opportunity where we work together to help solve problems that are bigger than any one of us. We're hoping with this conference, we'll launch a number of great ideas that we can work on together.”

Rural Electric Co-Ops

A discussion facilitated by Hannah Berman, senior manager of sustainability at Aspen Skiing Co., outlined how advocacy within rural electric cooperatives can play a critical role in the transition to renewable energy and help implement steps within the Inflation Reduction Act. Panelists included: Corey Robinson, cinematographer and board member at Empire Electric Association; Lindsey Halvorson, Protect Our Winters (POW) campaign manager; and Sarah MacGregor, mountain guide and POW Alliance member. 

Berman detailed how Aspen Ski Co. became politically involved with its rural energy cooperative Holy Cross Energy. Though Aspen was engaged in various actions to reduce its overall carbon output—from changing light bulbs and replacing inefficient furnaces, to incorporating solar and more—she said the resort and community’s overall carbon output increased after Holy Cross helped finance a local coal-fired power plant. This spurred Ski Co.’s sustainability team, led by SVP sustainability Auden Schendler, to become involved in elections for the Holy Cross board.

“Up until (then) we didn't want to touch it,” said Berman, “and that's kind of funny, because looking back, supporting clean energy candidates for board elections is one of the most obvious things that we could do.”

Schendler found two “amazing climate hawks” and encouraged them to run for board seats; they became the first two women elected to the co-op’s board. Further, every time a board seat became available, Aspen actively promoted clean-energy candidates. With the influence, Holy Cross has gone from using 7 percent clean energy to committing to 100 percent clean energy by 2030. 

“It’s now one of the most aggressive climate goals of any utility in the nation,” Berman said. Offering support to get out the vote “was kind of a no-brainer for our finance and operations teams.”

Opportunities For Action

In another discussion moderated by Adrienne Isaac, NSAA marketing and communications director, Hilary Arens (director of sustainability and water resources at Snowbird, Utah), Dawn Boulware (VP of social and environmental responsibility at Taos Ski Valley, N.M.), and Mike Nathan (sustainability manager at Colorado’s Arapahoe Basin) spoke to how snowsports areas can leverage their economic weight and brand influence on the issue of climate change.  

Taos has been a certified B Corp since 2017, the only ski area in the industry with the distinction, and in 2022, achieved a Carbon Neutral Certification from Climate Impact Partners. Taos has invested nearly $100 million in efforts to reduce on-mountain energy use, and more recently has turned toward advocacy and relationship-building to further efforts within its community, said Boulware. The resort and other B Corps, including Patagonia, invited the Taos public to a series of informational meetings to help raise awareness about climate activism.

“We're lucky in that we're in a blue county, in a solidly blue state, and we have great alignment with our elected officials,” Boulware said. “In the last year, we've been approached by a group of (community) leaders to learn more about what we're doing on the environmental front.” 

Taos has started a “community collaborative” that includes members of the public, electric co-op, local schools, UNM—Taos, and others, who meet “regularly” on the issues. “It’s relationship-building, and that’s really the approach we’ve taken up,” said Boulware.

Likewise, Arens explained that several Utah resorts have hosted Utah Climate Week each of the past three years, with the goal of raising awareness and funding for climate initiatives.

“We’re proud that we've been able to bring together the different Wasatch resorts that have a sustainability focus and do some action collectively,” Arens said. “Being able to work together in a unified way definitely amplifies the message.”

Nature-Based Solutions 

Jeff Grasser, senior sustainability manager at Copper Mountain, Colo., outlined his resort’s ongoing Carbon Sequestration Study, a project focused on “advanced support for biodiversity of our mountain ecosystem,” that’s being conducted with consulting company Peak Ecological, Dr. Jennie DeMarco, a soil scientist at Texas’ Southwestern University, and a local nonprofit called The Friends of The Daily Ranger District. 

In the study, seeds from native wildflowers, wild grasses, and willows are collected by volunteers and replanted into study plots. Native seeds are more resistant to disturbances such as heavy trail traffic and erosion, and more resilient to drought or different climatic conditions, said Grasser. The plants die seasonally, becoming dead plant material that is incorporated into the soil creating more vegetation mass. 

“Biodiversity can make sure that an ecosystem is ready for change,” said Grasser. The seed program, he said, not only supports this ecosystem but also puts carbon back in the ground, which leads to more biomass on the surface over time and “real carbon sequestration on our steep slopes.”

Grasser’s team recently added the use of biochar—essentially carbon and ash residue created from heating waste wood in a contained non-ignition environment. Biochar can last in the soil for thousands of years and provides myriad benefits including improved soil fertility and better water retention and drainage.

For the past three years, Copper has also hosted its Ski Conservation Summit, where ski resort operators, local conservation organizations, town and state government officials, Forest Service administrators, students, and academic experts gather to share restoration and conservation best practices.

Fleet Electrification, Mitigating Wildfires, Zero Waste Management

Other sessions included:

  • Stefan Johnson, electric transportation specialist with Holy Cross Energy, who discussed how new technologies, government incentives, and assistance from electric utility companies aid communities and companies, such as Vail Resorts, to replace gas and diesel shuttles with EV versions.
  • Tanner Fields, sustainability specialist at Mt. Bachelor, Ore., who detailed the resort’s new wood energy facility, which enables Bachelor to convert locally sourced wood, often downed trees and branches, into energy to heat base-area facilities.
  • Vail Resorts zero waste coordinator Jake Lehew, sustainability manager Dominique Giroux, and senior manager of sustainability John-Ryan Lockman, who led a tour of Vail’s zero waste management system. The effort has been underway since 2017, and the trio shared lessons learned, successes, and info about vital community partnerships. 

The Summit concluded with an evening keynoted by Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Patagonia president Jenna Johnson. Find more information at