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How is the Ski Industry Responding to Climate Change? An Interview with Scott Pittenger

Scott Pittenger, Telluride Ski Resort

As the stewards of many thousands of beautiful acres of high alpine land in Colorado Ski Country, our member ski areas take environmental responsibility very seriously. While the strategic direction for major sustainability initiatives comes from the top, it’s the dedicated mountain operations staff who executes it.

For the third installment of our ongoing series of interviews with leaders on climate change and sustainability issues in the ski industry, we had a chat with Scott Pittenger, Mountain Operations Manager for Telluride Ski Resort.

1. Environmental stewardship is a core value at Telluride, as evidenced by your many conservation initiatives and national awards. How did this corporate culture develop? And how does the ski resort communicate this to its guests and the broader community in your corner of Colorado Ski Country? Do your guests expect this level of engagement on environmental leadership or do you use it as an opportunity for education?

Telluride has always had a commitment to being as environmentally conscious as possible.  Our business is established around helping our guests enjoy the majestic surroundings of our resort and we want to make sure that we are doing our part to preserve and protect our environment and inspire others to do the same.  While our guests may not expect this level of eco-awareness, we hope that through our actions we may motivate others to follow through with green initiatives to create a cognizance of each of our impacts on the planet.

2. What kinds of initiatives is Telluride working on to be sustainable in ways that aren’t immediately obvious to your guests?

Telluride Ski and Golf Company has implemented a number of initiatives to increase efficiency and reduce our carbon footprint both large and small.  Light bulbs have been replaced to LED and low wattage bulbs where possible.  Our vehicle fleet has steadily improved to more efficient machines.  All snowmobiles are four-strokes replacing older two-stroke models.  Trucks on the mountain are being replaced by more efficient models: diesels, which demonstrate greatly increased MPG than their gasoline counterparts on the mountain; lighter-weight trucks for personnel transport and when heavy workloads are not involved; side-by-sides and ATVs are used for mountain travel as well which are far more efficient than any truck for simply moving around the mountain.  Our snowcat fleet is kept on a purchasing rotation to ensure we are using the most efficient machines available on our hill.

3. Telluride has an ambitious master plan to upgrade its snowmaking systems. How is that going?

The snowmaking system has seen a great deal investment over the past few years and that commitment continues.  Replacing old pump systems, pipe lines and infrastructure upgrades have been a big part of the plan, as well as investing in new snowmaking gun technology and additional lines around the mountain.  One key factor in efficient snowmaking that is often over-looked is simply making snow where you need it.  Before the introduction of additional lines around the hill, snow would often time have to be pushed hundreds of yards from where it was made to where it was needed.  Not only does this waste time, but a significant amount of associated costs are involved from snowcat time and added fuel to move the snow.

4. What can other companies and organizations do to be sustainable if they don’t have the upfront capital that – say – a major Colorado ski area has to make longer-term investments?

Sustainability and eco-efficiency is not always about big investment or having the newest technology (although it helps), but simple cost-effective, conscience minded efforts can have a huge impact: making snow in the right spot, using the right equipment for a job, sustainable signage around the mountain – Telluride has switched to easily maintained and locally sourced wood trail signs –  to simply turning off all the lights in the locker room when the crew heads out for the day.  Some forms of efficiency are very plain and simple to see – new snowcats, new snowguns, etc.  However, creating an environmental conscientiousness amongst employees and guests may have the greatest impact in helping to protect what we hold so dear to our hearts.  We believe Telluride to be amongst the most beautiful places in the world and it is our aim to keep it that way.

Thanks Scott!