Mt. Ashland pioneers sustainable skiing

The region's publicly owned, nonprofit ski area is carving out a new image as an environmentally sustainable winter resort, while the heavy snows of its most recent season put it on a path to future success.

The Mt. Ashland Ski Area is the first one ever to be certified for its sustainability management practices by an organization that evaluates snow and surf tourism operators. STOKE — Sustainable Tourism Operator's Kit for Evaluation — worked with the ski area to secure grants and incentives to install a rooftop solar power system that saved 18.2 tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the past ski season.

At the same time, the ski area was working to pick itself up after two very low snow seasons, including one when the mountain did not open at all for lack of snow. Some of the incentives implemented by ski area managers had the dual benefit of boosting skier visits while saving carbon at the same time.

For instance, providing free shuttle service during holidays and weekends boosted ridership, and paying passengers increased from 250 in the 2015-2016 season to 1,560 this season. That not only cuts down on parking congestion but saves fuel and emissions as well.

Carload Mondays, when up to eight occupants of a vehicle can share a lift ticket, had 272 takers, saving 6.65 tons of CO².

Community efforts — another element of the certification process — included an affordable learn-to-ski program, a food drive, the Women of Winter program and a Winter Wellness Day when 120 underprivileged youths learned to ski.

Manager Hiram Towle notes that new skiers were more plentiful this season, and skier and snowboarder visits were up 17 percent overall. Food and beverage sales, rental income, ski school and the after-school ski program and other youth and education programs, all saw double-digit increases.

Next season looks promising as well, with plans proceeding to remodel the lodge. April's ski pass sale generated $500,000, up from $323,000 last year.

The ski area has been at odds with some environmental activists for years over its plan to expand its ski terrain. Those plans have been shelved for the time being, but the Mt. Ashland Association is making the best of the situation, growing its customer base while reducing its carbon footprint at the same time.

It's hard to argue with that.

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