Squaw Valley, voted North America’s best ski resort in 2016, is a recognizable leader in ski resorts in California . Yet, Squaw Valley is among numerous ski resorts negatively impacted by the physical reduction in snowfall in California the past several years.
Analyzing Squaw’s snowfall on a month-to-month basis, there are changing weather patterns that have ultimately shortened the ski season significantly . The decline in snowfall can be seen in March and April, which have resulted in shorter seasons; Squaw’s closing day was in May in 2011 compared to March in 2014  . To heighten the concern, ski seasons are projected to be 3-6 weeks shorter by the 2050’s .
What do you do when there is no snowfall? You make it.
Ski resorts across the world are heavily investing in snowmaking technology to increase number of skiable days . Snowmaking machines can lengthen the ski season, but also perpetuate the ultimate cause for less snowfall: non-environmentally energy usages. For example, one hectare (0.01 square kilometers or 0.004 square miles) of technical snow requires 600k–1,500k liters of water and 5,000–27,000 kWh of electricity (that’s equivalent to using your computer for 250 hours) . Unfortunately, many international resorts are currently focusing on mitigating climate change through these immediate technology solutions that may only be exacerbating underlying cause for climate change .
Fortunately, Squaw Valley is thinking about sustainability.
Squaw recognizes that the underlying reason for reduced snowfall spurs from climate change, as outlined in their Environmental & Community Report . They report needing to focus on clean energy sources. While doing this, Squaw is still thinking about using snow machines. They invested in high-efficiency EVO snow guns that derive 100% of their water sourced from recycled water . Squaw Valley’s $5.2million technology investment has resulted in 564,000 kWh of yearly electricity savings .
Squaw is adapting other sustainability initiatives to complement its technology. First, they are investing R&D into hydroelectric power – recognizing that their major carbon footprint contributors are electricity and water consumption . They are also creating customer incentive programs such as premium carpool parking and increased recycling bins . Ultimately, Squaw made a pledge to reduce their carbon footprint and encourage their customers to follow their lead.
But they aren’t alone.
In the US, there are 37 resorts participating in a “Climate Challenge” through the National Ski Area Association which aim to address climate change. The NSAA’s network of ski resorts are implementing techniques to reduce their environmental impact. NSAA research has shown positive correlation between sustainability practices and improved financial performance across ski resorts, which only helps promote the continued adoption of sustainability initiatives .
So now what should Squaw Valley do?
Even though Squaw has set targets to reduce emissions by 10% under 2014 levels by 2020, there is more to be desired from the pace they are adopting change  . In Squaw’s backyard, Sugar Bowl is outpacing Squaw as the 4th greenest resort in the US. Sugar Bowl is powered by 100% green energy . Squaw may be able to market its sustainable practices as positive, but it cannot “walk the walk” that Sugar Bowl can through the clearly recognized environmental changes made.
Okay, so really, now what?
To truly be a leader in the ski resort industry, Squaw needs to invest more heavily in two fronts. First, they need to shift their energy consumption to 100% green energy. Looking at Squaw’s source of energy, it comes from non-green methods, such as coal and nuclear . This is a shift that many of its competitors have already adopted.
Second, they need to increase incentives for sustainable practices from its customers by providing more discounts for recycling, bringing re-usable water bottles, and carpooling. These small changes can significantly increase awareness, brand recognition, and overall reduction in costs. If Squaw Valley hopes to maintain its #1 position in the ski resort market, it needs to rethink its current speed to adoption for sustainability practices and truly become the leader in sustainability.
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