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5 Tips for a Sustainable Winter Vacation in Vail

Raise your ski pole if you’re up for a sustainable winter vacation in Vail. Great! Vail just so happens to be one of the best places to engage in sustainable anything, as the town has been actively protecting and caring for its surrounding environment for more than 50 years.

Sustainable travel refers to paying attention to the positive and negative impact you may be having as you travel, and here you’ll find tips for keeping it positive while you’re in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Vail’s Sustainability Efforts

River in the winter

Vail tops the list of amazing places to visit for many reasons, and one of those reasons is its sustainability efforts.

Not only is Vail the first sustainable mountain resort destination on the planet, but it’s the first location in the U.S. to be certified by Green Destinations. Green Destinations is an organization accredited by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC), which creates and manages sustainable standards across the world.

In short, it’s a big deal.

Vail partnered with Walking Mountains Science Center and Sustainable Travel International to make the certification happen. And that’s not the only recognition Vail has been honored to receive.

Additional recognition includes:

  • Certification under the Mountain IDEAL standard: 2018, with recertification in 2021
  • Global Destinations Top 100 Award through Green Destinations: 2017 to 2022
  • Best of the Americas at the 2020 Top 100 Sustainable Destinations Award at ITB Berlin for waste diversion improvements
  • Climate Leader Award for being one of 88 cities across the world leading environmental action throughout 2020

While many of the honors have been within the last five years or so, Vail has a history of environmental conservation that stretches back decades.

  • 1966: Protection of open space was written into the Town Charter
  • 1970’s: Vail Nature Center and Preserve created
  • 1980’s: Creation of the 1% Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT), which enhances open spaces and parks for recreation while supporting environmentally sustainable practices
  • 2000’s: Ongoing efforts to restore the water quality of Gore Creek; Restore the Gore program
  • 2020: Updated Climate Action Plan that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2030 and80% by 2050

Additional programs throughout the community include:

  • Actively Green Certification: Program that trains and certifies local businesses in sustainability practices
  • Energy Efficiency Program: Program that provides residents and businesses with free energy audits and double rebates for any energy efficiency upgrades
  • Business Recycling Challenge: Training, progress reports and bragging rights for Vail businesses that excel in four recycling award categories
  • Sole Power Green Commuting Challenge: Free challenge for county residents who opt for active transportation, such as walking or biking, over motorized options
  • Compost Pilot Program: Curbside program kicking off in West Vail
  • Kick the Bag Habit: Pack that reusable bag. By 2024, stores in Vail (and elsewhere in Colorado) will no longer offer plastic bags. They will still provide paper bags in Vail for a $0.25 fee. A portion of the 25 cents goes to fund waste diversion programs in the town.

Why It’s Important to Travel Sustainably

As one of the most magical mountain resorts in the world, Vail is visited by more than 2.5 million travelers every year. That’s a lot of visitors, especially when you consider the town has around 4,800 local residents who live there on a permanent basis.

Of course, Vail wants to extend the warmest welcome to all its visitors, as tourism is the driving force behind the local economy. But it also needs to preserve the beauty of the natural environment while meeting the needs of the local community.

Sustainable travel plays a major role in keeping all three elements in balance.

  • Tourism
  • Environment
  • Local community

If visitors are careless and destructive, it can cause great harm. There have been destinations where tourists nearly wiped out the natural environment that drew them there in the first place. The main goal of sustainable travel is to prevent such havoc in the first place, preserving the beauty of the landscape while having a positive impact on the community. The more people who engage in sustainable best practices, the greater the positive impact they can make.

How to Have a More Sustainable Winter Vacation

Sustainable travel options can be fairly straightforward and easy to follow. Here comes a handful of tips you can probably do in your sleep.

1. Choose Sustainable Transportation

Thanks to a free bus system that runs through town all year long, you don’t need a car once you get to Vail. You may not need one to get there, either.

If you’re flying to Denver International Airport, consider a ride share option instead of a rental car. Choices range from Uber Ski to Blue Sky Limo to Colorado Airport Express. You’ll find the right style and price range to suit your needs.

If you were planning to drive into Vail, you can opt for a ride share or bus service that gets you there from anywhere in the state. New ride-share options and carpooling apps make it easy to book or share a ride with other travelers heading to the same destination.

The statewide bus service of Bustang is another option. Visit the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) website for winter route maps and schedules. CDOT’s Pegasus program delivers even more public transportation options on holidays and weekends, giving you plenty of sustainable choices for an earth-friendly ride into town.

For the record, transportation-related emissions make up 45% of total greenhouse gas emissions in Eagle County and 30.7% total emissions in Vail. Finding an alternative for driving to and around Vail is doing the entire state a favor.

2. Make Friends with Re-Usable Everything

The hottest eco-friendly ski accessory? A re-usable water bottle, no doubt. Trade the disposable plastic bottle for one you can take with you on the slopes to sip from when needed. Go for a collapsible water bottle for easy storage once it’s empty. And Vail’s drinking water comes from the snowmelt at the headwaters of the Colorado River Basin – it’s clean and tastes amazing!

Skip the plastic straws while you’re it, opting for re-usable metal or bamboo straws, or even no straw at all. And instead of packing your snacks in disposable baggies, go for re-usable containers that can be filled up with goodies again and again.

Get extra points for bringing your own set of re-usable silverware, so you don’t have to bother with single-use plastic forks, knives and spoons.

3. Shop (and Rent) Local

Every time you buy or rent something in Vail, you’re helping to support the local economy. The town is packed with shops that sell everything from one-of-a-kind gifts to food and basic necessities.

Renting skis, gear and other equipment from a Vail outfitter comes with three major benefits:

  • You’re supporting a local business
  • You’re ensuring the gear and equipment gets consistent use
  • You don’t have to haul a cumbersome set of skis on a plane or bus

4. Pack Light

Packing light is another way to be sustainable, as lighter luggage actually burns less fuel. The heavier the baggage, the more fuel is required for the bus, plane or car. Every 100 pounds of luggage decreases a vehicle’s MPG by about 1%.

Keeping your bags light can cover two sustainable practices in one fell swoop. Not only are you helping to conserve fuel, but you can add to the Vail economy by shopping locally for certain items instead of hauling them along for the ride.

5. Respect the World around You

Following sustainable practices means being a gracious guest. Be respectful of others in the community, as well as to the surrounding environment. Try to follow the Seven Principles of Leave No Trace whenever possible. They are:

  1. Planning ahead, which helps you generate less waste
  2. Staying on trails, which minimizes damage to the environment
  3. Disposing of waste properly, whether it’s chewing gum wrappers or dog doo
  4. Leaving what you find, so it is there for future generations to enjoy
  5. Minimizing the impact of campfires, just in case you’re lighting one out in the snow
  6. Respecting wildlife by staying a safe distance away
  7. Being considerate of others

Being considerate means following basic etiquette when you’re out and about. Be aware of your surroundings so you know when others may be coming up behind you. Give uphill travelers the right of way.

Test your knowledge of the 7 principles by taking Vail’s Sustainability Quiz.

Be a Sustainable Role Model

While you’re busy being a gracious guest, you’re serving as a role model for others who may automatically follow your lead. Encourage your travel buddies to become aware of the impact they’re having on your surroundings – and maybe even pack an extra set of silverware (or two).

It’s easy to see why sustainable travel practices are so important, and how Vail is the perfect place to put them into use. That means there’s just one thing left to do. Book your trip to this magnificent destination – which you can now help preserve and protect for future generations to come.