Mount Ashland, Oregon, gets STOKE Certified. PHOTO: Courtesy Mount Ashland
Mount Ashland, Oregon, gets STOKE Certified. PHOTO: Courtesy Mount Ashland

Mount Ashland Sets Bar for Ski Area Sustainability

Oregon nonprofit is first ski area to be STOKE Certified, a sustainability program tailored specifically for skiing

Mount Ashland, a community-owned ski area in Southern Oregon, announced a significant milestone today for an issue that has become increasingly important in the ski world: sustainability.

In a first of its kind for snowsports, the ski area has been STOKE Certified. This has nothing to do with X Games or young men pounding energy drinks as they go BASE-jumping. Rather, STOKE stands for Sustainable Tourism Operator's Kit for Evaluation. It means Mount Ashland has met a stringent set of 153 criteria aimed at creating sustainability for everything from management protocol and impacts on the environment to its influence on cultural and socioeconomic values. At the end of March, the ski area achieved an overall compliance score of 77 percent across all four categories of sustainability performance, which is above the minimum threshold of 70 percent for STOKE Certification.

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"We were thrilled to be the first to join the program and we're honored to be the first to earn certification,” said Hiram Towle, Mount Ashland’s GM, in a press release. “As a community-driven ski area committed to providing unforgettable alpine experiences for generations to come, I am immensely proud of my team and we are eager to improve from here."

Mount Ashland becomes the first ski area to be STOKE Certified. One of its accomplishments was installing enough solar panels for operations as well as contribute back to the grid. PHOTO: Courtesy Mount Ashland

As described by founders Jess Ponting and Carl Kish, STOKE is the "death of greenwashing," and works as a transparent attempt to preserve what skiers and snowboarders love so much about riding and being in the mountains.

"Typically, skiers and snowboarders care about the environment," says Kish, 27, who is based in San Diego. "Research shows that people want a choice, and we provide a transparent choice that resonates with them. They say, 'I want to go these places. I want my kids' kids to experience these places and cultures. Who is my money supporting? I can get barreled in waist-deep powder in a lot of places, but where is my support going at the end of the day?'"

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Through STOKE, Kish says skiers will be able to easily identify what resorts are doing–or not doing–to care for their environment and community.

In the process of getting certified, Mount Ashland, which has five lifts servicing 1,150 vertical feet, installed an 85-panel rooftop solar system, producing more than 15,300 kWh for energy used on site. Roughly 10,500 kWh was exported back to the grid for a total CO2 emissions savings of 18.2 tons for the winter of 2016-17.

The ski area also conducted numerous community-centered initiatives, including afterschool ski programs, food drives in exchange for lift tickets, and a Winter Wellness Day that taught 120 local underprivileged youth how to ski. It also offered free public transportation to the ski hill, as well as carpool incentives where up to eight passengers could split the cost of a lift ticket (already low at just $49 for holidays and weekends).

Mount Ashland provides for its skiers and gives back to its community. PHOTO: Courtesy Mount Ashland

"The STOKE certification is much more than an exercise of checking boxes,” says ski area development director Michael Stringer. “It's born from a passion to provide skiing to our local community for another 50 years and beyond.”

While there are other sustainability certification programs around the world—such as LEED and B Corporation—Kish says STOKE is the first tailored specifically to mountain communities and ski resorts.

Built on the United Nation's definition of sustainability—which is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”—STOKE dives into every part of a ski area's operations, from where they get their water for snowmaking to how they treat their employees to how they manage their backcountry access.

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Now that Mount Ashland can operate as a beacon for sustainability in skiing, Kish is hoping that it will compel other resorts to come on board. He says he recognizes the need to bring in bigger resorts for STOKE to gain traction as a "catalyst for change." With climate change and high costs threatening skiing's future, Kish says the time is now for the ski industry to come to terms with maintaining its cultural and environmental values for future generations.

"I learned to ride at Diamond Peak. It's affordable and awesome and I love the vibe there," he says. "But if lift tickets were $140, I probably never would've started because of that hurdle. We love those small ski areas for that and other reasons, but we recognize that in order to gain traction, we need to get the bigger guys."