Nestled in a high-alpine valley in the central Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Vail is picturesque and breathtaking. The mountain resort community attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. In addition to being a world-class tourism destination, Vail is also a destination committed to enhancing environmental stewardship, economic development, and community well-being through sustainable tourism development.
In 1962, a pair of ski enthusiasts founded Vail Mountain, laying the groundwork for what would become one of the premier mountain destinations in the world. Fast forward and Vail is now one of the largest developed ski areas in the United States. The resort covers about 5,000 acres of land that lies completely within the White River National Forest. As Vail’s recognition has grown, so has the population and visitation. The town is home to just under 5,500 local residents and welcomes 2.8 million guests annually. This growth and development, along with climate change and other pressures, has resulted in a fragile balance between Vail’s high alpine ecosystems and urban resort environment.
Vail has a long history of environmental stewardship and sustainability. In advance of the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships held in Vail and Beaver Creek, Vail set out to achieve an even loftier sustainability milestone: becoming the first Certified Sustainable Destination in the United States. To achieve this, a multi-year partnership was established between the Town of Vail, Walking Mountains Science Center, and Sustainable Travel International.
Sustainable Business Training & Certification
As a first step on the journey towards destination sustainability, Sustainable Travel International designed a sustainable business training and certification program for the region. The program, branded “Actively Green,” is run by Walking Mountains Science Center, a local nonprofit dedicated to inspiring environmental stewardship and sustainability through natural science education. Through the trainings and certification process, Vail’s businesses gain a deeper understanding of sustainability best practices. More than 200 businesses have participated in the trainings, and there are currently over 50 certified businesses. As more businesses incorporate the sustainability practices into their day-to-day operations, a broader impact is felt across the region, characterized by improved resource efficiency and environmental conservation.
Sustainability Standard for Mountain Resort Destinations
We also collaborated with the Vail tourism community to develop the first sustainable tourism standard specifically focused on mountain resort destinations. This new Mountain IDEAL destination standard addresses challenges unique to mountain living and winter environments such as water and energy use related to snow making and snow melting systems, affordable housing for residents and seasonal employees, and embracing mountain cultural heritage.
Not only will this standard encourage sustainability within the local region, it represents a powerful tool for enhancing tourism sustainability in other mountain resort communities around the world. The standard has achieved ‘GSTC-Recognized’ status and is available to other destinations who wish to elevate their sustainability and pursue certification.
Vail Destination Certification
In addition to designing the Actively Green program and Mountain IDEAL standard, Sustainable Travel International partnered with the Town of Vail and Walking Mountains to support Vail in becoming a certified sustainable mountain resort destination. Vail is the first destination in the world to be certified to the Mountain IDEAL standard. Vail is also the first destination in the United States to be certified to the Global Sustainable Tourism Council’s Destination Criteria.
News & Stories
Protect the Places You Love
Give back to conserve our planet’s most vulnerable destinations and empower the people who live there. Join the movement today.