This blog comes to CSCUSA from Justin Patrick, contributing writer to Denver Hotel Magazine.
As Colorado skiers and boarders are getting fired up for another winter season, Arapahoe Basin’s head chef Chris Rybak is firing up the kitchen to deliver a culinary experience as exhilarating and diverse as the terrain outside his high-altitude restaurant. After five seasons with the resort, Rybak has no plans of slowing down his mission to provide delicious, healthy food with a minimum of waste. His partnership with A-Basin has allowed a vision to come alive that will likely be pursued by other resorts as they realize the many strengths of the operation. That vision includes a diverse forward-thinking menu, a moonlight dinner series, and a commitment to sustainable practices aimed at reducing waste, promoting recycling and composting techniques, and demonstrating to the public how easy it is to participate.
A-Basin is on the forefront of ski resorts nationwide in implementing environmental policies to reduce its impact on the pristine natural setting in which it resides and on which it relies. These policies are, respectively, composting, recycling, anti-idling, waste reduction guidelines, energy usage guidelines, purchasing guidelines, carpooling/public transportation, reusable tableware and cutlery, snowmaking, education stations, and supporting local environmental organizations. These initiatives cover a broad range of activities both on and off resort property, but many of them have an impact on the day-to-day operations of food and beverage.
The commitment to sustainability starts with all employees, which has been easier for A-Basin because it enjoys a 95% staff retention rate. “It was easy to build a culture,” said Sha Miklas, Guest Services Manager and Environmental Manager. “We’re doing it to keep the ski industry alive.” For example, at the season’s opening Human Resources distributed reusable mugs to all employees. If they use these when filling beverages at food outlets, they pay only fifty cents for any beverage. Without the mug, they only receive the standard 50% off, so it pays for them to set an example by sipping out of the mugs instead of disposable containers. Vehicle operators are only to idle for five minutes in gas-powered vehicles and fifteen minutes in diesel-powered vehicles. These are only two examples of many, but they demonstrate that A-Basin’s efforts are not merely a public relations ploy. Environmental sustainability is a value fostered first from within, and is then integrated into a public forum.
The most impactful program is arguably the waste management setup incorporated everywhere on the mountain. Everything for sale in food outlets is categorized, labeled, and color-coded, so guests understand where to place refuse. They can recycle, compost, reuse, and pre-dispose of liquids before they toss anything in the waste-only bins. The result? Thousands of pounds of material are disposed in accordance with the green-friendliest practices technology allows to date.
Take the composting program. Instead of rotting in a landfill, all food scraps (including meat, bones, fat, dairy, tea bags, and coffee grounds), soft papers (including food basket liners, paper towels, tissues, newspaper, receipts), hot drink cups, A-Basin disposable #7 PLA plastics (including logoed beer cups, pudding containers, parfait containers, fruit cups, and straws) wooden chop sticks and wooden stir sticks, are sent to an industrial composting facility just several miles down the road. This composted material is redistributed and directly benefits the local community. Not only does this represent a significant shift to an environmentally conscious practice, it makes sense for the bottom line, too. “In most scenarios it saves money,” said Miklas.
Thoughtful policies do not only affect products on their way out. Chef Rybak makes it a point to buy locally whenever possible to reduce transportation requirements. He purchases foodstuffs from companies that implement progressive farming and ranching techniques. The “Wildflower Dinner,” one of the themed meal nights that occurs in the summer, is dedicated to showcasing all-Colorado food products. Every vegetable, fruit, meat, and beverage is acquired in state. Last year Rybak even served organic home-made ice cream.
His specifications do not affect his ability to serve scrumptious, healthy meals each and every day to guests on the hill. Nor are prices affected; in fact, A-Basin’s lunch menu is markedly cheaper than most other resorts’. Rybak served me an eclectic sampling of his more popular menu items, and none of them was anything less than fantastic. The “Slalom Slope Salmon,” fresh grilled salmon in a white wine lemon sauce with rice and green beans was a tantalizing alternative to my typical mid-day mountain urge for a burger and fries (not that you can’t be hooked up with that staple if you want it). The “Cuban,” a highly satisfying sandwich featuring marinated and lightly smoked pork loin with dill pickles, sliced ham, and deli mustard was irresistible. My personal favorite, the “Pallavincini Pastrami,” is pastrami with slaw, Swiss cheese and spicy mustard on grilled marble rye. Even those patrons of the most discriminating tastes will be savoring the memory of the Pallavincini as they burn off the calories on afternoon powder runs. All these gems are priced at $11.95. For a mid-mountain gourmet meal, that’s a steal.
But don’t take my word for it. Head to A-Basin this season and taste for yourself. Check out the website for a list of upcoming theme nights and book early, because they sell out fast. And now that you’re in the know, take a moment to appreciate the proactive efforts of the staff to minimize the environmental costs of enjoying the mountains. Compare what you see at A-Basin to other resorts and be sure to voice your appreciation for sustainable policies in surveys and to guest services representatives wherever you ski. If any community can come together on the need for environmental preservation, it’s the skiers and snowboarders who get so much out of what nature provides. It’s our turn to give back.