Three was the magic number as Steamboat Ski Area Ambassador Fritz Brown chatted with skiers and riders at the Meadows remote parking lot Saturday.
"Got any more bodies in there?" he asked a couple as they unloaded skis from their car.
Skiers and riders who arrived at least three to a car, or by mass transit, could enter a drawing for free lift tickets, ski clinics and other merchandise as part of Sustainable Slopes Day at the ski area.
"We're encouraging car pooling today," Brown explained to visitors, many of whom were residents who packed their cars for the occasion.
In its third year, the Sustainable Slopes campaign was an opportunity for Steamboat and other resort members of the National Ski Area Association to educate the public about industry efforts to protect the environment.
"It's to collectively, nationwide, raise awareness among skiers and nonskiers alike that we are all committed to operating ski resorts in an environmentally friendly manner," said Lyn Halliday, ski area director of environmental affairs.
Steamboat Springs resident Karen Kortesma wasn't aware of Sustainable Slopes Day but thought it was a good idea in light of the growth happening near the ski area base.
"I'm all for the environment," Kortesma said during a gondola ride up to Thunderhead.
Ski area representatives emphasized Steamboat's environmental commitment in many aspects of operation, including transportation, slope design, power and forest management -- a joint responsibility between the resort and the U.S. Forest Service.
Some aspects of Steamboat's environmental efforts -- such as the wind-powered Burgess Creek chairlift -- aren't readily apparent to visitors. Three percent of Steamboat's electricity comes from renewable energy sources.
The move toward renewable energy qualifies the resort for a "B" rating from the Ski Area Citizens Coalition, an environmental watchdog group. Steamboat also has been recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Green Power Partnership.
"We're spending money that we don't have to spend," Halliday said, noting the surcharge on wind power. "That's a big deal for business."
The extra money is a valuable long-term investment, however, considering the potential effects of global warming on precipitation.
"We rely on a cold-weather product," she said.
Steamboat also is in the final phase of transitioning its snowmobile fleet from two-stroke to four-stroke machines, which produce lower gas emissions.
Protecting the environment also is good for business in the short term because forest health is key to visitors' experience at Steamboat, famous for its tree skiing.
This is the seventh year the Forest Service has worked to control the pine and spruce bark beetle with tree peeling, beetle pheromone traps, thinning and other procedures, said Ambassador John Ayer, who manned an eco-kiosk at Thunderhead.
Ayer, a former Forest Service administrator, also explained how the ski area works with the agency to design new runs, minimizing slopes' appearances from distances and protecting owl and other wildlife habitat.
Ayer and other ambassadors conduct ecological tours on Mount Werner in conjunction with the Yampatika nature program. Most visitors aren't aware of the wildlife -- including ermines, elk, bears, birds and other critters -- that live on the slopes, he said.
"It's so amazing how many visitors don't even know we have a permit with the Forest Service. ... It opens up their eyes, especially flatlanders," Ayer said.
The Sustainable Slopes campaign is important for promoting environmental protections within the ski industry and also as a gesture to environmental values within communities, Halliday said.
The resort extends that gesture year-round with its Environmental Fund, which dedicates a portion of proceeds from the Passport program as well as employee contributions, to environmental projects in the community.
More than $14,000 was awarded last year to projects conducted by Yampatika, the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, the Yampa River Botanic Park, Yampa Valley Recycles and other organizations.