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North Lake Tahoe resort brings LEED engineering to eco-conscious region.
To some, building an upscale hotel on the side of an otherwise pristine tree-covered mountain might seem counterintuitive to protecting the environment. Indeed, “green development” could be viewed as an oxymoron in and of itself.
But, as Steven Holt, director of public relations for The Ritz-Carlton Highlands, Lake Tahoe points out, growth and preservation can coexist. “We’re in the resort-experience business, and creating the experience inherently involves development,” Holt says. “But we do our best to keep in mind sustainability and eco-responsibility.”
The Ritz-Carlton Highlands, a new hotel opening at Northstar-at-Tahoe on December 9, has taken great steps to achieve LEED certification. Not a surprise, considering that LEED development has become infectious in the area. The ski resort is flanked by Northstar Highlands and The Village at Northstar, which was the first LEED-certified multi-building resort development in the United States. Perched high atop the mountain is the new Schaffer’s Camp, a LEED Silver certified restaurant.
Just down the mountain is Old Greenwood. Its Natural Resource Management Center is LEED Silver certified, and the golf course received Audubon’s National Gold Certificate, one of only 16 in the world, for its environmental protection programs. And nearby, Gray’s Crossing golf course received the same Audubon certificate. These are all part of the Tahoe Mountain Resorts communities owned by East West Partners, based at Lake Tahoe.
Ritz-Carlton Highlands is a 170-room hotel complete with a 17,000-square-foot spa and a fine-dining restaurant, perched mid-mountain and accessible by road and chairlift. The property was built with locally sourced materials, and 88 percent of the construction waste—more than 14,000 tons—was recycled back into the project. This includes rocks that were used for retaining walls and trees that were mulched and used in landscaping. The landscaping design reduces typical water waste by 50 percent, and a storm water retention management system means there is no net increase in run-off. Sixty-six percent of the hotel site is open space, and light-colored paving reduces heat absorption and ambient air temperatures.
The guest rooms have sensors that shut off lights when occupants leave the room, reducing wasted electricity. The carpets are all recycled, the heating and air conditioning reduce ozone-depleting CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), and all the paint is low-VOC (volatile organic compounds release low-level toxic emissions into the air).
While these efforts contribute to the property’s forthcoming LEED certification—it won’t be official until after the hotel is completed and opened—they’re common sense, says Tim Kretzschmar, senior vice president of building for Q&D Construction Inc. “At Q&D, we very much understand that LEED is where construction [is going]. What we’re going to see is that a lot of things [required] to be LEED certified will go into building codes just because they make sense,” Kretzschmar says. The company built the hotel with Swinerton Construction out of San Francisco.
Q&D embraces green technology and runs more than 300 pieces of equipment on biodiesel. It has the largest private biodiesel fleet in northern and eastern Nevada, Kretzschmar says. It also has 11 LEED-accredited professionals on staff and is currently researching renewable energy, which Kretzschmar realizes will be a big part of what drives Nevada’s future economy.
The $300-million Highlands is in line with Lake Tahoe’s environmental mindset. Eco preservation, protection, and conservation are ways of life here, and to be anything but environmentally friendly would not fit in with residents or visitors. “This is the first time a [green] resort of this scale has come here,” Holt says. “Ritz-Carlton will bring a new guest to Tahoe, but there have also been a lot of longtime Tahoe enthusiasts who have been waiting for something like this.”
Starting this winter, Ritz-Carlton guests will have a chance to experience a new caliber of getaway at Tahoe. Nearly every amenity has been accounted for: ski valet service, a fireplace in every guest room, DVD players and iPod docking stations, 24-hour room service and concierge, complimentary shoeshine and same-day laundry service, indoor and outdoor hot tubs, heated swimming pools with a dedicated adults-only lap pool, spa and full-service salon, heated walkways to keep the ice at bay, in-house ski and snowboard rental, and a gondola linking the hotel to The Village at Northstar.
The Ritz-Carlton Highlands is easily accessible year-round, and visitors can rest easy knowing they are leaving a small footprint on the environment. “It’s our hope that by building this way, we will attract owners who share a passion for the Tahoe environment, nature, and family lifestyle, and the responsible support of activities in North Lake Tahoe,” says Sue Hyde, senior director of marketing for Tahoe Mountain Resorts. “[Condo] buyers look for that. They are proud to be a part of either a home or community that has green buildings as one of their core principles.”
Those core principles, described by Hyde as “restore, reduce, reuse, and recycle,” run strong through the mountain from base to peak and slopes to the spas. Come December, visitors can look out over that community through energy efficient windows in a lobby fashioned after a towering pine tree and feel that much better about their choice of Lake Tahoe as their ski destination.
The Ritz-Carlton Highlands,
• 170 guest rooms, including 16 suites, each with its own fireplace
• Guest room rates from $175-$355
• High-speed Internet and wi-fi
• Ski valet service
• Lift ticket services
• 24-hour room service & concierge
• 17,000-square-foot spa with 16 treatment rooms
• Two heated outdoor pools
• Five outdoor hot tubs
• Full-service salon
• Outdoor fire pit
• Gift shop
• 15,000 square feet of meeting space