Environmental watchdog group rates nation’s ski areas
Three of the Aspen Skiing Co.’s ski areas are among the “top five environmental resorts” in the country, according to a scorecard released this week by a ski-industry watchdog.
The Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition has been grading ski resorts for 12 years, often to the chagrin of the industry. The coalition is an independent organization that uses public records and a voluntary survey for ski resorts to determine the environmental grades.
“The Ski Area Environmental Scorecard strives to differentiate between ski areas that are engaging in environmentally sound practices on the ground versus those that merely claim to do so,” the coalition said in its scorecard.
For the 2013-14 season, the coalition gave grades to 84 resorts in the western U.S.
Aspen Highlands placed third with 92.4 percent of the possible points. Aspen Mountain was right behind with 91.3 percent. Buttermilk was fifth with 91.3 percent. They all earned an “A” grade.
Snowmass was significantly farther down the list with 79 percent of the possible points. It didn’t crack the top-10 list but was still given an “A.”
Stevens Pass Ski Area in Washington scored the highest, with 93.3 percent of the possible points. Park City Mountain Resort in Utah was second with 92.4 percent.
The Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition gave several resorts credit this year for generating alternative energy on their own slopes. That reduces greenhouse gases and reduces air pollution, the scorecard said.
Aspen Skiing Co. boosted its grade with construction of a $5.5 million plant that converts methane from a coal mine near Somerset into electricity. That system produces as much electricity as Skico uses annually, and it removes three times as much greenhouse-gas pollution as the company produces in a year.
The Achilles heel for Skico’s four ski areas was snowmaking. The scorecard subtracted points for intensive snowmaking efforts measured by gallons of water used per acre-foot of terrain. Skico reported it uses more than 300,000 gallons per acre-foot, so it received zero points in that category.
Snowmass performed worse than its sister ski areas in a category called “maintaining ski terrain within the existing footprint.” It was docked 25 of a possible 30 points for the addition of 250 acres of skiing on Burnt Mountain last season. The other Skico ski areas weren’t docked any points for expansion.
The Colorado ski industry in the past has claimed that the environmental scorecard is biased against development. The Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition acknowledges that expansion harms a ski area’s score for five years.
“When a proposal is submitted, generally to the Forest Service or local jurisdiction, points are deducted. Each following year, the resort gains 20 percent of its points back, regaining them all after five years,” the scorecard said.
Auden Schendler, Aspen Skiing Co.’s vice president of sustainability, said the criticism of Skico for snowmaking is likely “justified.” Skico has a pretty aggressive plan for cutting back its water-use intensity this season, he said.
Schendler has always welcomed scrutiny by the Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition because he believes the outside look at the industry promotes improvements. He said he urged the environmental-scorecard researchers last season to refine one of their criteria — and they responded with a change this year. Previous scorecards awarded points for ski areas’ use of biodiesel. They didn’t acknowledge that regular diesel fuel is now required to be low in sulfur. In addition, Skico felt that production of biodiesel used crops that otherwise could be used for food. Biodiesel use was downplayed in this year’s scorecard, Schendler said.
He suggested further refinements to the environmental scorecard. The generation of renewable energy on-site is important for ski areas, he said, but lobbying for laws and regulations to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions is paramount.
“Given the crisis, the advocacy is most important,” he said.
Skico is trying to educate ski-industry officials about climate-change science and rally them to advocate for change in a unified voice.
“The challenge has been the industry has focused on operational greening,” Schendler said. Skico wants the ski industry to be a bigger player in shaping national legislation.
The “worst 10” ski areas in the coalition’s rankings included four from Colorado. They are Eldora Mountain Resort, Loveland, Steamboat Ski and Resort, and Arapahoe Basin. They all received a “D” grade.
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