Ski area scorecard low on public radar
SUMMIT COUNTY Skiers and snowboarders visiting Summit County say they care about environmental issues, but the annual ski area scorecard issued by a coalition of watchdog groups doesnt register as much of a blip for guests at Keystone, Copper, Breckenridge or A-Basin.A scorecard? Never heard of it, said James Harris, a 22-year from Boulder, gearing up for a powder day at A-Basin last weekend. But I think all the ski areas should use wind power, he said, adding that hed read about Vail Resorts decision to use renewable energy to power chairlifts and gondolas.Of several dozen people mostly from the Front Range polled informally for this story, none had heard of the ski area scorecard, which ranks resorts with letter grades based on environmental performance and policies.I dont think ski areas are a big environmental problem, said Gary Nelson after a day of skiing at Keystone. But all the cars coming up I-70 are probably adding to global warming. It would be great to have a better way of getting up here, maybe a train, like theyve been talking about, Nelson said.The grades put disproportionate weight on expansion plans. As a result, areas like Breckenridge and Copper Mountain were ranked at the very bottom of the 2007 scorecard. Breckenridge is laying plans for lifts and trails on Peak 6, while Copper recently won Forest Service approval to develop new terrain already within the ski area zone allocated under the White River National Forest plan. Both areas garnered failing grades in this years edition of the scorecard.Keystone and Arapahoe Basin were in the middle of the pack with C grades.
I dont know what the scorecard is, but it doesnt seem like Copper is really doing that much environmental damage, said Francis Delamond, while waiting to catch a shuttle bus from Frisco to Copper. What about all the gas drilling on the West Slope? That seems like its a lot more harmful, Delamond said.Jen Schenk, Coppers environmental program manager, said she was a little surprised at the lack of awareness about the scorecard, especially considering the recent release of this years scorecard and subsequent media coverage.But shes not losing any sleep over her resorts low ranking.I dont think their criteria are in line with the way we evaluate our program, said Schenk, who has launched a variety of ambitious environmental initiatives at Copper.She said Coppers low ranking was based in large part on the recent U.S. Forest Service approval for a slate of potential new lifts, trails and snowmaking projects, some of which may never happen.We can spend $150,000 for a lighting retrofit, but we only get three points for that. But weve been marked down for projects in our EIS that we may never do. Thats the disconnect for me, Schenk said. To me, global warming is the most pressing environmental issue, she said. It should not be presented as an overall environmental scorecard, she added.Schenk also thinks its disingenuous for the groups behind the scorecard to represent itself as the Ski Area Citizens Coalition. Thats the name for a collective of grassroots watchdog groups from around the West that track ski resort activities and impacts.But Schenk said that, in Colorado, at least, its clear that Colorado Wild is the primary group responsible for the ranking. The ski industry has long tried to undercut the groups credibility by marginalizing Colorado Wild as extremist and biased against the ski industry.
Each year, release of the scorecard triggers a similar debate. The environmental groups downgrade resorts that expand, or plan to expand, on public lands, especially if those plans include impacts to wetlands or important wildlife habitat. The resorts respond by touting environmental programs like energy audits and recycling.Fundamentally, the two sides seem to be on a totally different page when it comes to talking about the environment. But how much of a difference does it all make if no one is paying attention to the scorecard?Colorado Wild director Ryan Demmy Bidwell defends the scorecards emphasis on grading impacts to forests, wetlands and wildlife habitat. His groups mission is to preserve those irreplaceable resources for the long term.Despite the industrys claim that ski resort footprints are tiny on the public land scale, there is some evidence suggesting that the industry does have significant impacts, especially in areas like Summit County and Eagle County, where mega-resorts are clustered like nowhere else in the region.Reviewing the 2002 White River National Forest plan, the EPA suggested that ski resort developments resulted in more impacts to alpine tundra than any other permitted activity on national forest land. And the cumulative effect of massive simultaneous stream diversions from local streams has never been accurately been measured or disclosed.Developing new terrain, intensifying real estate development and boosting snowmaking capacity all result In a sometimes irrevocable commitment of resources, Bidwell said, adding that its important to note that this is all happening on public land.These are public resources that are being impacted and often lost permanently, Bidwell said.
Im not surprised at the results of your survey, Bidwell said. Hes not sure how effectively his organization has been getting its message out. Tracking the impact of the scorecard is a challenge, he said, adding that the website does get tens of thousands of hits each year. And thousands of people use the website to send emails to the resorts that are listed, either to praise them for their good grades or to ask a resort to improve its performance.Bidwell said the scorecard is aimed at the general skiing public. Its meant as an informational tool, giving consumers the chance to make choices based on environmental performance. The scorecard encourages skiers and boarders to patronize areas with good grades, and to avoid the ones that are lagging behind.But at the same time, its also intended to raise awareness among ski town residents the people who have the most to lose when it comes to the industrys environmental impacts, Bidwell said.Also, he said the scorecard also seeks to highlight the positive change in the industry. This year, several resorts that were previously ranked near the bottom, including Telluride, leaped up to near the top of the list.And all in all, the scorecard has probably played a part in the general increase in awareness of ski industry environmental issues, he concluded. Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Which resort do you feel is the most environmentally friendly?Resort Votes PercentageArapahoe Basin 88 24.5Breckenridge 77 21.5Copper Mountain 67 18.7Keystone 51 14.2Aspen 33 9.2Vail 22 6.1Other 21 5.9A total of 359 votes were cast at http://www.summitdaily.com.
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