OUT: Ski Area Grades December 21, 2008

State’s ski areas among best, worst in environmental ratings

A SKIER TAKES the Million Dollar Highway trail into some extreme skiing at Crested Butte. Crested Butte Mountain Resort improved its environmental score card rating this year in spite of some planned expansion into expert-only backcountry areas.

When this year’s rating of the environmental friendliness of ski areas was published, both the highest and lowest scores were from Colorado.

Aspen Mountain, which graded at 85.7 percent, received the top “A” while Copper Mountain Resort was ranked at 31.9, an “F”, according to a grading system from the Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition.

Powderhorn was rated an “A” with a score of 76.2 percent.

The score card rates 83 ski areas in 11 western states. Results are available at http://www.skiareacitizens.com.

Copper Mountain was marked down mainly for its plans to expand its snowmaking system, open lift-served skiing in nearby backcountry areas and for proposed real estate development, said coalition research director Hunter Sykes.

Aspen benefited for attempts to minimize its development impacts, Sykes said.

Sykes said other resorts, such as Telluride, which received an “A” this year in spite of some expansion, improved their scores by providing insight into policies and programs.

However, Copper Mountain spokeswoman Lauren Pelletreau said the resort hadn’t bothered responding to the survey.

“Because the survey is so heavily weighted against some aspects, the time of our environmental manager is better spent carrying on our environmental work in the community,” Pelletreau said.

She said Copper Mountain’s “green” efforts included buying renewable energy credits, installing a solar system on a transportation building, pairing with the National Forest Foundation to raise $140,000 for “on-the-ground conservation projects” and giving a grant to a local elementary school to produce reusable shopping bags.

But Pelletreau adamantly refused to discuss possible expansion plans, saying “it isn’t relevant to the story.”

“We have certain projects approved from the EIS,” she said. “Some projects may never even happen, but resorts are evaluated (on those projects) as part of the scorecard.”

Instead, she fired back at the report, accusing the Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition as being a front for Colorado Wild, whose Web site states the group opposes “industrial ski area development on public lands.”

“I think it’s important your readers look at the folks putting the survey together,” she said. “I think skiers and riders should understand which group makes up the Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition.”

Sykes readily admitted the presence of Colorado Wild.

“Colorado Wild originally started the survey and now the Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition is part of Colorado Wild,” he said. “We award ski areas for (adopting) certain policies and practices, but the big weight is mainly development and related criteria.”

Sykes applauded Copper Mountain for its efforts but noted the size of the planned expansion.

“Expansion is the single biggest impact to the environment a ski area can have,” he said. “This impact is quite local and can be quite severe in the area it’s occurring.

“You can’t overcome impacts to wetlands, riparian systems and ecosystem health by buying energy credits.”

Telluride, which opened 50 acres of skiing in Revelation Bowl, received an A in light of the area’s other environmental work, Sykes said.

“It’s hike-to terrain” rather than requiring a new lift, Sykes said. “There will be an impact from more skiers but not that great a physical impact.”

Crested Butte spokesman Todd Walton said that area raised its score from a D in 2007 to a C this year by actively engaging the coalition.

“It’s something we are taking more and more seriously,” Walton said. “We didn’t receive any requests for information, so we contacted them and asked them how we can be more involved and more proactive.”

Walton noted that most of the areas receiving the highest scores are those “mature areas” without plans for expansion.

Crested Butte is caught up in a local controversy regarding a proposed expansion onto nearby Snodgrass Mountain, a favorite skiing, biking and hiking area for locals.

“There are some realities to (expansion),” he said.

As for Snodgrass, “we are going to be as careful and environmentally sensitive as we can,” Walton said.  “We are doing it in ways to make it as sustainable as possible.”

There’s no getting around that ski area expansion can be controversial, he said.

“It all depends on your view,” Walton said. “The world isn’t always in terms of black and white.”

This echoes what Sykes maintains: A ski area’s acceptance of the score card relies heavily on that resort’s plans for expansion.

“It depends. If they get a poor score card, they complain it’s biased against the success of the area,” he said. “I guess they equate expansion with success, and I would argue that’s not necessarily the case.

“There are fewer skiers now than there were 20 years ago.”

In other cases, he said, some ski areas see a good environmental score card as a positive.

“Some resorts even use the score card in their marketing effort,” he noted.


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