Environmental "report card’ flunks Vail | VailDaily.com

Environmental "report card’ flunks Vail

Cliff Thompson

Vail Daily file photo

That report card, compiled by the Ski Area Citizens Coalition on 76 ski areas, noted those in the western states slightly improved their grade to an average of “C-plus.”

But Vail, Beaver Creek and Breckenridge received an “F” from the coalition. Vail Resorts other local mountain, Keystone, received a “D.” The failing marks come largely because of the expansion of ski terrain and proposed expansion of ski terrain – most specifically what now is Blue Sky Basin.

Competitor Aspen received an “A” while Intrawest’s Copper Mountain received an “F” and Winter Park received a “C”.

Vail Resorts dismissed the failing grades specifically and the report in general saying it’s too biased to present an accurate picture of what is actually occurring at the resorts it operates.

“It really isn’t balanced in how it looks at the environmental picture,” said Vail spokeswoman Kelly Ladyga. “We chose not to participate in this survey each year. It’s flawed by being heavily weighted toward resorts not involved in development and it’s not conducted by an unbiased, third-party so it has little credibility. We take environmental stewardship very seriously.”

Ski area were graded by the coalition on 10 criteria ranging from new or proposed terrain expansion, commercial development on undisturbed land, impacts to sensitive areas, increases in snowmaking and energy use.

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“Vail Resorts still gets a failing grade due greatly to Category III,” said Colorado Wild’s Jeff Berman, referring to the U.S. Forest Service’s term for the Blue Bky Basin expansion.

“As long as Vail Resorts doesn’t approve additional environmentally destructive projects, they certainly would improve (their grade) a fair amount,” Berman said. “There are some positive things they’re doing.”

Berman said Vail Resorts has historically attacked the messenger instead of attempting to resolve the core problems behind the failing grade.

“Vail Resorts has a public policy of trying to discredit the environmental scorecard,” he said. “It’s a great tool for skiers to use. We grade all resorts on an apples-to-apples basis and we even ask the resorts for input.”

But Ladyga said the report card doesn’t take into account what the ski resort company is doing to help the environment.

“We are constantly looking at ways to help the environment,” Ladyga said. “Be it new energy sources or a new way to reduce waste or even how to reduce the impacts of snowmaking.”

Joan Clayburgh, executive director of the Sierra Nevada Alliance, one of the organizations producing the report card, said she hopes “resorts will continue to improve their environmental performance.”

“Skiers care about clean air, clean water and protecting wildlife – resorts should respond by striving for outstanding environmental performance,” Clayburgh said.

The coalition is critical of the expansion of ski terrain at a time when the number of skiers nationwide has remained static.

“Even with snowboarding’s increased popularity, ski resort visitation numbers nationally have been nearly flat for over two decades, hovering between 50 and 55 million visitors per season,” the coalition reported. “During the same period, however, ski resorts have rapidly expanded their terrain.”

Colorado skier numbers have grown approximately 2 percent per year in the last decade, industry statistics show.

“The survey ignores a lot of very positive efforts the industry is engaged in,” Ladyga said. “One of the most important things we can do is to educate the guests. For many of them, this outdoor experience is one of the few they have all year. We have the opportunity to educate people all over the world about environmental stewardship.”

The Ski Area Citizens Coalition has been grading resorts since 1999. Members of the coalition include Colorado Wild, Save our Canyons, the Sierra Nevada Alliance and the Crystal Conservation Coalition.

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 970-949-0555 x450 or cthompson@vaildaily.com