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How green are they?

Bob Berwyn

Colorado Wild and the Ski Area Citizens (SACC) recently released the latest edition of their ski area environmental scorecard, this time with less fanfare than in previous years. That’s not surprising, given the media’s short attention span, not to mention public preoccupation with international news.Once again, resorts on both sides of Vail Pass ranked near the bottom of the list. The scores themselves are interesting, but to me, the real story is in the reaction from the ski industry. The biggest players, Vail Resorts and Intrawest, refused to respond to an SACC survey for the scorecard. Even as the big resorts try to downplay their miserable scorecard grades and discredit the scorecard, they tout their own environmental efforts.I’d say thats a bit like doing part of your homework but not turning it in to the teacher, while bragging about it to your friends and whining about your bad grade all at the same time.It’s worth noting Vail Resorts recently decided it didn’t need an environmental program coordinator at the corporate level. The individual resorts still have environmental programs, but it seems legitimate to ask whether environmental sustainability is a high priority at the Avon headquarters.I don’t think the Ds and Fs for Vail, Copper, Breckenridge, Keystone, Beaver Creek and Arapahoe Basin accurately reflect their environmental performance. The industry has made strides in recent years. The Sustainable Slopes charter provides a roadmap toward sustainable practices on the operations side, with guidance for reducing hazardous waste and energy use, for example. And from what I can tell, the local ski areas are generally conscientious when they do expand, taking great care to avoid and minimize impacts.Overall, I’d give them a C-, a grade they probably could have earned by responding to the SACC survey. But like in many schools, the grading is done on a curve. The idea of the scorecard is to give environmentally minded consumers a choice when it comes to picking a spot for a ski vacation, and I think the scorecard is a good tool for that. I think a lot of people want to know if their favorite ski area is expanding into important wildlife habitat for the sake of real estate development, or depleting streams for snowmaking at the expense of trout populations.Based on what I know, if a skier in Chicago or Kansas City asked me to help choose a resort based purely on environmental performance, I could not, in good conscience, suggest one of our local areas.The scorecard is also valuable because it’s a way of counteracting some the ski industry green-washing and letting skiers know that that there are serious environmental issues associated with the operation of the new class of mega-resorts that hog the lion’s share of skier visits these days. From what I’ve learned about our local areas after years of reporting on these issues, I can not call them environmental champions.I’ll tell you why: in five-plus years of reading ski area expansion plans, forest plans, Environmental Impact Statements, Environmental Assessments and similar documents, I have NEVER seen a local resort express support for a conservation measure proposed by the Forest Service not once!I suggest reading the appeals of the recent White River National Forest plan revision filed by Colorado Ski Country USA, Vail Resorts and Copper Mountain. Every place in the plan the Forest Service wanted to protect natural resources – streams, riparian areas, wetlands, alpine tundra, old growth forest, lynx habitat, roadless areas – the ski industry opposed those steps.It’s really hard, after reading those appeals, to think of the ski industry as pro-environment. In fact, even a casual observer would likely conclude that the industry is for environmental protection only if it doesn’t interfere with business as usual. And that’s too bad because it shows that the industry is out of touch with its customers.Bob Berwyn is a Silverthorne-based freelancer who reports for local, regional and national ski publications. Send story ideas and suggestions for columns to: berwyn@coloradoskiwriter.com.


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