Report: ski areas getting greener
The meadows and trees around Eagle County may be drying out and turning golden-brown, but the ski industry is greener than ever, at least according to the latest Sustainable Slopes annual report, released late last week.This year’s report focuses on climate change impacts, quantified by rigorous data collection, says Geraldine Link, public policy director for the National Ski Areas Association. This past winter, the NSAA and the Natural Resources Defense Council launched a Keep Winter Cool campaign to highlight the effects of global warming on winter recreation and to offer some solutions for resorts and their guests."We have some numbers on carbon dioxide emissions avoided through resort energy conservation, waste reduction and recycling and transportation-related projects," Link says.The report shows that collectively, resorts helped eliminate the emission of 222,608,369 pounds of carbon dioxide through energy conservation, waste reduction and recycling and transportation-related projects."Based on three years worth of data, the Sustainable Slopes program clearly is making an impact. Resorts have accepted the challenge of finding solutions to global warming and remain committed to sound environmental stewardship," Link says in a prepared statement.The Sustainable Slopes Charter is a pro-active industry measure endorsed by 173 resorts around the country. Government entities and private conservation groups are also part of the partnership.The charter is a step toward institutionalizing an environmental ethic within the industry. It includes, among other things, a set of 21 environmental principles addressing a range of issues, from planning, design and construction to water use for snowmaking, wastewater management, fish and wildlife management and recycling.According to the report, the industry made progress toward implementing charter principles relating to wetlands and riparian areas, visual quality, planning, design and construction and potentially hazardous waste.Areas for improvement include energy use for lifts, product re-use, energy use for vehicles and energy use for snowmaking.There has also been plenty of public and industry outreach. Informal on-mountain surveys show more skiers and snowboarders are aware of environmental issues, and say that they’ve noticed resorts’ environmental messages in cafeterias and lodges."Greening Your Ski Area," a hands-on environmental manual, was widely distributed to resorts around the country, and the NSAA is working with energy companies, government agencies and private conservation groups to encourage resorts to use renewable energy sources like wind power.The Sustainable Slopes charter also garnered some international attention when the World Tourism Organization featured it in a world-wide inventory of eco-labels.Luke Cartin, Vail’s environmental coordinator, says the resort hopes to re-establish a ski-with-a-naturalist program, helping to give visitors a better appreciation of the natural surroundings. The ski area also recently completed a retrofit of plumbing fixtures, resulting in a significant drop in water use. Cartin says those numbers haven’t been finalized yet, but will be released.Vail is also considering the use of biodiesel in its snowcat fleet, but Cartin says the company wants to look at some more data before making a decision.Changing over an entire fleet is a major step, he explains. And a can-puncture system has helped reduce the volume of aerosol cans significantly in the waste stream, he adds.As reported, Vail is considering installation of several wind turbines at the ski area to generate electricity locally. On the SustainableSlopes Web site, Vail also claims a boost for its recycling program when it stopped selling a non-recyclable plastic-bottle sports drink, and says it improved the visual quality of the area by painting snow guns a darker color.On the operation side, Vail-owned Keystone has also long been a leader on the environmental front, with a strong recycling program, as well as an extensive public outreach campaign that includes guided tours with information on natural history, as well as on-mountain interpretive displays.Breckenridge, in a well-publicized move last winter, switched to biodiesel for its transit fleet, and the ski resort appears to have done an outstanding job of re-vegetating the new Peak 7 trails.Colorado Wild, a group that closely monitors environmental issues, including ski resort developments, has in the past criticized the charter as an attempt at environmental greenwashing. The group charged that the industry does not go far enough to address environmental concerns, especially regarding natural resource impacts from resort expansions.But Colorado Wild’s Jeff Berman says this year that the industry push does include some positive moves. Berman singles out Vail’s wind-power plan as an example of the way the industry should be thinking.Berman is not sure if the resorts have gone far enough to actually address climate change issues."It’s not enough to just acknowledge the problem. You have to act," Berman says.Colorado Wild does its own assessment of ski industry performance with an annual scorecard, grading areas on a different scale than the Sustainable Slopes assessment.Berman says the group is preparing to send out another survey for next year’s scorecard, with about 35 to 40 resorts participating. He also says Colorado Wild and the broader-based Ski Area Citizen’s Coalition has made progress toward collaboratively engaging with some resorts in a meaningful dialogue. In Colorado, he singled out Wolf Creek as an area that has been willing to come to the table to discuss tough issues.
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