ASPEN - Three of Aspen Skiing Co.'s ski areas received A's in an annual rating by environmental groups, but Snowmass fell to a B because of its expansion onto Burnt Mountain.
The Ski Area Environmental Scorecard was released Monday for the 11th consecutive year. An organization called Sierra Nevada Alliance compiled this year's rankings, which look at every major ski area and many of the smaller ones in the country.
Aspen Highlands and Aspen Mountain were among the top 10 resorts nationally for environmental performance, coming in sixth and seventh, respectively.
Park City Mountain Resort came in first by getting 93 percent of the possible points. The scorecard looks at 35 criteria, including preservation of sensitive lands, efforts to conserve water and preserve quality and commitment to programs such as recycling and alternative energy. Expansion onto undisturbed public land weighed heavily in the scoring.
Aspen Highlands got 88.3 percent of the possible points, while Aspen Mountain received 87.4 percent, and Buttermilk also got an A with 85.7 percent of the possible points. They were ranked the three "greenest" resorts in Colorado.
Sunlight Mountain Resort, an independent ski area near Glenwood Springs, also received an A on the environmental scorecard.
Snowmass got only 70.5 percent of the possible points. It lost points because of its expansion onto 250 additional acres of Burnt Mountain, according to the scorecard. The scoring gave 30 possible points for "maintaining ski terrain within the existing footprint." Snowmass received only five points in the category.
Snowmass received an A in the 2011-12 environmental scorecard.
Gavin Feiger, program associate for Sierra Nevada Alliance, said nearly one-third of all ski resorts nationally received lower grades in environmental performance because of expansion projects. It's not just the industry giants that are growing.
"A lot of the small resorts are expanding, too," Feiger said.
A report released with the grades said 27 out of 84 resorts are expanding ski runs, buildings or associated facilities. Ski areas generally aren't penalized in the scoring system when they expand within their footprint, but "significant intrusion into new territory generally leads to a lower score, while expansion onto existing disturbed areas does not."
Skico doesn't view the addition of terrain on Burnt Mountain as an "expansion" because it is terrain already in the ski-area permit it holds from the U.S. Forest Service. Others view it as expansion because it adds terrain to the eastern edge of the ski area.
When asked for his view on the report, Auden Schendler, Skico vice president of sustainability, said he has lobbied the Ski Area Citizens Coalition, the group that started the report, to update the scoring to reflect the important environmental issues of the day.
"What matters on climate is, in this order, advocacy, efficiency and renewable-energy development, onsite or off," Schendler said in an email.
One flaw with the scorecard is biodiesel, Schendler said. It is highly valued in the grading even though regular diesel is now required to be low in sulphur. Skico officials also have issues with biofuel being produced from crops that could otherwise be food, he said.
"Aspen Skiing Co. is doing as much as or more than any resort in the world on climate change ... in terms of advocacy, efficiency and renewable," Schendler wrote. "I'd say we're getting almost annoying on the top. But we got two C's and two D's on this report card in that category. That's because the report doesn't have many points in this section and disproportionately values biodiesel."
He said he believes the report is "useful," but if he were running it, he would "flip" the emphasis, making climate much more important.
The coalition of conservation groups that supports the scorecard makes it clear that expansion will be one of the major issues it tracks.
Four Colorado ski areas made the list of the 10 worst resorts in the country. Breckenridge, Steamboat, Monarch and Eldora all received 57 percent or less of the possible points.
Ski Area Citizens' Coalition and Sierra Nevada Alliance want skiers and snowboarders to use the environmental report to determine where to spend their time - and money. The full scorecard and an explanation of the scoring are available at www.skiareacitizens.com.