Aspen Skiing Co. makes the grade with environmental group | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Skiing Co. makes the grade with environmental group

ASPEN – Three of Aspen Skiing Co.’s four ski areas ranked among the top 10 nationally for being environmentally friendly, according to the Ski Area Citizens Coalition.

In its annual report card on ski areas, the coalition ranked Aspen Highlands third in the country, Aspen Mountain seventh and Buttermilk eighth. They all received a letter grade of A from the environmental organization.

Snowmass was just out of the national top 10, but it still received an A.

Auden Schendler, Skico vice president of sustainability, said the company is “happy for the feedback.” The scorecard is weighted heavily on whether a ski area is expanding. The Aspen-Snowmass resorts are mature, so they aren’t doing expansion beyond the boundaries approved by the Forest Service. That helps generate high scores.

The Ski Area Citizens Coalition has been passing out grades for 10 years. It revamped its scoring system in 2010 to focus on four categories and an overall score. It examines ski areas’ performance in habitat protection, watershed protection, addressing global climate change and environmental practices and policies.

Skico’s lack of expansion boosts its score on habitat and watershed protection. Schendler said its effort to reduce its energy efficiency and decrease its carbon footprint boosts its score in the other categories.

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Paul Joyce, director of the Ski Area Citizens Coalition, said in a recent interview that Skico is a leader in the ski industry, in part because of its activism on global warming and its general environmental policies.

Sunlight Mountain Resort near Glenwood Springs wasn’t ranked. Nineteen out of 20 ranked ski areas in Colorado received a grade of C or better. Only Breckenridge, which is expanding, got a D.

Reflecting on the ski industry’s performance as a whole, the Ski Area Citizens Coalition found that the Great Recession has created a double-edged sword: Ski areas aren’t undertaking expansions and activities that degrade the environment, but they generally aren’t spending to boost energy efficiency or investing in renewable energy. The researchers who compiled data for the report cards said ski areas haven’t upgraded windows, employed solar power or improved public transportation as much in the last year as they did in the past.

“Not true for us,” Schendler said, “and probably not true for Vail.” Both resorts undertook projects where energy efficiency was key. A new patrol shack at Buttermilk is a model of energy efficiency.

The resorts that earned the highest marks in the national rankings were Squaw Valley in California and Powderhorn in Colorado. The resort with the lowest score was Montana Snowbowl, edging out Breckenridge.

“Historically the industry has hated this report, so I don’t think that position has changed,” Schendler said, adding that he feels the scrutiny has encouraged more ski areas to beef up their environmental practices.

More on the scores and methodology can be found at http://www.skiareacitizens.com.

scondon@aspentimes.com