Good grades from greens for the Skico?
A new environmental scorecard of Western ski areas compiled by a coalition of green groups puts the four Aspen Skiing Company mountains at the top of the eco-friendly list.
But the ranking exercise is being discredited by some ski industry leaders.
The Ski Area Citizen’s Coalition, an organization led by Colorado Wild, gave Aspen Highlands the highest environmental score of any ski area in Colorado with 83.6 out of 100 points and a grade of “A.” Buttermilk Mountain was given a 77.2, which also merited an “A.” Aspen Mountain and Snowmass Ski Area were both given a “B” and scores of 74.6 and 72.0, respectively. The rankings are posted on line at http://www.skiareacitizens.com.
The Sundance Resort in Utah got the highest ranking of the exercise with a 90.5. Copper Mountain got the worst score, getting a failing grade and a score of 19. All four of the mountains run by Vail Resorts – Beaver Creek, Vail, Breckenridge and Keystone – were also given failing grades, and each scored under 31.
Vail Resorts, along with many other ski area operators, including the Skico, declined to fill out the survey sent by the coalition.
“It was very apparent to us that this would not be a fair, credible evaluation,” said Porter Wharton III, senior vice president of public affairs for Vail Resorts. “This is slightly less credible than a ranking that Al Gore might do on George Bush, or vice versa.”
The National Ski Areas Association also discounted the rankings.
“Clearly their aim was to manipulate and not inform the public,” said Stacy Gardner, spokesperson for the ski industry association. “The scorecard is nothing more than a publicity stunt.”
But Jeff Berman, the executive director of Colorado Wild and the force behind the Ski Area Citizen’s Coalition, said the study was exhaustive, credible and fair.
“This gives the public a good sense of which ski areas need to improve in order to be environmentally friendly ski areas,” Berman said.
For its part, the Skico seemed hesitant to embrace the scoring. The company’s environmental manager, Auden Schendler, referred comment to spokeswoman Rose Abello, who said “we haven’t really looked at the methodology that they used.” She did add that “we’ve been recognized by a lot of different entities for our environmental initiatives.”
In addition to Colorado Wild, the coalition includes The Crystal Conservation Coalition of Washington, Friends of the Inyo of California, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and Save Our Canyons of Utah.
Colorado Wild has taken a strong stance against ski area development. On its Web site, the organization states that “the Ski Area Citizen’s Coalition committee works to halt the environmentally harmful or real estate driven aspects of ski area expansions now at over half of Colorado’s ski areas.”
In the scoring exercise, up to 100 points were available based on a wide variety of criteria, such as avoiding wetlands or old-growth forests when developing a ski area. But a full 50 points were available based on whether or not ski areas had plans to expand their terrain or to develop ski-related real estate projects. A heavy emphasis on the scoring was placed on the long-range plans that the ski areas put forward as part of the White River Forest plan process. The U.S. Forest Service asked the majority of the ski areas in Colorado to identify the areas near their resorts that have expansion potential.
The Skico was the only ski company in the White River National Forest to tell the Forest Service it wanted to reduce the amount of terrain that was once designated for future development, and recommended that the Little Annie Basin, the land between Snowmass and Buttermilk, and Maroon Creek Bowl at Highlands be removed from consideration. In addition, the Skico was given high marks for many of its existing environmental initiatives in the scoring exercise.
Copper lost points for plans to expand to the south and the west, Beaver Creek’s score dropped for plans to potentially develop the McCoy Park/Mud Spring area above Bachelor Gulch, and Vail apparently lost points for its Category III expansion.
Vail’s Wharton pointed out that ski area expansions have to clear significant environmental review hurdles before being approved and so should not automatically be considered harmful.
“To imply that any ski area expansion is going to be detrimental is not acknowledging the facts,” said Wharton. “Clearly this is a group that believes that the only good ski area is a closed ski area.”
But Berman said that ski area expansions should get negative marks “because often ski areas are approved with acknowledged impacts.”
And he gives lots of credit to the Skico.
“They have chosen not to engage in this expansion arms race, and they should get credit for that,” Berman said. “We applaud their efforts to not engage in this expansion strategy. “
The scorecard disregarded any developments that took place prior to 1997, such as the Burnt Mountain/East Village expansion at the Snowmass Ski Area. It also did not detract any points for the new real estate development at the base of Aspen Highlands, in part because the project is not technically a Skico development but instead is owned by Gerald Hines and the owners of the Skico in a separate partnership.
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