Skico earns good grades in environmental scorecard
November 27, 2006
The Aspen Skiing Co. earned three A’s and a B in an environmental coalition’s scorecard for ski areas, but it isn’t bragging about its grades.The Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition ranked resorts for the eighth straight year this month. Aspen Mountain and Buttermilk received the two highest grades among 77 resorts, while Aspen Highlands was fifth. They all received an A.Snowmass Ski Area pulled a B and missed the top 10. Snowmass lost points for issues tied to expansion and base-area development.Skico officials reacted with caution Monday when they learned about their good grades.”My feeling is that any third-party oversight whatsoever is valuable, and in the case of the ski industry, there really isn’t any other than this report card,” Skico environmental director Auden Schendler said. “Even if this report card gave everyone F’s, it would still be useful because it would help drive change.”Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle downplayed the outside look at the Skico and the ski industry. “It’s biased, and it’s not what the ski industry holds themselves to,” Hanle said. “It’s a touchy subject. We don’t rely on them to tell us how we’re doing.”
The scorecard is widely dismissed by the ski industry and despised by some industry officials. Detractors claim the Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition has biases, which the scorecard reflects.Resorts that expand terrain or build base-area developments on untrammeled land often flunk the test. “Mature” resorts that are finished expanding usually fare well.Prevents ‘greenwashing’Ryan Bidwell, executive director for Colorado Wild, one of the members of the Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition, said the scorecard can be a useful tool for skiers and riders who care about the environment. It gives them an independent assessment of environmental performance.The scorecard looks at a variety of issues, from development to initiatives ski resorts undertake to benefit the environment. The diversity of the scorecard protects against efforts by a resort to “greenwash” or make itself appear greener than it really is, Bidwell said.The coalition that compiled the scorecard is investigating the grades to see if resorts that score well for conservation programs are some of the worst offenders with environmentally harmful development.
For example, there has been “a lot of hype” in the ski industry over resorts’ purchase of renewable energy sources to power their operations, Bidwell said. They “shouldn’t get this public green stamp of approval if that is all they’re going to do,” he said.The Skico’s grades will stand up well to further scrutiny, Bidwell predicted. The company scores well on both “pro-active conservation efforts” and on protecting habitat from development, he said.”In general, Aspen Skiing Co. is a leader in the industry,” Bidwell said. “The Aspen Skiing Co. is definitely not the norm.”Breckenridge tanked itThe resort with the worst grade was Breckenridge, which nosed out Copper Mountain. Crested Butte Mountain Resort ranked fifth in the coalitions’ “worst 10” list.Vail, a perennial powerhouse in the “worst” list, earned a C this year. It moved up from a D last season, according to the Vail Daily.
The Skico’s one blemish was at Snowmass. Its intention to add snowmaking capacity was frowned upon, as was a plan to build a reservoir to store water for snowmaking. A part of the Base Village development that affects a small area of wetlands cost the Skico some points, as did the potential effects of new trails on Burnt Mountain on a roadless area.Schendler said the “penalties” for proposed expansion of the Snowmass snowmaking and the Burnt Mountain expansion are “legitimate.” He took exception to Snowmass getting docked for a proposed snowmaking pond.”It has been roundly endorsed by everyone in the environmental community, without exceptions,” he said. “The criticism [in the report card] is about endangered species being damaged by the pond construction, but the reality is that the endangered species is Snowmass Creek and that new water storage would protect the creek.”The scores for all 77 resorts and information about the methodology are available at http://www.skiareacitizens.com.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.orgThe Aspen Times, Aspen, Colo.