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A Report Card for Ski Resorts

A Report Card for Ski Resorts

The Park City Mountain Resort in Utah got top environmental marks, followed by the Stevens Pass Ski Area in Washington.Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition  
The Park City Mountain Resort in Utah got top environmental marks, followed by the Stevens Pass Ski Area in Washington.
Green: Living
A ski area report card issued this week by an environmental coalition ranks Utah’s Park City Mountain Resort first, granting it an A, and Arizona Snowbowl in Flagstaff dead last, with a D.

The report, issued by the Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition, evaluated 84 resorts in the Western United States on environmental practices ranging from recycling to watershed protection. Generally, new development lowered a resort’s score. Breckenridge in Colorado scored low, while the lesser-known resorts of Stevens Pass in Washington and China Peak in California won high marks.

The study found a 300 percent increase over the previous year in the number of ski areas that either plan to expand or are in the process of doing so. Yet skier numbers have risen by only a fraction of a percentage point annually since 1978.

In fact, nearly one-third of all Western ski resorts surveyed were expanding, the report said. “Most of those expansions intruded into public lands with long-term impacts on wildlife habitat and the region’s water resources,” it added.

Over half of all alpine ski resorts in the United States are on public lands administered by the Forest Service, according to Jim Bedwell, director of recreation, heritage and volunteer resources for the agency. Suffering from a decline in snow associated with climate change and nearly stagnant skier numbers, roughly half of all ski areas on public land have closed in the last 20 years, he noted. And in many cases those that stayed afloat did so by shifting to a “full service” lodge model, complete with hotels, restaurants, shops and condos, he said.

The report criticizes Forest Service practices on that front: “It is not sound public policy for the Forest Service to continue to approve terrain expansions, without regard” for environmental impacts, it said. The added development, which often involves widening roads, the clear-cutting of forests and snow-making, has rankled environmentalists and some neighbors.

While many of the resorts tend to dismiss the survey results, 50 of the 84 evaluated cooperated with the survey, said Gavin Feiger of the Sierra Nevada Alliance, which compiled the data for the coalition. Among those that did not was Arizona Snowbowl, which this year became the nation’s first resort to make snow from 100 percent sewage effluent.

The resort “chose not to participate in the survey, knowing that the snow-making project would be judged negatively,” said the ski area’s manager, J. R. Murray. “Snow-making is required to remain a viable ski area.”
Beyond information submitted by resorts, the report card relied on information from various Web sites and public documents to rank resorts by 40 criteria in four categories: habitat protection, watershed protection, addressing climate change, and environmental policies and regulations.

The National Ski Areas Association also produces an annual report on environmental sustainability efforts undertaken by its member resorts. Mr. Feiger suggested that the organization’s identity as an industry trade association might lead some people to consider its results skewed. But “they probably think we’re biased, too,” he said.

This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: February 14, 2013
An earlier version of this post misrepresented one resort's response to the Ski Area Citizens' Coalition survey. Arizona Snowbowl was not among the 50 resorts that cooperated.
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