Environmental group ranks Western ski resorts' impact

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Ski resorts in the California-Nevada region had the best average environmental scores of any Western ski region, an environmental coalition said Monday.

Colorado-New Mexico and Oregon-Washington were a close second and third in the coalition's ranking. Utah was fourth and the Idaho-Montana-Wyoming region ranked fifth and last in environmental friendliness.

It's the first time the Ski Areas Citizens' Coalition compared ski regions, though the group has issued an annual report card on the environmental practices of 70 individual ski resorts since 1997.

Skiers can encourage good environmental practices and hold poor-scoring areas accountable by taking the rankings into account as they decide where to ski, said Joan Clayburgh, executive director of California's Sierra Nevada Alliance, one of the coalition members.

The National Ski Areas Association has its own "sustainable slopes" program and feels the coalition's ranking is vague and biased, spokeswoman Keri Hone said.

"Their scorecard is difficult for any resort to score positive," she said, because it deducts for activities resorts consider essential to remain open.

While individual resorts' grades ranged from A to F, no region received an exemplary nor failing grade from the coalition. The California-Nevada region had an overall B grade, Idaho-Montana-Wyoming received a D, while the remainder had C grades.

The coalition's Web site lists the top 10 and the worst 10 resorts based on 10 criteria, including expansion or new development on undisturbed land; impact on wetlands, roadless areas and other environmentally sensitive areas; increased snowmaking and its corresponding drain on energy and water; and efforts for water quality protection, energy and water conservation efforts and vehicle emissions reduction.

While the California-Nevada region had the highest average grades, Colorado's Aspen Mountain and nearby Buttermilk tied for the best grade individually. Nearby Vail Ski Resort, which has been aggressively expanding, had the lowest grade nationwide.

Similarly, in the Sierra Nevada, Northstar-at-Tahoe had the lowest score because it is expanding its skiable terrain and developing 900 acres.

The coalition encourages downhill skiing as a way to get more than 6 million Americans outdoors in a concentrated and controlled activity. However, the presence of any resort affects the environment.

"Ski runs are essentially permanent clear cuts on steep slopes," said Paul McFarland of California's Friends of the Inyo. "Some resorts have a 'develop-at-all-costs' attitude" while others try to minimize the impact.

The Colorado-based coalition's Ben Doon questioned why ski resorts have kept expanding, with government permission, while the number of skier days has remained relatively stable for more than 20 years. Much of the expansion is on public land, since 90 percent of all Western ski areas are in national forests.


On the Net:

National Ski Areas Association: http://www.nsaa.org

Ski Area Citizens' Coalition: http://www.skiareacitizens.com


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