Ski Resort Industry Climbs Toward Sustainability

Ski Resort Industry Climbs Toward Sustainability

Responding to the environmental concerns of skiiers and concerned non-skiiers, the ski resort industry is putting environmentally friendly improvements in place.

Angel Fire Ski Resort in New Mexico has installed more efficient snowmaking equipment that uses less water than older models. The Cirque Lift at Aspen/Snowmass is fully powered by wind power purchased from a wind farm in Northern Colorado. Vermont's Smugglers' Notch Ski Resort is protecting a black bear travel corridor with a new conservation easement.

To publicize its efforts, the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) has launched a new online environmental database called the Green Room. The database is part of the industry's Sustainable Slopes environmental program, launched in June 2000.

Approximately 75 percent of the U.S. snowsports resort industry has endorsed the Sustainable Slopes program, which includes a set of environmental principles aimed at improving resorts' environmental performance across the board.

The NSAA is the trade association for ski area owners and operators. It represents 332 alpine resorts that account for more than 90 percent of the skier and snowboarder visits nationwide. It also has 436 supplier members who provide equipment, goods and services to the mountain resort industry.

"The Green Room is full of concrete examples of resorts implementing Sustainable Slopes for the benefit of the environment," said NSAA public policy director Geraldine Link. "It is an impressive collection and demonstrates strong commitment to environmental stewardship."

The ski industry is responding to the concerns of groups such as the Ski Area Citizens Coalition, which grades resorts and publishes the grades on its Web site.

The coalition's criteria are spelled out in suggested letters that skiiers send to encourage resorts to take better care of the environment.

"To be truly environmentally friendly," the coalition says, "ski areas must not log old growth forests, invade roadless areas, impact endangered species and sensitive wildlife, degrade water quality, further dry up streams at low flow periods for snowmaking, or harm undisturbed lands through real estate development."

Environmentalists who ski can be caught in a conflict between having fun and protecting the environment from insensitive resort owners who gobble pristine lands, disrupt wildlife and drain water resources.

Dennis Glick of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition told reporters last December, "Let's face it, many environmentalists are downhill skiers, and for years, nobody has wanted to point the finger at skiing because it means acknowledging that we are part of the problem."

The environmental impact of ski resorts is an issue that some people feel so strongly about that they are willing to break the law to accomplish their aims.

For instance, in 1998 arsonists torched buildings at Vail Resort in Colorado, protesting the resort's expansion into habitat for critically endangered lynx. Vail is still doing poorly when ranked against environmentalists' standards.

The Ski Area Citizens Coalition gives the resort a failing grade and suggests that concerned skiiers contact the resort owners to encourage them to improve their environmental grade in the future.

One resort is top of the list for ski fun and also for environmental conservation. Colorado's Aspen/Snowmass scores an "A" in the Ski Area Citizens Coalition ranking, and has just been named the No. 1 ski area in the United States in "Skiing" magazine's annual Adventure Guide.

In its statement of environmental responsiblity, Aspen/Snowmass includes commitments to green building, and to reducing its emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) by reducing energy consumption with lighting retrofits with a goal of 10 percent CO2 reductions by 2010.

The National Ski Areas Association's new Web site is intended to give ski resort owners with an environmental conscience a resource to improve their operations. Resort contact information is provided for each project that upgraded water quality, wildlife habitat or energy conservation, as well as links to resort Web sites and environmental Web pages.

NSAA president Michael Berry said, "Resorts can use the database as a resource in environmental decision making and to share ideas on tested programs or projects that will enhance environmental performance."

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