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At ski resorts green is the new white

 Posted by on October 31, 2008
Oct 312008

By Shermakaye Bass
Green Right Now

If skiing or snowboarding is your brood’s idea of the perfect family vacation, then ask yourself: What could make it even ”more” perfect?

Powdery white slopes and alpine valleys? Maybe a white Christmas? Chances are when you think of skiing, you think of things white, not green. But the green-ski movement, prompted by U.S. groups like the Ski Area Citizens Coalition (SACC), an outgrowth of nonprofit Colorado Wild, and National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) “Sustainable Slopes” program, is changing that – little by little.

A fairly young endeavor (SACC started in 1999; Sustainable Slopes in 2000), the movement’s emergence reminds us that as healthy and nature-loving as this sport might be, it hasn’t been known for its environmental sensitivity.

Big-development resorts often gobble up entire mountains, says SACC’s ski-area coordinator Hunter Sykes – carving roads out of virgin wooded areas, replacing dense aspens and birch with Green, Blue and Black ski runs. And most large lodges, hotels and condo complexes have anything but a small carbon footprint.

But there’s a way to figure out who’s green and white, and who’s just plain white before booking your ski holiday this year. Every November, SACC posts a list of the 10 Best Ski Areas and the 10 Worst in the Western United States, based on skier scorecards that grade everything from the resort or ski operator’s impact on local and regional water sources, old growth forests and wildlife, to how the resort or operator deals with environmental policies. Does it recycle? Does it use biodiesel for its vehicles? Does it tap into alternative energy?

Other good sources for assessing how green your favorite snowy, white retreat is are the Ski Green Guide and the NSAA’s Green Room.

The SACC’s top ten for 2007-2008, with their rankings on a 100-point scale:

  1. Aspen Mountain Ski Resort, Colorado – 88.9 % (pictured above)
  2. Buttermilk Mountain Ski Resort, Colorado – 88 %
  3. Park City Mountain Ski Resort, Utah – 81.3 %
  4. Sundance Resort, Utah – 79.1 %
  5. Aspen Highlands Ski Resort – 76.4 %
  6. Mount Bachelor Ski Area, Oregon – 74.7 %
  7. Alpine Meadows Ski Area, Californian – 73.8 %
  8. Telluride Ski Resort, Colorado – 73.3 %
  9. Bogus Basin Mountain Resort, Idaho – 73.3 %
  10. Alta Ski Resort, Utah – 72.2 %

For those who’ve never heard of it, SACC is composed of nonprofits from three Western states: Colorado Wild, the Crystal Conservation Coalition (Washington), Friends of the Inyo (California) and the Sierra Nevada Alliance (California). Last year, the group added Canadian ski areas to its Skier Area Environmental Scorecards rating program, through the research group Under the Sleeping Buffalo based in Banff, Alberta. Its 225-point scoring criteria is extremely detailed and is broken down into two parts.  As the SACC reports on its site, the scorecard “strives to differentiate between those ski areas that engage in environmentally sound practices on the ground versus those that merely claim to do so.”

Going Green Means Saving The White Fluffy Stuff

A couple of major factors are fueling the need for a ski-green movement, says Sykes of SACC and Colorado Wild: Fewer people are skiing these days, so big developments are constantly pushing to expand their acreage into pristine alpine areas – which has environmentalists, and pro-green ski operators, on the offensive. And a greater number of people have become eco-conscious and are trying to lessen their impact on wilderness areas.

“It’s not that you shouldn’t be skiing,” Sykes explains, “but that you should be choosing the places where you ski more carefully.