February 11, 2013 - This Presidents' Day weekend (the busiest ski resort weekend of the year), skiers and snowboarders are urged to choose their resort with the newly released Ski Area Environmental Scorecard, compiled by the Sierra Nevada Alliance on behalf of the Ski Area Citizens' Coalition. Sadly, the 11th annual scorecard finds that 32% of ski resorts throughout the western United States are expanding into new terrain, leading to lower grades for environmental performance, according to the newly released Scorecard. The Scorecard can be found at skiareacitizens.com.
Nearly one-third of all western ski resorts surveyed (twenty-seven out of eighty-four) expanded their buildings, ski runs, or associated facilities, and most of those expansions intruded into public lands with long-term impacts on wildlife habitat and the region's water resources. This is a 300% increase in the number of resorts expanding compared to last year when only six resorts expanded their footprints. While the Ski Area Scorecard grades resorts on a variety of criteria, significant intrusion into new territory generally leads to a lower score, while expansion onto existing disturbed areas does not.
"Not all resort expansions are the same," noted Gavin Feiger of the Sierra Nevada Alliance. "Some resorts significantly expand their facilities in an environmentally friendly way, such as placing new buildings on old parking lots."
Lake Tahoe's Squaw Valley, for example, proposed expansion largely within their existing footprint, causing the resort to lose some points yet maintain their "A" grade from last year. Squaw has a larger expansion in the works and is discussing connecting to nearby resorts in the future, which would likely mean a significant drop in its score. Lake Tahoe's Northstar-at-Tahoe resort, by contrast, lost an entire letter grade by proposing to add over 300 acres of terrain, seven new lifts, and over 11 miles of new roadways for real estate development while re-zoning timberland for ski activities. Once new land is developed, wildlife, water, and other natural resources are permanently altered.
"With Presidents' Day one of the busiest ski weekends of the season, we hope people will visit the Ski Area Scorecard website and vote with their skis, choosing an "A" from this year's list," said Anna Olsen of the Sierra Nevada Alliance. "I was pleased to see that my favorite local Tahoe resort, Kirkwood, received an ‘A' and I hope the mountain keeps its impact limited to already-disturbed land."
"We hope the Scorecard reminds the ski resorts that people are watching and people care about their environmental record," said Josh Pollock, Senior Program Advisor for Rocky Mountain Wild. "If it gets them to think twice about what they can do on climate change, for example, then we've done our job."
As in past years, the Ski Area Scorecard highlights the Top Five and Bottom Five resort scores for California and Nevada. China Peak Mountain Resort in the Central Sierra topped this year's list, receiving 91.7% of possible points, a solid "A." At the other end of the spectrum, Bear Mountain and Snow Summit Mountain Resorts tied for last place in California and Nevada, largely for lack of sustainability measures. For the top and bottom scores nationwide, visit skiareacitizens.com.
The Scorecard evaluates the environmental practices of ski areas based on 35 criteria. The criteria include the ski areas' preservation of sensitive lands within the resort areas, their actions related to water conservation and quality, and commitment to green programs such as recycling and alternative energy.
For the last eleven years, the Ski Area Citizen's Coalition has both surveyed the ski resorts regarding their environmental practices and issued Freedom of Information Act requests to the Forest Service, independently researching issues such as land use and water resources to come up with total scores and grades. This year, for the first time, the Sierra Nevada Alliance coordinated the effort on behalf of the Coalition.
Since 1993 the Sierra Nevada Alliance has been protecting and restoring Sierra lands, water, wildlife and communities. Visit sierranevadaalliance.org for more information.
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