Mobilization and Events

Sustainable Ski Resorts? How They’re Graded

While it’s true that there will always be an ecological impact when it comes to ski resorts; stream water depletion, wetland impact, air pollution, and permanent habitat loss; from the parking lots to the clear cuts, ski resorts edge their way into a mountain the same way your skis do on your favorite run. Many believe however, in the name of conservation, that the quality of life that skiing adds to everyday existence is well worth the price. And not only can skiing add awe inducing moments for those pursuers of powder, but the ski resorts can also potentially plateau their environmental impact, enabling future powder pushers to have the same opportunity for the experience that we did. From this idea, sustainable ski resorts have emerged as a relatively new, and often falsely marketed, way of doing business. So, for those accurately described “environmentally-conscious” skiers out there, how do you tell the difference between green and green-washed?

That’s where the Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition (SACC) comes in.

The Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition is a group of staff and volunteers made up a large set of enthusiastic skiers who grade, and give report cards, to Western United States ski resorts based on their  environmental impact attributed to increased development and expansion. While good grades can be earned back through energy efficient retrofitting and environmental policy positioning, the best way to earn a bad grade is to do what the SACC believes is the single most damaging impact a ski resort can undertake; development on undisturbed forest land.

The four criteria that the SAAC uses to grade, in order of the largest influence on grading to smallest, are as follows:

*Important Note: The SACC only grades ski resorts concerning the recreational side of their development; and the grades do not reflect commercial or real estate development within the resorts.

Habitat Protection
The SACC’s primary concern here is whether or not there has been any development outside of the ski resorts existing footprint and preservation of undisturbed lands from development. While this includes skiable acreage and chairlift placements, the SACC also looks at parking lot construction and any additions of new roads leading to the mountain. Habitat protection also includes protecting threatened and endangered species, as well as preserving environmentally sensitive areas such as old growth populations and geological formations.

Addressing Global Climate Change
This criterion is set strongly on the ski resort accepting that it has an impact on the environment, and that it can actively take steps to decrease that impact. Steps that the SACC takes into consideration include ski resorts efficiency of water and energy, specifically in their lighting, heating, and construction systems; as well as a ski resorts ability to generate renewable energy. A big way to lose points as a ski resort in this category is to participate in snowmaking, while a great way to gain some back is implementing public transportation up and down the mountain.

Environmental Policies and Practices
Ski resorts gain points in this grouping by actively supporting a pro-ecological movement either state-wide, regional, or on a national scale. The SACC also takes a close look at the waste management on the facility and notes for either a recycling or compost system in place. If the ski resorts rely on non-disposable restaurant goods, recycled office products, and local products, then they will gain some points in the environmental policies segment.

Protecting Watersheds
Here, the SACC evaluates the different ecological water systems that are being affected by the ski resort including wetlands and reservoirs. In terms of depletion and pollution, ski resorts are also heavily graded upon their water conservation practices including low flow toilets run-off water control.

For more information on this forward thinking approach on a forward heading sport, check out the Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition Scorecard for yourself. From there, search for your favorite resorts and see how they stack up on the environmental impact scale, and until then, check out the scorecards for the SACC’s Best and Worst Ten Ski Resorts in the Western U.S.:

Best 10 Ski Resorts & Scorecards

  1. Stevens Pass Ski Area – Washington
  2. Park City Mountain Resort – Utah
  3. Aspen Highlands Ski Resort – Colorado
  4. Aspen Mountain Ski Resort – Colorado
  5. Buttermilk Mountain Ski Resort – Colorado
  6. China Peak Mountain Resort – California
  7. Deer Valley Resort – Utah
  8. Alpine Meadows – California
  9. Durango Mountain Resort – Colorado
  10. Schweitzer Mountain Resort – Idaho

Worst 10 Ski Resorts & Scorecards

  1. Mount Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park – Washington
  2. Whitefish Mountain Resort – Montana
  3. Eldora Mountain Resort – Colorado
  4. Loveland Ski Area – Colorado
  5. Ski Santa Fe – New Mexico
  6. Steamboat Ski and Snowboard Resort – Colorado
  7. Lost Trail Ski Area – Montana
  8. Mount Bachelor Ski Area – Oregon
  9. Arapahoe Basin Ski Area – Colorado
  10. Red River Ski Area – New Mexico