Environmental Issues at Western Ski Resorts

The Ski Area Citizens' Coalition, composed of four groups, Colorado Wild, the Crystal Conservation Coalition (Washington State), Friends of the Inyo (California) and The Sierra Nevada Alliance (California), invite the pulic to read their yearly report on the environmental friendliness of ski resorts in ten Western United States (California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming and Utah).

They rate ski resorts using 9 different criteria, with each criteria weighed proportionately to their importance in the coalition's overall vision of a green ski resort. The SACC notes that nine out of ten ski resorts in the west are on public land managed by the Forest Service. Approximately one-half of their criteria address public land management issues connected to ski area development. They also address issues more connected to the day to day operation of the ski area, such as water and waste management.

The coalition recently released their rankings for the 2008-2009 ski season.

All the resorts that made the top 10 rankings listed below received an A grade. The first two resorts listed, Aspen Mountain and Buttermilk are repeat visitors to the top two spots.

  • Aspen Mountain Ski Resort, CO (85.7%)
  • Buttermilk Mountain Ski Resort, CO (85.2%)
  • Sundance Resort, UT (82.2%)
  • Park City Mountain Resort, UT (79.1%)
  • Squaw Valley USA, CA (78.3%)
  • Alpine Meadows Ski Area, CA (77.4%)
  • Aspen Highlands Ski Resort, CO (76.7%)
  • Bogus Basin Mountain Resort, ID (74.8%)
  • Mount Bachelor Ski Area, OR (74.8%)
  • Telluride Ski Resort, CO (74.3%)
The ten ski resorts at the bottom of the list are shown in order of performance.

The first seven resorts listed received an F grade. The last three received a D grade.

  • Copper Mountain Ski Resort CO (31.9%)
  • Sun Valley Resort, ID (34.3%)
  • Tamarack Resort, ID (35.6%)
  • Breckenridge Ski Resort, CO (36.1%)
  • Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park, WA (37.4%)
  • Arizona Snowbowl, AZ (38.6%)
  • 49 Degrees North Resort, WA (39.9%)
  • White Pass Ski Area, WA (41.3%)
  • Brundage Mountain Resort, ID (41.8%)
  • Crystal Mountain Ski Area, WA (45.6%)

The ski resort industry has also been promoting their own green agenda through a policy called Sustainable Slopes. More limited in scope than the SACC program. It generally focuses on practical issues associated with resort management such as best practices in the water and waste management areas.

The ideal of sunny skies providing a back drop for earth covered snow areas continues to inspire creative alliances between the solar and skiing industries.

News about the opening of a new solar powered ski lift or a solar paneled resort are increasingly complimented by news covering public and private sector adoption of solar technologies for use in the surrounding communities.

To the casual ski observer, the shift to solar might go unnoticed. Many already developed ski resorts adopt new technologies at varied rates. On the ground visits to a random number of resorts would probably show their range of solar adaptive technologies starting from close to zero and ending up with a less than one hundred percent resort integration.

The more interested observer might note additional, incremental changes in the ski industry, such as the ski apparel's integration of solar technology. Outerwear wired to provide solar power that meets the individual's communication and entertainment needs continues its presence as a small niche in the apparel market.

Stand alone solar chargers also get a thumbs up from many ski enthusiasts who choose to carry their entertainment and communications gadgets between the slopes and the lodgings.

The professional observer might also note the increase in green skiing clubs and organizations being formed throughout the world's ski areas further encourages the increased use of solar technologies as a cornerstone for sun drenched mountain communities concerned with long term, sustainable growth.

Less than sun drenched ski resorts often receive credit from these green skiing organizations for their use of best available alternative energy technologies. For example, changing to more energy efficient snowmaking machines helps to green both the sunniest and most cloudy resort areas.

Green skiing advocates also remind us that solar skiing entails more than the apparel, gadgets and buildings that constitute the average trip to the slopes. The National Ski Areas Association, for example, wishes to remind consumers that a ski industry dependent on sunny, snow areas, ultimately depends on more stable climactic conditions.

© 2002-2012 Patricia A. Michaels