Local ski resorts get environmental grades | SierraSun.com

Local ski resorts get environmental grades

David Bunker
Sierra Sun

For those wondering how their favorite ski resort’s environmental record stacks up against other ski areas, a group of environmental organizations has issued a ranking of 77 national ski resorts.

Tahoe-area resorts ran the gamut in the scorecard ranking, with two ski areas making the top 10 environmentally friendly resorts, and others scoring fairly low. This year’s environmental scorecard marks the sixth year the Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition has issued environmental grades for ski resorts.

The Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition criticized the ski industry for not backing up their tough talk on reducing pollution and preventing global warming. The coalition found that despite the rhetoric of the resort’s latest “Keep Winter Cool” campaign, fewer than half of Western ski resorts have instituted the changes needed to significantly cut the harmful emissions that affect the global climate.

“They are talking about how [preventing global warming] is so important, but they are not doing anything about it, except for a few leaders,” said Autumn Bernstein, land use coordinator for the South Lake Tahoe-based Sierra Nevada Alliance, a member of the citizens’ coalition.

The ski industry should be a leader in alternative energy, efficient transportation and other programs that reduce air pollution, since they have a financial stake in whether global warming worsens or not, said Bernstein.

“We really think that these things, given the economic impact global warming will have on their industry, should be taken up by all resorts,” she said.

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Alpine Meadows and Sierra-at-Tahoe both received a grade of “A,” mainly for choosing not to expand their ski areas and for preserving wildlife habitat and wetland areas. Northstar-at-Tahoe received a “D” because of large real estate projects and water quality violations during construction, said Ben Doon, a researcher for the scorecard.

But Doon noted that Northstar has become a leader in alternative energy and recycling.

“It really is their real estate development that is keeping them down,” Doon said. “They’re a vivid example of a resort that has things going on in both directions, both good and bad.”

Jody Churich, spokeswoman for Alpine Meadows and Boreal Mountain Resort, which received a “B,” said she is happy the resorts are being recognized for their environmental record.

“We’re super kind to the environment,” Churich said. “We’ll take the ‘A’ and run with it.”

Heavenly and Sugar Bowl received a grade of “C” and Squaw Valley received a “B.”

Anyone can go to the scorecard Web site and send an e-mail to the resorts about their environmental grade, said Doon. Last year’s grades elicited hundreds of e-mails, he said.

The backers of the scorecard, which weights new development as the item that has the most significance for a resort’s grade, has defended the choice since they say new development has the most impact on the environment.

“In terms of the environmental scorecard, no action is good action as far as development goes,” Bernstein said.

As it enters its sixth year, Doon said the scorecard is being noticed by more resorts and more resort customers.

“I think a lot of skiers just aren’t aware of this initiative, but more and more are taking note,” Doon said.