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Ski areas work to improve environmental scorecard


By Cameron Woodworth

With the steady decline of our earth's resources and the compounding issues concerning our environment, it has never been more important for each of us to support those businesses that do their part in preserving our mother earth. In the past, ski resorts have been criticized by some environmentalists over the years for not taking good care of the land. These days, there are some within the ski industry that are working hard to improve their environmental image.

That's probably a smart strategy, considering that the majority of skiers have made donations to environmental organizations, according to the Ski Area Citizens' Coalition (SACC), a Durango, Colorado-based group that keeps tabs on ski resorts' environmental impact.
At SACC's web site, www.skiareacitizens.com, you can view the coalition's Ski Area Environmental Scorecard, which ranks ski areas in the western United States according to nearly 50 environmental criteria. Ranking the highest are resorts that avoid expansion into undisturbed forests, cut back on new snowmaking, and practice recycling, water and energy conservation and pollution reduction. Accompanying the rankings are SACC's specific reasons for giving a resort good or bad scores in particular areas.

In Western Washington, Stevens Pass and Mount Baker ski areas get the best marks: a 'B', in both cases. 49 Degrees North, north of Spokane, was awarded the only 'A' in Washington. Timberline, near Portland, also received an 'A'. Crystal Mountain and White Pass ski areas both received a 'C', while the coalition gave The Summit at Snoqualmie and Mission Ridge each a 'D' rating.
Timberline, 49 Degrees and Stevens Pass all rank among SACC's top 10 environmental ski areas. None of Washington's ski resorts ranked in the coalition's bottom 10.

"To be truly environmentally friendly," the coalition says, "ski areas must not log old-growth forests, invade roadless areas, impact endangered species and sensitive wildlife, degrade water quality, further dry up streams at low-flow periods for snowmaking, or harm undisturbed lands through real estate development."

The SACC web site also has e-mail form letters that you can send to resorts, thanking them for working to protect the environment, or asking them to do better.

Nationally, the ski industry is beginning to recognize the importance of taking good care of the environment. The National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) launched a "Sustainable Slopes" environmental program in 2000. Nearly 75 percent of ski areas nationwide so far have endorsed the program, which includes a set of environmental principles that the ski resorts work to follow.

"The industry is rallying around a unified message that the environment is our number 1 asset," says Geraldine Hughes, NSAA's director of public policy. "We take our charge as stewards of our natural resources very seriously."

The NSAA has set up a "Green Room" on its web site, at http://www.nsaa.org/mem_environ/greenroom.asp, where the public can find out about environmental innovations at ski resorts across the country.

For example, Crystal Mountain removed a chairlift that had been installed in a sensitive wetlands area in 1963. The resort, after receiving more than 1,100 letters from its skiers and snowboarders, also completed a 10-year comprehensive plan that focuses on avoiding wetlands and being sensitive to threatened and endangered plants and animal species. 49 Degrees North, meanwhile, donated 20 acres of land for an environmental learning center at its ski area.

Stevens Pass is involved in several environmental initiatives, including environmental education programs, soil erosion prevention, base area recycling, fish habitat protection and park and ride for guests. The Summit at Snoqualmie has a web page outlining its environmental efforts, including erosion control and restoration, recycling in base lodges, energy efficiency and habitat preservation.

Cameron Woodworth, who's been skiing since he was 4, develops web sites for eco-friendly companies at: http://www.fullspectrumweb.com.