Ski areas get their scores
Green retrofits help Colorado resorts improve ratings

SideStory: Another slow start to the season

Skiers ride the Dicky Chair en route to some early season turns last year at Wolf Creek. The ski area once again scored a “B” on the environmental Score Card. The annual ranking on 83 of the West’s ski resorts takes a look at everything from recycling to real estate./Photo by David Halterman

by Missy Votel

When it comes to going green, more Colorado ski areas are making the grade than ever.

According to the annual Ski Area Environmental Score Card, released this week, 15 of the state’s 20 largest resorts have improved their environmental ratings, with five jumping a whole letter grade. Energy efficiency played the biggest role in the improved scores, with many resorts undertaking construction, snowmaking and transportation retrofits.

“Resorts are walking the walk when it comes to reducing global warming gases,” said Patricia Hickson, of the Sierra Nevada Alliance, a member of the Ski Area Citizens Coalition. Since 2000, the Durango-based Coalition, which also includes Colorado Wild, has been issuing the annual score cards, which grade ski areas on everything from endangered species protection to recycling habits.

“We love seeing this green trend,” Hickson continued. “It’s an indicator the ski industry is taking leadership in the effort to reduce carbon emissions.”

Despite the good grades in the global warming sector, there is still room for improvement in the land stewardship category, according to Score Card authors. “Some ski resorts are still major contributors to the loss of wildlife habitat, the pollution of waterways and the destruction of wetlands and riparian areas,” said Ryan Demmy Bidwell, executive director of Colorado Wild. He added that perennial flunkies, Copper Mountain and Breckenridge, can’t compensate for bad land use by “swapping out light bulbs.” “Energy is an important component of improving performance, but it isn’t the only factor conscientious skiers and boarders should be concerned with,” he said.

Locally, Telluride topped the class, with an overall score of 76.7, garnering it a solid “A” for the second year running. Wolf Creek turned in a 68.7, a “B,” slightly down from last year; and Durango Mountain Resort rounded out the bunch with a 63.7, a “C+,” an improvement over last year’s “C-.”

A detailed description of the grades follows:

Telluride Ski Resort: A

Props: Of the 83 resorts analyzed nationwide, Telluride jumped into the Top 10 this year, earning perfect scores in areas of water and energy conservation, habitat protection, real estate development and environmental philanthropy.

“Telluride is pretty proactive when it comes to renewable energy, recycling and transportation,” Score Card author Hunter Sykes said.

Furthermore, Telluride Ski and Golf, the ski area operator, is no longer involved in real estate development, thus dodging another costly point deduction. Although Telluride recently expanded its terrain – this year with Revelation Bowl and last year with Black Iron Bowl – typical cause for point deductions, but it did not hurt the ski area as much as one would think. According to Score Card criteria, ski area expansions are judged by acreage. Revelation Bowl was only 50 acres, barely sneaking in under the 0-50-acre category. Furthermore, the new lift atop Gold Hill required only a half-mile of new road construction, thus limiting more deductions. Similarly, last year Telluride also received an “A,” despite the opening of Black Iron Bowl and Palmyra Peak. Sykes explained since the terrain was hike-to, it received higher marks due to the lack of lifts or new roads.

“It just goes to show, you can expand and not get an ‘F,’” Sykes said.

Dings: Telluride lost points for the expansion of the top lift terminal for Revelation Bowl as well as the aforementioned half-mile of new road. It also was docked for not generating enough of its own power; lack of reusable trays, cups, utensils and plates in on-mountain restaurants; and failure to update all snow guns with more energy-efficient models and retrofit all restaurants with power-saving features.

Wolf Creek: B

Props: A perennial good student, Wolf Creek once again earned high marks for its lack of real estate development or new road construction; water and energy conservation (thanks mostly to abundant natural snowfall); preservation of wetlands, old growth forests and roadless areas; and water quality protection. It also, once again, earned kudos for opposition to the adjacent proposed Village at Wolf Creek.

Wolf Creek also now buys 100 percent of its electricity as renewable energy credits and earned top points for its new “Ride Share” carpool program.

Dings: Wolf Creek was docked points for dragging its feet on the new parking lots (approved in 1999 and only recently completed) and failure to switch its snowmobile fleet over to cleaner-burning four-stroke engines.

The ski area also lost points this year over approval to expand as much as 3,600 acres to the west of the top of the Treasure Lift. Although the proposal is not official, permission was lobbied for, and granted, in the newly revised San Juan National Forest management plan, Sykes said.

“We only took five points from them since they haven’t applied for it,” he said, adding that any expansion will most likely only be a fraction of the entire 3,600 acres allotted.

Durango Mountain Resort: C

Props: Earning a passing grade once again this year, DMR was rewarded mostly for its decision to remove the Ice Creek Drainage, lynx habitat, from its expansion plans. “This summer, they negotiated an agreement with us that kept them out of the Ice Creek area, which is sensitive habitat,” said Bidwell. DMR also earned points for the associated protection of old growth forests and roadless areas.

In addition, DMR was awarded points for its use of biodiesel in fleet vehicles; updating 75 percent of snowmaking equipment to more efficient models; carpool incentives (free, close-in parking, employee bus passes); public recycling station; environmental philanthropy (Benefit Day); and energy-efficient features in new facilities.

Dings: DMR is still taking hits for its 25-year master plan, which calls for developing 660 acres for residential and commercial use. It also took lumps in the areas of new road construction, renewable energy generation and purchase of renewable energy credits. •

For the complete Score Card or more details on specific resorts, visit: