Resorts shrug off negative grades in report
Many students from grade school to high school, and even college, don’t fret over report cards. Grading is a flawed system, they say.
When environmental report cards were handed out to ski areas across the West, several, including the three resorts in Park City, had a similar response.
Each year the Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition doles out grades on how well ski resorts protect the environment. The complete report can be found online at http://www.skiareacitizens.com. This year Deer Valley and The Canyons both received a "D" grade. Park City Mountain Resort earned a "B."
Only two Utah resorts, Alta and Snowbird, earned an "A," while several others, such as Deer Valley, The Canyons, Snowbasin and Brian Head resorts, each earned a "D," although no Utah resort landed in "The Bottom 10."
The SACC Web site says the purpose of the organization is to "ensure that ski area management decisions, either by the Forest Service, the ski companies, or local governments, are responsive to the needs of real environmental protection, local communities, and the skiing public."
It also says most volunteers and staff of SACC are skiers themselves, and recognize skiing as a valid use of public lands.
"The Ski Area Environmental Scorecard strives to differentiate between those ski areas that engage in environmentally sound practices on the ground versus those that merely claim to do so," the Web site says. "While there will always be environmental impacts from creating and operating a ski resort, the intent of the scorecard is to rate resorts on the environmental performance of their current management, not on the impacts from the time of the creation of the resort. When undertaken in an environmentally sensitive manner, ski resorts can minimize their impacts on the land."
Ski areas, according to the site, have "significant environmental impacts" such as logging, erosion and damage to wetlands. The categories which make up the scorecard are: maintaining the ski terrain within the existing footprint, preserving undisturbed lands from development, protecting wildlife, preserving environmentally sensitive areas, conserving water and energy by avoiding snowmaking, protecting water quality, opposing/supporting environmentally sound policy positions, promoting and implementing renewable energy, recycling and water and energy conservation strategies, and minimizing traffic, energy use, emissions and pollution.
Geraldine Link, director of public policy for the National Ski Area Association, said the scorecard isn’t something they take too seriously.
"We view it as a flawed ranking from a biased source," she said. "I can give you a lot of reasons why it’s flawed and it’s pretty obvious why it’s biased the guys who put it out, their mission as a group is to sue resorts that are growing. They are involved in litigation against the very resorts they’re giving grades to."
Link said the scorecard can be useful to see what other resorts are doing to help the environment. New technology and ideas are being implemented every year, she said, and the scorecard is a way to keep track of what others are doing. Other than that, however, Link said the scorecard is anti-growth propaganda meant to raise money.
"Five of the last six seasons we’ve hit all-time records in skier visits," she said. "It’s not American to ask an industry to pledge not to grow. When our customers want more lifts, faster circulation, or a better children’s ski area, the resorts are going to respond. We have to be able to grow the footprint of the resort."
"All this is about power," she continued. "The only way for the SACC to raise money for what they’re doing is to complain. They don’t give good grades. Even the resorts that earned an "A" are not up to par if you read the report."
Link said the ski areas are required to provide a prediction of any growth 15 years in advance. She said resorts are punished on the scorecard for merely thinking about expansion.
"Individual resorts need to point out the injustice of these rankings," she said. "A lot of these resorts get a bad grade for all the wrong reasons. They could be the most environmentally friendly resort in the country, but if their footprint grows at all they get a bad grade."
Despite a message to readers by the SACC on the scorecard asking them to steer clear of resorts given poor grades, Link said she doesn’t think the scorecard has a significant impact, if any at all, on where skiers and snowboarders choose to go.
"People choose ski areas on conditions, terrain and price," she said. "The environmental report on a ski area might confirm someone’s choice, but rarely will it change it."
Deer Valley President Bob Wheaton said he hasn’t give much credence to the scorecard when they have received top marks in the past, and he won’t this year when given a low grade.
"The philosophy is one we all buy in to, but I’d like to think our environmental practices here can stand on their own," he said. "We feel good about what we’re doing here. We’ve seen enviable results with the programs that we have."
"I think that we all need to protect the environment and be good stewards of the land," he continued. "However, I think some of the specifics of the scorecard are flawed and portray an inaccurate picture."
Wheaton said one area of the scorecard he disagrees with is avoiding snowmaking. The practice, he said, does not harm the environment and is necessary to running a ski resort in a desert state like Utah.
"They’ve focused on a couple of issues they don’t like, such as snowmaking," he said. "The grading that happens with the report card is that all snowmaking is evil. That’s not the case if you know anything about the snowmaking process."
One common complaint about the scorecard voiced by representatives from all three resorts is that erroneous information was used in the scoring. Each resort said the scorecard did not give them credit for practices that have been in place for several years.
"The report is flawed because inaccurate information is used on the front end, which provides inaccurate conclusions," Wheaton said. "A number of the programs that we have were not identified and a couple of them we’re included because somebody deemed the information inappropriate, so they weren’t included."
Elizabeth Dowd, spokesperson for The Canyons, agreed with Wheaton.
"We strongly feel that the report is an inaccurate picture of what we are doing at The Canyons," she said. "Whenever a resort expands or makes snow it seems to be an automatic red strike against the resort. The report makes it look as if many resorts are ignoring environmental issues, which could not be farther from the truth. The Canyons is deeply committed to any and all environmental issues and will continue to explore ways in which we can progress as a green resort."
Brent Giles, director of mountain operations for PCMR, said the report is biased and the information they use in the grading includes gross factual errors.
"This survey is one group’s effort to help sustainability, although it is quite biased," he said. "It does not allow for any development or improvements at the resorts. Even though we received a "B," there are a lot of things that we do that were unaccounted for. For example, we have been using bio-disel in all of our snowcats for a couple years and they did not account for that. I am not sure how or where they are receiving their information."
Neither the SACC nor it’s founding group, Colorado Wild, returned phone or email messages Monday.
The complete report can be found at http://www.skiareacitizens.com.
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Buses, trains and gondolas doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but they make up the transit alternatives for the mountain transportation system the Central Wasatch Commission is trying to create, mostly in the Cottonwood canyons.