Editorial: A Tale Of Two Ski Resorts

SEE IF THIS COMPUTES: Resort #1 is surrounded by huge real estate development, has four mountains, with 44 lifts, 5,246 acres of skiable terrain, resides in a community of 8,000 permanent residents and is 265 miles from the nearest medium-sized city. This resort received an “A” environmental grade from the Ski Area Citizens Coalition. Resort #2 has modest real estate development, 5 lifts, 1,425 acres of skiable terrain, and resides a few dozen miles from a half a million residents. This resort received an “F” grade from the SACC.

Is this fair? Resort #1 is Aspen and resort #2 is Mt. Spokane.

I spoke with Hunter Sykes, spokesman for the Ski Area Citizens Coalition about the grading criteria and he admitted to me that the grades are mainly focused on “future expansion in general.” That’s understandable. The Coalition has focused on discouraging environmentally irresponsible expansion since it first handed out grades in 1999. Anything that encourages ski resorts to be greener is great. Mt. Spokane’s current expansion plans have some opposition, but they are still in flux and require a long approval process.

I asked Sykes why they don’t compare the resort’s total footprints? “It’s a really tough one,” says Sykes. “Everyone would get an ‘F.’” Why not try to compare the carbon emissions used by skiers to get to resorts? “It’s really difficult to quantify what those are.”

Here’s a try: Spokane International Airport serves 3.2 million travelers a year in a metro area of a half million. Aspen airport serves 249,000 travelers a year in metro area of 8,000. I think it’s safe to say a lot more fuel per visitor is expended by Aspen skiers, since most Mt. Spokane skiers just drive 28 miles to use it.

Aspen did most of its major development and expansion prior to 1999, the first year of Coalition report cards. According to Sykes, negative marks for expansions are removed from the grading after five years allowing large resorts like Telluride to rehab their grades. Also, real estate development that isn’t done by the resort operator isn’t factored in, which explains why a big resort village like Aspen escapes report card scrutiny.

I’m sure all our local mountains could be greener, but as far as getting better SACC grades they are going to face an uphill battle against, bigger, more established, and more affluent resorts. Is this fair?

Jon Snyder, Editor-in-chief


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