Good environmental grades for most Tahoe ski runs

AP News
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Posted: Dec 02, 2009 4:40 PM

Four-fifths of the ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe area rated favorably in a new environmental review of efforts to protect sensitive watersheds and habitats, but several in the Sierra drew criticism for a lack of response to climate change.

A coalition of conservation groups issued grades of `B' or better for eight of the 10 Tahoe-area resorts in California and Nevada in terms of watershed and/or habitat protection.

The Ski Area Citizens Coalition's ninth annual environmental review included 83 resorts across the West. The 10 around Lake Tahoe were among 20 examined throughout the Sierra, the other half to the south _ from Mammoth Mountain Ski Area to Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort, which scored the worst in the region.

The Vegas-area slopes were rated "D" overall _ habitat protection, B; watershed protection, C; global climate change, F; environmental policies and practices, F.

Four Tahoe-area resorts were among only 15 across the West that earned an overall grade of "A" _ Alpine Meadows, Homewood Mountain, Sugar Bowl and Squaw Valley USA.

Boreal Mountain, Kirkwood Mountain, Mount Rose Ski-Tahoe and Sierra-at-Tahoe received Bs while Heavenly Mountain and Northstar-at-Tahoe got Cs.

In the climate change category, eight of the 20 in the Sierra received grades of "D" or worse. Nine failed for their work on things like waste stream management and "green" building practices.

With an overall B, Mount Rose's categorical scoring was consistent with the majority of the resorts. The mountain on the southwest edge of Reno halfway to Lake Tahoe earned an A for habitat protection and B for watersheds, but a D for doing too little to address climate change and an F for environmental practices.

"We're happy to see California ski resorts are not trampling meadows and wetlands or bulldozing into sensitive wildlands this year," said Patricia Hickson, a program associate with coalition member Sierra Nevada Alliance.

But she said it's surprising the resorts haven't taken more of a lead role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, given what is at stake for them in the face of warming temperatures.

"California and Nevada ski areas should be more motivated than any other industry given we could lose 90 percent of the Sierra snowpack this century from climate change," Hickson said.

Since 2000, the coalition has ranked the environmental performance of ski resorts, with points deducted for resorts that expand ski runs or build new lifts, snowmaking systems or condominiums. Points are added for recycling, supporting renewable energy and use of mass transit.

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The ski industry generally is critical of a rating system it says penalizes resorts for making any improvements.

Bob Roberts, executive director of the California Ski Industry Association, said the industry has made climate change a high priority, supporting recycling, alternative energy and carpooling programs. He said it was a primary supporter of California law designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"We've taken a leadership position on climate change," Roberts told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "We have taken it extremely seriously. The resorts have been very proactive in that regard."

"I'd take issue" with the notion the industry isn't responding adequately to climate change, he said.

The overall trend is favorable, said Ryan Bidwell, executive director of Colorado Wild, a coalition founder.

"Though there are some outliers, as a whole we're happy to see that resorts appear to be taking their environmental performance and practices more seriously," Bidwell said. "That speaks well for the future of the industry."