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Sustainable Skiing: The Best and Worst Resorts

Posted Dec 18 2012 8:49pm

Ski tracks Back in 2003, Sierra magazine published an article on the sustainability, or lack thereof, of various ski and snowboard parks . Since ski runs are basically clear-cuts, and since ski resorts are heavy users of energy and water for snowmaking, snowmobiles, and lifts, it makes sense to keep score of which resorts trod heavily on the earth, and which ones tiptoe.

When Sierra first took a look at this issue, the overall outlook was pretty bleak. Over 20% of the resorts got a failing grade on the Ski Area Citizen's Coalition's annual Ski Area Report Card , and only 7% were A-class aces. The average score for all the accessed resorts was a C. But have resorts improved their practices in the decade since?

The answer, as it turns out, is a resounding YES. And 10 resorts stand above the rest.

The Ski Area Citizen's Coalition, a partnership between several conservation groups, grades over 70 different western ski resorts on a report card, with the categories of "Habitat Protection," "Protecting Watersheds," "Addressing Global Climate Change," and "Environmental Policies and Practices." The resorts also get an overall grade. Where in 2002, 15 resorts got an "F", last year none of the resorts flunked out. Even the least environmentally-responsible resorts of 2011 got at least a "D." Which granted, still isn't great, but it's a step in the right direction.

As for the ski resorts that got "A's," there were 20 of them last year, which is way up from 5 in 2002! The "class average" has gone up too, and is now a B. Although a few ski resorts have declined in their sustainability score in the past decade, most improved, and the average improvement was by 16 percentage points. In a few cases, resorts went from the bottom to the top, jumping from F to an A or B.

So, as the ski season starts up, keep an eye out for all sorts of sustainable improvements to the ski business, and go visit the resorts that have already incorporated green practices.

Below is the SACC's list of top ten and bottom ten ski resorts, for the 2011 ski season (2012's comes out in February).

The 10 Best Ski Resorts:

Squaw Valley USA, CA

Aspen Highlands Ski Resort, CO

Deer Valley Resort, UT

Park City Mountain Resort, UT

Alpine Meadows Ski Area, CA

Aspen Mountain Ski Resort, CO

Buttermilk Mountain Ski Resort, CO

Stevens Pass Ski Area, WA

Sundance Resort, UT

Sugar Bowl Ski Resort, CA

The 10 Worst Ski Resorts

Montana Snowbowl, MT

Breckenridge Ski Resort, CO

Taos Ski Valley, NM

Arizona Snowbowl, AZ

Homewood Mountain Resort, CA

White Pass Ski Area, WA

Solitude Mountain Resort, UT

Brundage Mountain Resort, ID

Las Vegas Ski and Snowboard Resort, NV

Brian Head Resort, UT

Rachael Monosson is an editorial intern for Sierra and a recent graduate of Stanford University, where she studied Earth Systems. She lives in San Mateo.

 --Image by iStockphoto/pixelnest

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