Our View: Grading on the curve for ski area sustainability
February 23, 2013
A scorecard that attempts to rank U.S. ski resorts by their environmental impacts falls short of fairly depicting the Steamboat Ski Area and its overall efforts at sustainability.
The recently released Ski Area Environmental Scorecard compiled by the Sierra Nevada Alliance on behalf of the Ski Area Citizens' Coalition gave Steamboat Ski Area a D grade with just 55.9 percent of the available points. That score put Steamboat in the bottom five resorts in the country, where it joined fellow Colorado ski areas Breckenridge, Monarch and Eldora. Arizona Snowbowl was ranked the worst resort with just 42.2 percent of the available points.
It's good there are organizations like the Ski Area Citizens' Coalition to help monitor the impact of ski resorts, but the Ski Area Environmental Scorecard can create incorrect perceptions based on how heavily it weighs factors like resort expansion and proactive efforts at resource efficiency.
For the Steamboat Ski Area, that meant low scores for of a long-planned but never executed second phase of expansion on Pioneer Ridge. Planned real estate expansion by parent company Intrawest also counted against the ski area.
Similarly, the ski area was marked down for its expanded snowmaking efforts, its failure to produce renewable energy on site and for not using biodiesel in its equipment.
Contrary to the ski area's poor score from the Ski Area Citizens' Coalition, we think it's worth noting the considerable efforts Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. has made — particularly in recent years — toward reducing its environmental impact. Steamboat's own Yampa Valley Sustainability Council, a nonprofit organization dedicated to sustainability efforts, penned a compelling rebuttal to the environmental scorecard, and it's worth highlighting some of YVSC's talking points.
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■ In 2009, the ski area's food and beverage division launched the Zero Waste Initiative, which has resulted in the resort diverting 70 to 90 percent of its waste from the landfill. The Steamboat Grand and the resort have been making their special events Zero Waste since 2011.
■ Ski Corp. has been one of the largest local sponsors of the ReTree Steamboat effort, which has resulted in thousands of trees planted in area forests, including on Mount Werner.
■ The installation of auto-flush and shut-off plumbing devices at Rendezvous alone has conserved an estimated 373,000 gallons of water. Increased snowmaking efficiencies have made a 40 percent improvement in the resort's gallon-per-kilowatt ration since the 2005-06 season, according to YVSC.
There are other examples of improved sustainability efforts at the Steamboat Ski Area in recent years. And while it's fair to say there continue to be areas the resort — and almost all businesses in Steamboat and Routt County — can improve in regard to environmental consciousness, judging the ski area by its D grade doesn't paint the whole picture.