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It Ain't Easy Skiing Green

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 

Just saw this post over at Mother Jones, and found some of the info interesting:

 

http://motherjones.com/blue-marble/2011/12/ski-area-citizens-coalition-squaw-report-card

 

The story mentions the Squaw/Alpine merger (and potential impact re opening wilderness/development), mentions that Squaw actually rates pretty high... but most of all, check out that graph of skiers to acreage (1985 to 2008) 

 

Skiers vs. Acreage

 

 

That graph seems to contradict the sort of WROD/crowdedness posts that abound. Could it really be accurate?  If so, what accounts for the complaints of over-crowding-- is it classic, "back in the day, we used to..." or a result of new skis making it easier for lower-skilled folks to ski more terrain?  

 

Anyway, I found the mix of expansion, "green"-ness (which is a notoriously vague term that suffers meaning-loss), development of infrastructure (condos, pools, and shit), and this graph to be worth consideration.

 

 
post #2 of 7

That's funny, just found that article myself yesterday. I'm writing about the SCAA designations for a different site. In my opinion, their measures are a crock of s#!*.

 

When I looked at the "best" and "worst" designations, I found it funny that mega-resorts like Squaw and Park City are considered the greenest while tiny resorts like Ski Las Vegas and Brian Head are among the worst. Problem in my opinion is that the lists don't take into account existing infrastructure. So even though Ski Las Vegas is like 70 acres with four lifts, it scores poorly based on other factors.

 

To me a tiny resort with very few lifts, little or no snowmaking and little or no real estate development should be at the top,--Silverton and Mt. Baker come to mind--but SCAA doesn't look at those preexisting factors at all. And it penalizes smaller resorts for trying to expand, even though some of its greenest listings are still multiple times bigger. That's a big reason why Montana Snowbowl was the worst of the bunch. The lists should be titled something like "resorts that are acting the greenest at this very moment in time."

 

The lists just aren't very helpful for someone really interested in the resorts that offer the overall least environmental impact. The breakdown of the information, however, is very good for seeing what resorts are doing that's green/not green.

 

As far as crowding, I'm guessing it was always an issue at certain resorts. Also that growth is an average, and I'm guessing that some of the more crowded resorts have a growth several times the 2 percent a year figure. Another opinion piece I saw (or maybe it was that one) also made the point that modern lifts swoop skiers and riders onto the slopes much more quickly, contributing to crowding.

 

Sorry, probably more than you cared about, but I spent a couple hours looking at this yesterday.

post #3 of 7
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by JoeUT View Post

 

Sorry, probably more than you cared about, but I spent a couple hours looking at this yesterday.



No, not more than I cared about actually-- I find this interesting (this has nothing to do with anything I'm working on, but I happen to be a journalist who writes about science, travel, culture, and the environment... so it's right up my alley). I mean, I'm gonna go out on a limb and assume that many (the majority?) of skiers have some sort of outdoors-connection (in a greater sense than the fact that our sport takes place there)-- cares about the environment, or worries about climate change, or enjoys being in nature as unspoiled as possible. But at the same time, everything I read says that ski operations have a significant negative impact on environment, from carbon output to local environmental issues associated with development and land management. 

 

It's difficult to square these competing ideas, at times.

 

Anyway, there are few issues discussed here that garner broad interest from me. It's always difficult to provide a single-axis score for something so vague/potentially meaningless as "green" (actually, I was a guest on NPR a few years ago for my media criticism of the vagueness of the term "green-collar" jobs.). But one would hope that a breakdown would include some kind of per-skier measures, whether that's carbon per skier-hour, or energy use, or density of development vs number of folks using that infrastructure. 

 

Even that, though, raises questions like you raised: Is it better (from an environmental standpoint) to have a very dense, very crowded ski area catering to a high number of patrons-- or five smaller, more spread out ski areas? Or perhaps there are multiple thresholds-- below a certain density, the impact on local wildlife is minimal, say, but once you go over that density of infrastructure, perhaps it becomes more advantages to go all the way to the highest possible density and largest size? 

 

I guess an analogue is cities vs urban vs rural development, where I think you'd see similar parallels. Take NYC: Living there is considered, from a carbon production perspective, incredibly efficient (far better, per capita, than rural/urban living). Also, given the high density, you make a trade-off that includes near obliteration of wildlife/nature in a small area-- potentially sparing a much larger area when you consider what that same number of people would consumer if spread out in urban or even rural communities. 

 

Now that... is probably more than YOU were interested in hearing. I'm just intrigued by all this (and I may have just injured myself, so I've got too much time staring at my skis and sitting at home... thinking about stuff is better than suffering knowing how f#@$$ epic the dumping is right now in Tyrol...).

 

 

post #4 of 7

I'm interested in it as well. I planned to do a pretty simple article just listing the best resorts with some information on each, but I couldn't take it seriously and am doing a critique instead. Not really great for my bottom line since my original article would have been much faster, but it has been interesting.

 

Cool to meet another journalist too.

 

The per-skier measure sounds like it could be a better one. I read some criticism about Eldora's poor score. It's a small resort just outside of Boulder, Colorado. Because it is local, it basically keeps people from driving hours down I-70--one of the most crowded ski highways anywhere. But I think it scored worse than a lot of the I-70 resorts because there's no measurement for traffic increases.

 

Perhaps the part of the survey that annoys me the most is the fourth section, which has a couple items that relate to supporting legislation and donating to green non-profit organizations. The three Aspen Co. resorts all benefit from Congressional testimony from back in 2007. It just seems like a way of rewarding a rich corporation and punishing smaller resorts that don't have the resources to get involved in politics. As a customer, I really don't care what bills a resort supports (unless maybe they're radically anti-environment, which the section didn't focus on anyway--it was more about supporting pro-environmental actions). Heck, I consider snowboarding a way of escaping the BS of society, politics included. The fact that all three resorts are still benefiting from one action taken five years ago also seems off.

 

I'd say resorts are similar to cities in your analogy. I think it's better to have one large, concentrated resort than several smaller ones. Imagine if a huge resort like Vail was spread into five individual resorts--you'd have nothing but a patchwork of wilderness book-ended by resort after resort. Better to have one big resort surrounded by uninterrupted wilderness, imo.

post #5 of 7

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by justruss View Post

 

I'm gonna go out on a limb and assume that many (the majority?) of skiers have some sort of outdoors-connection (in a greater sense than the fact that our sport takes place there)-- cares about the environment, or worries about climate change, or enjoys being in nature as unspoiled as possible.

 



While there are some people who want to ski in areas as unspoiled as possible the majority of Americans are after a "Disneyland on snow" luxury resort experience.

The conventional model of what is a 'ski area' is the major influence on the environmental impact of any ski area. The concept that in order to ski somewhere you need chairlifts, snowmaking, snow grooming, earthmoving, ski runs cut through forests and investment real estate is definitely high impact, but in reality you dont need any of that to slide on snow.

Here in New Zealand about half our ski areas are those conventional resorts and the other half are non-profit clubs which operate lodges and lifts in areas to inaccessible or with terrain too serious for conventional resorts. But when they were created in the pre ww2 era it was driven by cheap skiing rather than environmental concerns. There is no snowmaking or grooming because it takes a lot of capital investment to do it, the lifts are high speed rope tows and are usually electrically powered for reliability and low running costs, the snowline is above the treeline so no trees need to be cut down.

In Google Earth search for 'Temple Basin' and see what you see there. The geotag is on exactly the right spot but see if you can find the lifts or see any sign that it is a recreational ski area. It has to be the most 'green' ski area you can imagine with electric rope tows, no road access (hike in), no earthmoving, no snowmaking, no grooming and it is in the middle of a national park. It has epic and varied terrain, incredibly cheap to stay and ski there and has very few people skiing there mostly because it lacks the facilities of the resorts.

So fundamentally the conventional model of ski areas as high impact, unnatural environments is just following the demands of customers and a business model which needs to make a profit.

post #6 of 7
Quote:
Originally Posted by kiwiski View Post

While there are some people who want to ski in areas as unspoiled as possible the majority of Americans are after a "Disneyland on snow" luxury resort experience.

 


I don't know a single one.....
 

post #7 of 7
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rossi Smash View Post


I don't know a single one.....
 



You are the 1% (hardcore)

 

They are easy to find, just ask a random stranger on the chairlift how they would feel about spending their 1 week annual vacation at a ski area with no groomed runs, bunkroom accommodation and only rope tow lifts and you will see their true colors!

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