The Greenest Ski Areas

Find out how your favorite ski resort stacks up on a new environmental scorecard put out by the nonprofit Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition. The winning resorts? Squaw, Aspen, and Buttermilk.

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This week, members of the United Nation are in Copenhagen, Denmark, trying to come up with a plan to combat climate change. They’re not the only ones who should be worried about global warming. Skiers, with our maniacal dedication to long and snowy winters, have a significant stake in slowing climate change. Industry reports have found that skiers, as a group, are pretty environmentally conscious. But ski resorts tend to be hard on the planet. Snowmaking sucks down water, old growth forests get ripped out to make trails, and lifts burn through electricity.

The Ski Area Environmental Scorecard, put out by the nonprofit Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition, is trying to change that. For the past 10 years, they’ve monitored how western ski areas impact the environment. Resorts are ranked based on things like energy consumption, water use, development, and policy.

This year, Squaw Valley got the highest score with two Aspen Skiing Company resorts, Aspen Mountain and Buttermilk, right behind. Breckenridge bottomed out the list.

In the past, resorts were given one overall grade. This year, the Coalition changed their standards, making them more targeted, so that skiers can see exactly where their favorite ski areas are excelling, or failing, and resorts can get specific ideas of where they need to improve.

Results were broken down categorically into habitat protection, protecting watersheds, addressing global climate change, and environmental practices and policies. Everything from transportation to recycling was taken into account.

Now a skier at, say, Mt. Baker can look at the rankings and see that their mountain scored an A in habitat protection, but got an F in the policy department. Then they can ask the resort to focus more on those specific areas.

Ryan Bidwell, the Executive Director of Colorado Wild, one of the Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition’s partner groups, says that over the past 10 years the rankings have helped push resorts to consciously limit their environmental impacts and he hopes that the new system will make it even more effective, and easier, for skiers to mandate change. “It’s a response to industry change and world change,” Bidwell says.