Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+ Sign up for Outside+ today.
The Canada lynx, that furry bundle of controversy that threatened to scuttle Vail’s expansion into Category III (ahem, Blue Sky Basin), wasn’t the first critter to put a crinkle in resort developers’ plans. Every ski area operating on America’s public lands is compelled¿whether by law or ethics¿to minimize its impact on the wild things in its neighborhood. Wild things like these.
Black bears aren’t endangered, but they are challenged to coexist with ski areas in mountains from California’s Sierra to Italy’s Alps. At Sugarbush, Vermont, studies showed that the beech forests linking Mount Ellen and Lincoln Peak were essential feeding grounds for the bears. So instead of developing the intended trails and lifts called for in its original master plan, Sugarbush designed its Slide Brook Express lift to pass over the sensitive region.
COLORADO RIVER CUTTHROAT TROUT
The Colorado River cutthroat¿a native fish so severely impacted by the introduction of other trout species that a movement is afoot to get it federal endangered-species protection¿is alive and well in Little Vasquez Creek at Winter Park. During expansion into Vasquez Cirque, the ski area had to jump through several hoops to minimize the impact of erosion, debris, pollutants, water-level fluctuations, and flow blockages on the sensitive fishery.
NORTHERN SPOTTED OWL
These endangered birds, which depend on mature tree groves for survival, came to fame during protests over timber harvests. But they’re just one of more than 80 species ski-area operators in the Pacific Northwest must study¿often for several years¿for potential impacts before gaining approval for development. (Eighty species? Think small: At Oregon’s Mt. Ashland, a proposed expansion is being held up in part because of its impact on Henderson’s horkelia, a lichen.)
During hunting season, mountain goats are legal game, but during the ski season, heli-ski guides from Sun Valley to Alaska are required, on the rare occasion they see a goat, to back off by one mile. The mandate is intended to keep helicopters from disturbing the goats and thereby depleting their energy reserves and negatively impacting birth rates. (Kill ’em in fall, coddle ’em in winter. Go figure.)
MOUNTAIN YELLOW-LEGGED FROG
This once-widespread little amphibian has vanished from nearly all its former haunts in SoCal’s San Gabriel, San Bernardino, and San Jacinto mountains and is seriously depleted across the Sierra Nevada. For ski areas, this means a big nix on any activity¿like snowmaking¿that impacts natural bodies of water where the leaper might live. At tiny Kratka Ridge, the frog’s presence in Little Rock Creek led the area’s owners to develop expensive, frog-friendly proposals to divert the water they needed¿and sent the owners leaping for Chapter 11 when they couldn’t finance their plans.