Expansion to blame
Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) was once again graded among the worst in the West by the Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition, a group of western environmental organizations. The group gave the resort a "D" for environmental efforts, up slightly from its failing grade last year, but still third from the bottom among the resorts surveyed.
CBMR vice president and chief marketing officer Ken Stone says the resort is focused on being a good environmental steward. "We are certainly focused on being a sustainable business," Stone says, noting that the resort is looking beyond its current environmental programs.
The Ski Area Citizen’s Coalition, which includes Colorado Wild, the Sierra Nevada Alliance and UTSB Research, evaluates western United States resorts based on several criteria, from maintaining the ski area on its existing footprint and protecting undisturbed land to conserving water and energy and promoting recycling and other conservation measures.
Neighboring resorts received higher grades, with Aspen Mountain Ski Resort, Buttermilk Ski Resort, Aspen Highlands, and Telluride in the top 10 in the West, all receiving "A" grades. Monarch received a "B" grade. Joining CBMR at the back of the class from Colorado were Winter Park, Breckenridge and Copper Mountain ski resorts.
Ryan Bidwell, executive director of Colorado Wild, says the scorecard is broken down into two general sections—one, actions the Coalition wants to see ski resorts avoid, like road construction and disturbing lands, and two, actions that they want resorts to take, such as recycling and energy efficiency retrofits.
As in previous years, Bidwell says CBMR’s "D" grade is based primarily on CBMR’s proposal to expand lift-served skiing onto neighboring Snodgrass Mountain and plans for already approved developments—the North Village and Prospect. The resort received zero out of 30 points in the "maintaining ski terrain with the existing footprint" and zero out of 20 points for real estate development. "The reason that these particular developments impact the score so significantly is because they’re developing undisturbed lands," he says.
Stone says the report card has value but it’s very difficult for resorts to score well if they have expansion plans. "Certainly when you’re in a development/growth period at a ski resort you fall in the category on their report card as not being as environmentally sensitive in their minds," Stone says. "We certainly can’t win on the report card when we’re in the process of expanding."
Bidwell says it is possible for resorts to grade well on the scorecard while improving their resorts. "All expansions are not created equal," he says. He cites Durango Mountain Resort, which is planning an expansion, half of which falls in the existing resort’s footprint. "There are examples of resorts that are expanding and developing and their grades are not affected by that," he says.
Friends of Snodgrass Mountain spokesperson Chuck Shaw says he thinks the score, which is heavily based on expansion plans, is fair. Friends of Snodgrass Mountain has protested CBMR’s expansion plans and advocates keeping the mountain "lift-free."
"You can’t expand onto Snodgrass and not have an enormous environmental impact," he says. Shaw notes the expansion’s potential to affect the Snodgrass Mountain ecosystem by removing trees, earthmoving, and enlarging the area’s carbon footprint. "It’s clear that there will be impacts," he says.
CBMR earned its highest marks with its efforts to preserve water quality, purchasing renewable energy credits, having a skier carpool incentive, and promoting mass transit and environmental philanthropy. It also received relatively high scores with its efforts to maintain old growth forests and conserve water and energy by avoiding new snowmaking.
Recently, CBMR has invested in purchasing credits for wind-generated power to offset its electricity use. The resort is the heaviest electricity user in Gunnison County. The resort has also partnered with the Office for Resource Efficiency, has instituted a recycling program and is considering LEED certification on its proposed Red Lady Lodge, which will sit near the top of the Red Lady Express.
Bidwell says those are positive steps but are relatively small ones. "CBMR is doing some of that but not as much as their peers," he says.
Bidwell says he hopes CBMR will take proactive steps to improve its score—as Telluride did this year. Telluride received an "F" on the scorecard in 2000 but emerged in the top 10 this year. "They’ve turned that around," Bidwell says. "That’s exactly what we hope to see at places like CBMR that are now talking about being committed to environmental sustainability. Hopefully, we’ll see that more and more in their actions and not just in their language."