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Ski area gets ‘A’ on report card

The Ski Area Environmental Scorecard released this week indicates that Wolf Creek Ski Area, among others in the western United States, has an eye on environmental matters.

The report, released by the Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition (SACC) for the past 10 years, evaluates 82 ski areas in the western U.S. concerning a variety of environmental matters. SACC comprises conservation groups around the West, including Colorado Wild.

In the report, Wolf Creek received three “A” ratings and one “B” rating, for an overall “A” grade — one of five ski areas in Colorado to receive an overall “A.”

In a departure from the previous scoring method, the report card now considers four different categories of criteria in addition to the overall score. The categories are habitat protection, protecting watersheds, addressing global climate change and environmental practices and policies.

In the habitat protection category, Wolf Creek garnered an “A,” but lost points for things such as a proposed expansion that it says could impinge on the Treasure Mountain Roadless Area and could add an addition 3,600 acres to the area, as well as a parking lot near the Alberta lift that was approved in 1999, but only recently completed.

Wolf Creek lost no points in the category of protecting watersheds, resulting in a solid “A”.

As for the climate change category, the fact that the ski area has only one 6 kW solar power system for a warming hut lost points, as did the lack of carpooling incentives, among other things, but were not enough to deter the SACC from giving Wolf Creek an “A”.

The only category in which Wolf Creek received a “B” was the environmental practices and policies, a category in which the ski area lost points for things such as not recycling glass, not using non-disposable products for food service and not publishing an environmental performance report.

Counted as a positive for Wolf Creek, the report cites the move by Wolf Creek from being a partner in the Village at Wolf Creek project to bringing a lawsuit against the project.

In fact, as Wolf Creek owner Davey Pitcher pointed out, “That’s old history.”

The lawsuit was “amicably” settled and the ski area is communicating with those involved with the Village, as well as with the Forest Service and Colorado Wild.

“We understand that, to move forward, we would like to have consensus rather than conflict,” Pitcher said.

Overall, the ski area received 79.5 percent, with 77-100 percent ranked as an “A”.

Pitcher said Wolf Creek either has worked or is working to take steps to alleviate some of the problems SACC saw with the ski area.

“We are planning on releasing a master development plan document in the near future,” Pitcher said.

The document should provide information on a proposed expansion that Pitcher said will be closer to 1,200 acres than 3,600 acres.

Pitcher said the U.S. Forest Service identified 3,600 addition acres as potential winter ski recreation.

“Subsequent to that, we have identified only twelve-hundred acres, roughly, that are actually ... true skiable terrain that is contiguous with our existing permit,” Pitcher said.

The ski area is currently 1,581 acres in size.

Pitcher said he has been working with the San Juan and Rio Grande national forests on preparing a formal proposal.

The ski area is also adding glass from liquor sales to the list of materials recycled.

Pitcher said Wolf Creek recycles all cardboard, as much aluminum as people place in bins, and all industrial waste oil (engine oil).

In addition, Wolf Creek uses a 100-percent biodegradable vegetable oil in its equipment, the only ski area in the state to do so. Pitcher added that the oil costs $25 per gallon.

Other environmentally friendly practices at Wolf Creek include running the ski area year-round off of wind power for the last five years, which lessens the area’s carbon footprint.

Water use at the ski area is also friendly to the environment, as SACC noted.

“We have a very low water use,” Pitcher said. “We use low-water bathroom facilities and water-free bathroom facilities.”

Additionally, the ski area uses a small snow making system, which further reduces its carbon footprint.

Just as Wolf Creek is making its operations more environmentally friendly, overall results indicate that Colorado ski areas have improved for the fourth consecutive year, with the average improvement for all western U.S. ski areas at 2 percent, according to SACC.

“Though there are some outliers, as a whole we’re happy to see that resorts appear to be taking their environmental performance and practices more seriously,” said Norma Ryan of Ski Area Citizens in the SACC press release. “Of 82 ski areas evaluated, only Taos, New Mexico, made an environmental face plant, and 26 areas received an overall grade of “B” or better. That speaks well for future of the industry.”

“I believe that the report card is a good tool and realize that it’s a check and balance and, quite frankly, appreciate the fact that it’s not always the same because it allows us to try to work and alleviate concerns, whether they’re real or perceived,” Pitcher said.

More information on the report can be found online at www.skiareacitizens.com.

randi@pagosasun.com