Because ski resorts are beautiful in winter and green in summer, they have usually been considered good environmental citizens. But in the last few years, that perception has begun to erode. In 1997, there was the Earth Liberation Front's terrorist attack on Vail's Two Elks Lodge to protest the resort’s expansion into lynx habitat. Later, books like "Downhill Slide" and "Powderburn" detailed the impacts ski resorts have on communities and the environment.
And in 2000, a
group called the Ski Areas Citizen's Coalition created an
environmental "report card" for ski areas. Many resorts received
grades of F, and the industry was increasingly perceived as
environmentally evil. Although the negative perception is wrong,
the stage was set, and critics had staked out the high
It's true that ski resorts use enormous amounts of
energy and have significant, if localized, impacts on wildlife and
wild land. But we have, for the most part, been good environmental
stewards, perhaps even excellent ones when compared to most
industries. In the big picture, resorts are vital to their mountain
communities, providing the tax base that enables environmental
protection like land preservation, support for environmental
nonprofits, and water quality protection.
Still, being an
economic engine and having good intentions and profound concern for
a place is not enough in this era of global environmental
challenges. It's time for ski resorts to reach the next level of
environmental stewardship and sound business management by taking a
strong political stand on the most pressing environmental issue of
all, climate change. The industry can do this today by publicly
supporting legislation making its way through the Senate: the
McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act.
comprehensive bipartisan bill would effectively freeze global
warming emission levels in 2010. It also creates a market-based
pollution control system that rewards the most innovative companies
and lowers the overall costs. The Senate is scheduled to vote on it
by the end of October.
Ski industry involvement in public
policy on climate change is important for two reasons. First,
there's simply no longer any debate about global warming.
Scientists the world over agree the planet is warming, and
pollution from fossil fuels is most likely the cause. In fact, it
was the certainty of the science that led to
Second, the best scientific models
suggest that as warming continues, we'll see increased extreme
weather events (both droughts and storms), warmer nights, wetter
shoulder seasons and reduced weather predictability. All of these
changes are bad news for skiing. The '90s were the warmest decade
on record. Global average temperatures have already risen one
degree over the 20th century and, based on projected emission
trends, scientists predict global temperatures will rise another
2.5 degrees to 10.4 degrees F over the coming century.
McCain-Lieberman doesn't threaten the ski industry with onerous
regulation, because the bulk of a ski resort's global warming
emissions come from purchased electricity, which is not covered by
the bill. And while the pollution limits in the bill are expected
to increase electricity and gasoline prices slightly, electricity
expenses for most ski resorts account for just 2 to 3 percent of
Moreover, energy efficiency measures
that will accompany the bill will reduce overall energy costs. In
other words, resorts will have access to government and utility
support for efficiency measures that will cut energy bills. An
example of such support might be a rebate for replacing outdated
compressors in snowmaking equipment.
industry, so dependent on climate, has the most to lose, ski
resorts need to act now, publicly, to support McCain-Lieberman.
Many are already doing so: 30 ski areas, in collaboration with the
Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Ski Areas
Association, have signed on to a letter of support for the bill as
of today, and the list is growing.
This stand is what the
consultants call a win-win-win. Skiers will appreciate resorts
taking action to protect the sport we all love. Resort managers
will be praised by shareholders for intelligent long-range business
planning to ensure corporate sustainability over the long term. And
ski resorts will reclaim their rightful mantle as environmental