The Mount Ashland ski area joined other areas in a Colorado-based environmental group's doghouse. Why? They all are trying to expand.
Ski Areas Citizens' Coalition said 53 of the 83 resorts it reviewed this year boosted their scores, but seven received failing grades.
Among the highest and lowest scores were two resorts in Colorado. Aspen Mountain got an "A" with a top score of 85.7, while Copper Mountain ranked lowest at 31.9 for an "F," the Ski Areas Citizens' Coalition said.
Copper Mountain's score was almost entirely due to an expansion of terrain and real estate development, coalition research director Hunter Sykes said. Aspen was credited with trying to minimize impacts of development, Sykes said.
"The scorecard is weighted heavily against ski area and village development and doesn't credit resorts' sustainability initiatives or community involvement," Copper Mountain spokeswoman Lauren Pelletreau said.
Mount Ashland fared better than Copper Mountain, but still received only a "D," with the bulk of its negative points on grading related to its plans to expand the ski area and add lifts.
Mount Ashland received a 48.7 percent rating in the report, with the biggest amounts deducted in categories for protecting endangered species habitat, maintaining the area within the existing footprint and protecting roadless areas. All of those areas are connected to Mount Ashland's efforts to add about 70 acres of skiable terrain.
The Mount Ashland ski area has defended its environmental approach to the expansion, noting that it has made numerous improvements in erosion control and that studies show when the expansion project is complete, erosion actually will be reduced. All logging related to clearing new runs would be by helicopter and accomplished when at least two feet of snow is on the ground, to further prevent erosion.
The coalition said Sundance in Utah, Squaw Valley in California, Mount Bachelor in Oregon and Bogus Basin in Idaho were among a record 18 resorts that received A's this year, up from 12 last year.
Sykes insisted that new development doesn't automatically mean a low grade, although the financially crunched Tamarack Resort in Idaho received an "F" in its first time on the scorecard this year, largely because of its newness.
Arizona Snowbowl — with plans to add snowmaking, lifts and trails — received an "F."