If Montana Snowbowl were in college, it would be repeating a course next season. Last week, Missoula's ski hill got dinged badly on a report card released by the Colorado-based Ski Area Citizens' Coalition. Of 82 resorts reviewed for environmental sensitivity in the West, Snowbowl ranked dead last with a score of 47.4 percent. Grade-wise, that's a D.
Coalition Director Paul Joyce says Snowbowl's low score was due primarily to two factors. First, resort owner Brad Morris declined to participate in a survey outlining any renewable or clean energy initiatives. Second, this year Snowbowl renewed its plans to expand. It lost points for proposing cuts on 39 acres of old-growth forest and for including 654 acres of critical lynx habitat in the expansion area.
"Over 300 acres and you lose all your points," Joyce says. "They're proposing more than three times that, so it was hard to give them any points there." Joyce adds that about 25 percent of the resorts scored don't submit a survey.
This year marks the worst grade Snowbowl has received from the coalition since the resort was added to the report card in 2002. In the last 10 years, Snowbowl has slipped from a B to a D. Last year the resort earned a 61.7 percent.
Morris apparently hasn't taken the bad grade to heart. He says the coalition hammers resorts for having ambitious expansion plans, and alleges that they're "against ski areas." Morris adds that Snowbowl continues to increase operational efficiency by adding energy-efficient lights in the maintenance shack, installing a more efficient boiler in the Last Run Inn and utilizing newer low-energy snow wands for snowmaking on Longhorn. They also recycle cardboard and aluminum, he says, and avoid disposables 'cause it's a hassle for us to get rid of."
"There's limited amount of time to do stuff," Morris continues. "I'd rather spend the time trying to improve what we've got than help somebody's cause."
Joyce says the coalition's main goal is to tell the public how environmentally sensitive regional resorts are. Skiing has a major impact on the environment, he says, and skiers need to be better educated on what those impacts are, from Aspen and Vail to Lost Trail and Snowbowl. "To be honest, we weren't very hard on Montana Snowbowl," he says. "Their grade could be a lot lower."