Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Bad grade is result of flawed scoring

The Ski Area Citizens Coalition recently put out an environmental scorecard on which it gave Sun Valley Resort the failing grade of F.

Given that large numbers of local residents are concerned about the environment, we decided to take a look at the way the group scored resorts.

Sun Valley's scorecard has major problems that undermine any serious consideration of the grade.

For starters, SACC is an organization that has axes to grind—in Colorado. It's not exactly the "Consumer Reports" of ski areas. SACC was started by a group called Colorado Wild whose membership solicitation says its members want "to help stop the bogus fuels reduction projects, ski area expansions, and associated real estate development that threaten wildlife habitat and sustainable communities in the Southern Rocky Mountains."

Colorado Wild objects to what it calls the "Ski Area Arms Race." It says its vision is "A Sustainable, Environmentally Friendly Ski Industry."

Sun Valley Resort has hardly been part of any so-called skiing "arms race."

On the contrary. It was the first destination ski resort in the United States and the mantra of its patrons has long been, "Sun Valley is not Aspen or Vail." And it's not.

While Vail rose literally from nothing in the 1960s to become a resort juggernaut—with the urban sprawl to go with it—Sun Valley Resort plugged along as a quaint spot. It grew, but without the sprawl that mars Vail, Park City and Jackson Hole.

And therein lies the problem with SACC's so-called scorecard.

Sun Valley Resort got no credit for what it hasn't done over the years. The group scores only what happened last year or what might happen in the future.

For example, a resort that proposes any real estate development or even a small area expansion loses points—big, weighted points. Thus, a resort like Sun Valley that for the first time in 30 years is proposing a little development and a small expansion of the ski area gets dinged, while a wholly built behemoth like Vail scores higher because it's currently proposing little new development.

That's like refusing to let an A-student advance a grade because the student flunked today's pop quiz.

Sun Valley Resort's owner of 30 years, Earl Holding, has not treated the resort as a mere prop for speculation in real estate..

The resort isn't perfect, but it's a far cry from Colorado's industrial tourism.

SACC either needs to revamp its analysis or leave Sun Valley Resort out of its fight with the mega-resorts.

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