A Sierra ski resort raided seven years ago by armed federal agents investigating environmental abuses has earned top honors in an environmental scorecard released by conservationists.
Squaw Valley USA's A grade in the Ski Area Citizens Coalition's annual ranking is part of a trend of improvement, members of the group said.
But officials at Kirkwood Mountain Resort, which received a failing grade for the second straight year, insist important efforts on behalf of the environment are being overlooked in a process that punishes any resort that attempts to improve and remain competitive.
The coalition ranks resorts on a numerical basis. Points can be lost for resorts that expand ski runs, or build new lifts, snowmaking systems or condominiums. Points can be added for resorts that recycle, support renewable energy and expand mass transit.
Squaw's score is largely due to efforts to reduce energy consumption through use of energy-efficient snow guns, using biodiesel in vehicles and retrofitting old buildings, the coalition said.
It's a turnaround from 2000, when agents with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency raided the resorts during an investigation into alleged violations from construction that polluted a tributary of the Truckee River.
Squaw Valley Ski Corp. in 2005 agreed to pay California $900,000 to settle a lawsuit filed in connection with the dispute.
"Squaw is a great example of a resort that has not only stopped the bad things they used to do, but is also taking on some more proactive programs," Autumn Bernstein of the Sierra Nevada Alliance, a member of the coalition.
Some resort operators, however, are critical of the coalition's grading process.
"Kirkwood has done an exceptional job at taking steps toward addressing environmental concerns," said David Likins, the resort's chief executive officer.
"The question is, is the resort taking steps to preserve the environment? And the answer for Kirkwood is a resounding yes."
Kirkwood recently took steps to cut energy consumption by reducing lighting, promoting carpooling, reducing landfill waste and conserving water, Likins said.
But he said those efforts receive little attention in the scorecard ranking, largely because the resort is in the process of expanding lifts and snowmaking and building condominiums.
"There is a very strong bias against growth," Likins said. The same criticism was expressed by operators of Mount Rose Ski Tahoe, even though this year the resort's ranking rose from C to a B.
"You cannot get a good grade if you're trying to grow," said Mount Rose spokesman Mike Pierce. "If you stay stagnant, they like you."