Summit County, CO, April 19-There may be more hurdles in Arapahoe Basin's quest for snowmaking. A group of Colorado environmentalists went to court earlier this month to block a recent U.S. Forest Service decision that would allow the resort to source the Snake River for snowmaking.
The plan called for the ski area to divert water from the North Fork, an unpolluted tributary of the Snake River, to cover 125 acres of terrain with artificial snow. Currently, A-Basin is the only ski resort in the region without snowmaking.
Still, the highest ski resort North America already enjoys the longest ski season in Colorado, which typically stretches into July. But resort officials argue that snowmaking would ensure a scheduled opening date-currently it's wait and see--and allow for the timely hiring of seasonal employees.
Colorado Wild, the environmental group leading the charge, objects to the plan, arguing that it will damage the already fragile Snake River. Water from North Fork dilutes heavy metals and other pollutants that filter into the Snake from abandoned mines.
"The Forest Service is supposed to help clean up the Snake River," added Michael Freeman, an attorney with Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund (formerly the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund) representing Colorado Wild. "Instead, it's helping A-Basin make matters worse."
The Forest Service study indicated that under the snowmaking proposal, metal pollution in the river could increase by 6.5 percent. An EPA report calls the increase a "significant, measurable degradation of water quality in the Snake River that will frustrate and impair both private and public efforts to reduce metal concentrations and restore the fishery on the Snake River."
"We're not opposed to snowmaking at A-Basin," said Rocky Smith, Colorado Wild's forest watch coordinator. "But a lot of people are working hard to clean up the Snake River. It's simply not fair for A-Basin to make the problem worse."
However, officials at A-Basin counter that effects from the water diversion have been deemed "minimal." They added that the proposed diversion of water follows A-Basin's legal water rights and is consistent with Colorado water law and the Clean Water Act.
A-Basin also suggested it might even do some voluntary clean-up work that could help mitigate some of the impacts from snowmaking. This offer was made as part of an effort to negotiate a settlement up front and avert a lawsuit.
Colorado Wild rejected the deal because they could not agree with A-Basin on timing for the cleanup. The group also insisted on measurable results, which may have been another stumbling block for the ski area.
For now, the matter is before the courts again and may not be resolved in time for next ski season.