Vermont Ski Resort Crossword

Ski resorts' heavy use of

LUDLOW, Vt. — Each year, thousands of New England residents flock to the ski slopes to reconnect with nature amid the pristine splendor of snow-capped mountains and frozen streams.

But the image of skiing as a wholesome, natural pastime has come under question as a result of a stormy debate over ski areas' snow-making practices.

The controversy concerns how much water ski areas should be allowed to take from rivers and streams to make snow. Environmentalists, and in some cases state and federal officials, say withdrawal levels sought by the industry would lower winter stream flows to a point where aquatic life would be threatened.

Snow-making systems require 150, 000 gallons of water to cover an acre with a foot of man-made snow. Environmentalists say their concern is not with the amount of water being withdrawn overall but the fact that it is taken in winter months when fish are naturally stressed by low river flows and cold temperatures.

"We have never argued that they (ski operators) can't take water, " said Kenneth D. Kimball, director of research for the Appalachian Mountain Club. "The debate is when you get into low periods of water availability, how much lower can you keep going?"

But Timothy Mueller, president of the Okemo Mountain Ski Resort here, whose area has been embroiled in a regulatory battle over water withdrawal, said environmentalists had failed to prove any harm from current or proposed water withdrawals by ski areas.

"Can we say there's absolutely no impact to a water withdrawal? Probably not. But you cannot say there's any impact to the fish, " said Mueller.

The snow-making debate is the result of a trend that has seen ski areas in the Northeast become more dependent on man-made snow. Introduced in the late 1940s, man-made snow had come to replace natural snow on many New England slopes by the late 1970s, as areas responded to growing interest in skiing and declining snowfall.

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