Whistler/Blackcomb’s list of awards grew last week when it became one of four resorts to win a Silver Eagle Award for environmental excellence, presented by The Skiing Company. Whistler/Blackcomb won in the category of environmental education for its three-part effort which included trail design, interpretive displays and bear management. "I’m quite excited, and at the same time I’m honoured and humbled," said Arthur DeJong, mountain planning and environmental resource manager for Whistler/Blackcomb. "It’s a very important category. "Conservation begins with awareness, and awareness is the first step to education about the environment." Whistler/Blackcomb was also a finalist for the Golden Eagle award for overall environmental excellence as well as the Silver Eagle community outreach award, both of which were presented to Aspen. The Golden Eagle Environmental Awards were established in 1993 by The Skiing Company, part of Times Mirror Magazines and publishers of Ski, Skiing, Freeze and TransWorld Snowboarding, among other publications. Judging was done by a panel of conservation experts, environmental agency representatives and members of the ski press. The first component of Whistler/Blackcomb’s submission for the environmental education award was a three-day program which showed local youths what goes into designing a ski trail. Students began the program by doing an environmental inventory, which included exploring a bear den, taking water samples from a creek, studying aspects of silviculture and forest orientation. They moved on to the actual physical building of a trail, including scouting the terrain from a helicopter and operating heavy equipment. "It was a great experience, for the instructor and the kids," DeJong said. The second component, interpretation on the mountain, was aimed at the general public. This involved interpretive paintings and signs in restaurants on the mountain, as well as aligning trails, such as Raptor’s Ride, with a theme. An Isobel MacLaurin painting sits at the top of the run and the importance of the area to raptors is explained. A similar interpretive painting is at the top of Little Cub Glade, with an explanation of how glading assists in the growth of berries, which are then available to bears through the later part of the summer and early fall. The third component of Whistler/Blackcomb’s submission was an on-hill bear management plan. The Help Care for Our Bears poster, which explains how to avoid bear encounters and how to react to bear encounters, was a key part of the program. Funding for black bear researcher Michael Allen, which allows him to talk to students at local schools and to write about bear issues in Pique Newsmagazine, was also part of the bear management plan. "Mike Allen was a key component to our on-mountain bear management plan," DeJong said. "Without him I wouldn’t have had the knowledge about bears, about where to look for bear dens and bear habitat." Judges called the Whistler/Blackcomb program "provocative" and said it shows "a high level of commitment. It is an excellent example for other ski areas interested in educating the community on ecological issues." DeJong has been overseeing environmental management systems on Blackcomb for five years and on Whistler since the two mountains were merged. The work includes things such as water conservation, waste management, forestry and wildlife issues, as well as educational campaigns. "This award is an indicator that what we’re doing is effective, but there is so much more to do," DeJong said. "Our resort can be the best in the world, but environmental conservation is a cornerstone to that. We have an environmental science centre here, but we have to protect it." Other Silver Eagle Awards were presented to: Aspen, which also won an award in the category of fish and wildlife habitat protection; Stratton Mountain in Vermont, which is owned by Intrawest, won in the category of water conservation and wastewater management; and Colorado’s Steamboat won for environmental excellence in area design.