Colorado: Pure as Driven Sewage

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When nature fails to cover the slopes with a blanket of powder, the ski resort at Vail, Colo., compensates by making snow with water from nearby Gore Creek. Trouble is, the water is drawn from a point 100 yds. downstream from a sewage-treatment plant and contains minute amounts of fecal coliform, a contaminant of human feces.

Until recently no one had made a stink about the practice. But then the Denver Post reported that up to two-thirds of Vail's artificial snow consists of treated sewage. The report set off a minor blizzard of controversy in which a salient fact was forgotten: though Gore Creek's water is not classified as safe to drink, the man-made snow contains such a low level of bacteria that skiers cannot be harmed by falling into it. Conservation groups endorse the use of recycled water as environmentally sound.

Still most skiers seem sure to follow the prudent example of Jay Skinner, an official of the Colorado wildlife division. Asked if he would eat the snow, Skinner replied, "Knowing what I know? Probably not. But then, I wouldn't drink what's coming out the effluent pipe, either."