Ask Eartha: Going green to maintain white mountains
January 30, 2014
I am new to Summit County and can't seem to get enough time on the mountains. This morning, as I drove to the slopes through traffic, I became curious as to how many more years people will be able to enjoy snowboarding. The collective carbon footprint from every visitor just traveling must be catastrophic. Then I considered the day-to-day operations, generated waste and energy use associated with ski resorts. Can we be threatening the very activity that we love by contributing to climate change?
— Laura, Breckenridge
Global warming is cause for concern for the entire planet. I won't go into melting glaciers and flooding islands; this article will discuss the impact of climate change on the slopes and the ski industry's response to the greatest crisis facing mankind.
"Rising Temperatures Threaten Fundamental Change for Ski Slopes" is a New York Times article published during last year's drought. Reports from the Natural Resources Defense Council and the organization Protect Our Winters explain that the warming trend "spells economic devastation for a winter sports industry deeply dependent upon predictable, heavy snowfall."
There is no denying; less snow and less tourism means lower incomes and a mud season of eating ramen noodles for many locals. Should the trend continue, resorts will shut down and real estate values will plummet. The Rockies may be witness to the end of yet another boom.
Advances in snowmaking technology have allowed companies to counterbalance dry seasons. Several ski resorts have even invested millions in new energy-efficient tower guns. Still, with limited snowmelt and drier summers, like in 2012, the streams that feed snowmaking operations have slowed, some to a near trickle.
"Getting Green Done," by Auden Schendler, executive director of sustainability for Aspen Skiing Co., is one of my favorite reads regarding the topic. This book is readily available from any of the three libraries in Summit County (Silverthorne, Frisco and Breckenridge).
The Next Page Bookstore in Frisco will also be selling copies. "Getting Green Done" is part of the Summit Reads Program. The book coincides with the program's sustainability theme and the organization's continued interest in localized issues. Other Summit Reads books include "Gaining Ground," "Blue Revolution" and "The Big Burn."
Schendler describes the urgency in a unified response. Conservative projections of global warming trends show that by 2100, Aspen's climate will resemble that of Los Alamos, N.M.
Potentially, temperatures could rise by as much as 14 degrees Fahrenheit, resulting in climate similar to Amarillo, Texas. As you can probably imagine, these conditions would not make for good skiing or snowboarding.
He explains "despite the fur and leather, the plastic surgery and fancy cars, or maybe because of it, Aspen can be a laboratory, a model for the rest of the world … a place that can help create a roadmap to sustainability because it has the money and resources to both succeed and fail."
Several of Aspen Skiing Co.'s green initiatives include improving building and snowmaking efficiency, using biofuels in snowcats, and making renewable energy purchases.
In 2007, the Natural Resources Defense Council requested Aspen Skiing Co. file an amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in a lawsuit called Massachusetts v. EPA. The ski resort participated in one of the most important environmental lawsuits to reach the court and contributed to a monumental shift in CO2 policies.
Another leader on the environmental front is Arapahoe Basin Ski Area. Its objectives include composting and recycling, creating outdoor information stations and the continued use of airless snowmaking systems. It also wishes to save electricity and reach a 5 percent reduction goal in all buildings.
In addition, A-Basin strives to decrease waste by educating employees and purchasing products that are environmentally friendly. The mountain even encourages carpooling and public transportation by offering lift ticket discounts.
Vail Resorts combats climate change through solar energy. Its environmental team installed photovoltaic panels on the roof of Bailey's restaurant.
The 8.4-kilowatt system produces enough energy to power the entire building, and excess energy is sent to surrounding facilities. Vail boasts the largest ski area recycling program in the world. Its water-conservation initiative is achieved by retrofitting old fixtures to be more efficient and low-flow.
While trends and reports foresee a vanishing pastime, I am the last Chicken Little to scream out, "The sky is falling, the sky is falling."
This is an empowering opportunity to encourage and support the ski industry to become more sustainable. Each of us can lower the carbon footprint by carpooling or taking public transportation and by not allowing our vehicles to idle as we gear up for the mountain.
We can do more than compost and recycle; we can act as stewards to the less-informed guests. I have even made a game of dodging automatic doors and elevators.
Those amenities use energy, and really should be for people who need them.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.