Copper Mountain Resort begins 10-year carbon sequestration study

Jeff Grasser, efficiency manager for Copper Mountain Resort, leads a hike during the resort's Conservation Summit on July 27, 2022.
Curtis DeVore/Copper Mountain Resort

This week, Copper Mountain Resort kicked off its carbon sequestration study, and over the next 10 years, scientists and resort leaders are hoping that ski slopes can contribute to the fight against the effects of climate change. 

The resort hosted a conservation summit on Wednesday, where Copper officials discussed the goals of the project with other ski industry and environmental leaders. Jeff Grasser, efficiency manager for Copper Mountain, said efforts have already been made to increase biodiversity of the land, but this study would continue meeting sustainability goals. Carbon sequestration is the process in which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and held in solid or liquid form. In this case, it would be in the soil, where most of the world’s carbon is stored.

Grasser said the resort has developed a scientific-based study to prove that their efforts actually help increase the amount of carbon dioxide being taken out of the air.

“To me, this is about regeneration,” Grasser said. “Our society has a lot of work to do on global conservation. I believe that we have an opportunity to go back and put carbon everywhere we can, and we can do that in a natural way.”

Grasser said currently, the goal is to offset one gram of carbon per square meter. That would be about 50 metric tons of carbon per year. Specifically, he said that he is looking forward to seeing if the study could offset the resort’s backup motors for lifts since those are run by fossil fuels and are tested regularly to make sure they are functioning. Though it would not happen overnight, Grasser said building more biodiversity could help reach that goal. 

“I also don’t like getting stuck on ski lifts in the middle of a power outage. Nobody likes that, especially if it happens on a cold day in February,” he said. “So our goal is to offset the emissions of our lift auxiliary engines.”

Jennie DeMarco, assistant professor at Southwestern University in Texas, is a scientist assisting on the project and said that, in her work, she focuses on nature-based solutions. By doing restoration projects, people can increase carbon storage and avoid greenhouse gas emissions. She said the key with nature-climate solutions is that they can be implemented in a lot of different ecosystems. They are cost effective, she claimed, compared to new carbon-capture technology. 

Just like any major disturbance, ski slopes can disrupt or degrade soils, which makes them less likely to store carbon. One solution that this project will study is adding compost to certain areas to improve soil health and encourage more sequestration and plant growth. 

“What we’ve started this week is to set up some plots along the ski slope,” she said. 

DeMarco said that as a long-term study, the team will look at various soil characteristics over time to see if efforts are improving biodiversity and water content. The plots will use Summit County compost to fertilize areas. 

“We’re not going to sequester a whole bunch of carbon within the first year,” DeMarco said. “It’s going to take some time. At the same time, we’re also improving soil health and including vegetation. This is a long-term study we’re setting up this week. Then in five years, we’ll come back and sample, and then in 10 years, there are carbon models that we could input some of our data. Then, we could forecast and try to estimate if we continue this, how much carbon would this maybe sequester over a decade or multiple decades.”

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