Mountain Town News: Ski areas and business case for climate action | SummitDaily.com

Mountain Town News: Ski areas and business case for climate action

If you read the Wall Street Journal, you may have noticed a full-page advertisement on Tuesday that included a great many names of ski companies — Squaw Valley, Aspen, Vail, among others — as well as 100-plus other businesses, including New Belgium Brewery, Nike, Teton Gravity Research, and The North Face.

And then these names: Hilton, Owens Corning, and Procter & Gamble, plus Coca-Cola, the Hartford Group, Dell and Microsoft.

The advertisement proclaims support for a low-carbon energy plan, and urges the U.S. government to "seek a strong and fair global climate deal in Paris that provides long-term direction and periodic strengthening to keep global temperature rise below 2°C."

The ad also supports action to achieve or exceed U.S. commitments and, finally, supports investment in the low-carbon economy at home and abroad, "giving industry clarity and boosting the confidence of investors."

The advertisement was put together by a consortium of environmental groups led by the World Wildlife Fund. Marty Spitzer, that group's director of U.S. climate and renewable energy policy, said the initiative was modeled on a similar advertisement placed in the Financial Times of the United Kingdom in June.

"This is a big change from five years ago," he told Mountain Town News. "Big companies see climate as a big risk."

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Spitzer said companies such as Kellogg's, the manufacturer of breakfast cereals and snacks, foresee problems in their supply chains, "and ski companies obviously see a direct link." Proctor & Gamble has begun speaking up "in a significant way in the last few months," he said.

While acknowledging that the Wall Street Journal advertising is not cheap, he declined to say how much the ad cost. The newspaper says the national full-page rate is $269,125.92.

Maurice Strong had a big idea for Colorado

CRESTONE, Colo. – Maurice Strong, a Canadian who made a fortune in oil and then went on to organize the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, died last week at age 86.

The Rio conference was the first international effort to start grappling with climate change. As such, it was a direct predecessor of the Paris climate talks this week.

But Strong also had a strong connection to Colorado's San Luis Valley — including the idea of exporting water from an ancient aquifer to service suburban growth in metropolitan Denver.

Born into poverty in Manitoba during the Great Depression, he had graduated from high school at age 14 and then hopped a train for British Columbia. By 25, he was vice president of a petroleum company in Alberta and by 31 was president of the Power Corporation of Canada.

A billionaire, in 1978 he bought the 200,000-acre Baca Ranch in the San Luis Valley. The valley is located four hours from Denver, along the New Mexico border, and it has a wild, lonely but rare beauty. Part of an old Spanish land grant, the ranch is between the Great Sand Dunes National Park and the old mining town of Crestone.

On the ranch, Strong's Denmark-born wife, Hanne, helped create a spiritual center on the land. To this day, it has two Buddhist stupas amid the pinyon and juniper, plus scores of houses, many of them with unusual designs.

But Strong also saw opportunity to make money from what lay underground. With other investors, he formed American Water Development Inc. with the intent of pumping up to 200,000 acre-feet a year from what is called the Confined Aquifer. The valley there is at an elevation of about 8,000 feet, and the aquifer is located miles underground. By some estimates it has 50 times the volume of water as the combined capacity of Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

"The Confined Aquifer is a magnificent water supply that seems to make people go crazy," Alex Prud'Homme observed in his 2011 book, "The Ripple Effect: The Fate of Freshwater in the Twenty-First Century."

How much is 200,000 acre-feet? By way of comparison, the total of all of the 25 transmountain diversions in Colorado — including those from near Aspen, Vail, Summit County, Winter Park, and Grand Lake — range from 400,000 to 650,000 acre-feet in any given year. In other words, a vast amount.

In the San Luis Valley, the plan was hated. It was ultimately rejected by a Colorado Water Court. The Baca Ranch became protected as the Baca National Wildlife Refuge.

But while Strong moved onto other global save-the-environment advocacies, including the Rio conference, the idea was taken on by Gary Boyce, a native son of the San Luis Valley in the 1990s.

That water-export idea failed, but Boyce has not given up. The Crestone Eagle reports that Boyce has returned with a new iteration. It's smaller, just 35,000 acre-feet. The pot has sweetened for locals: $50 million over the course of 25 years in Saguache County, one of the nation's most sparsely populated and most impoverished counties.

As for Strong, he may be remembered as a great figure who helped alert us to our unsustainable environmental follies. He did a great many things with the United Nations and, for a time, was thought to be a possible candidate for the secretary-general.

In an article several decades ago, The New Yorker almost deified him. "The survival of civilization in something like its present form might depend significantly on the efforts of a single man," it said.

The National Review saw Strong far less favorably, as somebody who would usher in world government. A 1997 article cited the example of a proposed mine in Montana, on the edge of Yellowstone National Park. The mine was blocked, in part, because Yellowstone had been designated as a "World Heritage Site." A 2013 article cited Strong in an article about environmentalism. "Global warming had so evidently turned out to be the right fear at the right time," it said, and the writer didn't mean this kindly.

But in Colorado, Strong may be remembered as the progenitor of the biggest transmountain water diversion ever — but one that, at least so far, has not occurred.

Banff starts talking about a goal of 100-percent fossil-free

BANFF, Alberta – Banff, the municipality in Banff National Park, has started talking about setting a goal of becoming totally reliant on non-fossil fuels by 2050.

Chad Townsend, the town's environmental coordinator, said the goal is doable, if still ambitious. This goal, if adopted by Banff's elected officials, could also include transportation and heating, in addition to electricity.

No place in the modern world has achieved this goal so far, although many towns and cities have started embracing it. Vancouver, B.C., recently adopted a 100 percent renewable energy goal by 2050, and the college town of Fort Collins, Colorado, adopted something similar.

Eliminating fossil fuels from the electrical mix remains challenging enough for most communities. Aspen joined two other smaller towns and cities in the United States this summer when it completed a 100-percent renewable portfolio. The Aspen utility, however, only services half to two-thirds of the load in the community of 6,000 and none to the ski area itself.

The Rocky Mountain Outlook reports that town officials remain non-committal, but are considering spending $40,000 on developing a path to define how to get there. Clearly controversial would be expansion of hydro-electricity, particularly if it requires dams. One dam has been removed from within Banff National Park, and Councillor Stavros Karlos said he's ready to see more dams blown up after watching DamNation, a documentary that challenges the systems of large dams in the United States.

About half of Aspen Electric's renewable power comes from turbines installed on existing dams. A recent proposal to recreate a hydroelectric generator on a local creek that had delivered electricity to Aspen from 1885 to 1962 failed because of community pushback. Instead, Aspen secured its remaining power from wind farms on the Great Plains, hundreds of miles away in Nebraska and South Dakota.

Fat-tired bikes OK'd on some Nordic trails

CANMORE, Alberta – Fat-tired bikes will be restricted to ungroomed single and double-track trails at the Canmore Nordic Center, putting groomed trails off limits at the site of the 1988 Winter Olympics cross-country ski competition.

Fat bikes have extra-wide tires and thick, sturdy frames that allow them to handle snowy conditions.

Alberta Parks told the Rocky Mountain Outlook that it's a growing sport, and so some trails needed to be designated for its use.

New Chinese ski area front trickle of flood?

WHISTLER, B.C. – Another Chinese ski resort has opened. Called Thaiwoo Four Season Destination Resort, it's a three-hour drive from Beijing and amid a cluster of new resorts.

Whistler-based Ecosign Mountain Resort Planners designed the new resort, and while it looks like a ski resort in North America, it was designed with cultural differences in mind. Ryley Thiessen, the firm's vice president of resort design, says that a day on the mountain is more of a family affair in China. Ecosign estimates that only 50 percent of Chinese resort visitors will actually strap on skis. That makes off-mountain amenities more crucial.

Might more Chinese strap on boards? The China Ski Association projects that Beijing hosting the 2020 Winter Olympics will cause the number of skiers to increase 30 fold, from 10 million today to 300 million.

That, in turn, could cause a flood of new skiers to ski resorts in the North American West, says Thiessen. "I think we're going to see that change in the next 5 to 10 years, and I really hope we're ready for it," he told Pique Newsmagazine. That probably requires spending time on how to cater to needs of this new market, whether it's having more translators or different meal options.

Hunter who killed wolf not charged

KREMMLING, Colo. – U.S. wildlife officials have announced they will not charge a hunter who killed a gray wolf near Kremmling. The town is located along the Colorado River, about halfway between Breckenridge and Steamboat Springs.

The hunter said he mistook the male wolf for a coyote.

Only a few wolves have been seen in Colorado since the species was extirpated from the state in 1943. However, since 2004, several have wandered down from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, where wolves had been reintroduced in the 1990s. These lone wanderers are called "dispersers" by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They have been seen as far distant as South Dakota and Arizona.

Brothers survive, but had feared the worst

TELLURIDE, Colo. – Two brothers skiing in the backcountry near Telluride before Thanksgiving both had luck on their side. The first one skied down a 30-degree slope, triggering a "massive slide." From above, his brother watched his sibling being swept out of sight.

Skiing down to look for his brother, he triggered another slide. Alarmed by the conditions, he abandoned the search and then retreated to a place from which he could summon a rescue team.

But, in fact, the first brother had tumbled 1,000 feet, but when the snow quit sliding, his face and an arm were exposed. Still, it took him about 15 minutes to dig himself out of the avalanche debris. He then began searching with his beacon for his brother, whom he also thought was dead.

But both had survived, reports the Telluride Daily Planet, and they now have a story that few could match — or would want to match.