Resort sustainability gets serious

ASPEN – In the wake of increasing criticism of the ski industry by environmentalists during the 1990s, the National Ski Areas Association several years ago created its Sustainable Slopes program.

Sustainable Slopes encourages member ski areas to take actions that lessen the impact of skiing on the environment. But critics say its voluntary nature allows members to brag of accomplishments without taking meaningful action.

Two academics last year concluded that the critics were right. Jorge Rivera, of George Washington University, and Peter De Leon, of the University of Colorado at Denver, labeled the program a “symbolic, self-regulatory scheme that does not appear to effectively improve industrywide environmental protection.” They said the industry needed third-party audits to be credible.

That’s what two ski area operators, The Aspen Skiing Co. and British Columbia’s Sun Peaks, have done. Both have earned certification through the International Organization for Standardization. Conducting the audit was Mark Gage, from a Vancouver, B.C., firm called KPMG Performance Registrar.The Aspen Times reports Gate spent three days grilling company executives, examining maintenance shops that service snow machines, and touring ski area facilities to assess the effectiveness of the environmental-management program. Gage said one of his interests is assessing how formalized environmental policies are, and if a company has clear lines of accountability. He was less concerned about high-profile programs like recycling, but more interested in such things as the handling of materials after vehicle maintenance.

Auden Schendler, director of environmental affairs for the Aspen Skiing Co., said the certification – now in its second year – “means something.” He told theTimes that Aspen’s certification may put pressure on Intrawest, Vail Resorts and other ski area operators to follow suit. Gate reported that other resorts have already approached his company about audits. While some of that interest stems from innate goodness, he said he also sees competition being a motivator.


Private jets jammed up in Aspen


ASPEN – It must be the human condition. No matter how much money a person has, there’s always something to grumble about.

Consider the situation at Aspen, whereThe Aspen Times reported a complaint-filled gondola ride for a mother and daughter from Arkansas. Because the local airport, called Sardy Field, is so busy, they had to circle the airport for 90 minutes in their private jet before being allowed to land. You locals, they said, need to do something about this.

The Times explained that because the number of planes often exceeds the amount of runway time available at Sardy Field, a situation called “airspace saturation,” the Federal Aviation Administration imposes a rationing program. The program is applied at Christmas, Presidents’ Weekend and spring break.

Slots are allocated by this program, with commercial airlines getting first dibs. Those lacking slots are forced to circle Aspen until a slot is available. An alternative is to land at another airport in Rifle or Grand Junction, or even at a Denver-area airport.

Greg Dyer, a Federal Aviation Administration official, said that people with Gulfstream V airplanes are not the sort of people accustomed to being told “no.”

Some believe that operators of fractional ownership jets have fostered an underground market for slots. According to this theory, the operators of fractionally owned jets snare slots – leaving the full-ownership jets without slots. The FAA discounted that accusation.


Man marshalling earthquake aid


AVON – A man in the Vail area is trying to rally aid to the surviving victims of the earthquakes in Kashmir, which have killed 73,000 people and left 3 million homeless.

“Three million people homeless – that’s bigger than (metropolitan) Denver,” said Andrew Gallup. “That really resonated with me.”

While sympathetic to the tsunami and hurricane victims of the last year, he told theVail Daily that the idea of 500,000 people living in tents in the snow struck a chord.

“I hope and think that Vail is a caring community,” he said. “I think people here can relate to freezing to death. It’s been so cold lately,” he added.

Gallup hopes to marshal aid to a farming village of 1,475 people called Chittabatta. The village needs 120 homes. At a size of 144 square feet, they can be built for $400. The annual family income in Kashmir is only $60.

He is trying to funnel aid through Relief International, a small Los Angeles based nonprofit organization.


Gunnison park gets water rights


GUNNISON – Gunnison finally has water rights for its 3-year-old whitewater park. The process cost the local Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District more than $500,000. Officials told theCrested Butte News that the settlement gives the local district the same decree they went to court to achieve, with slightly smaller flows than they had requested.

The case sparked a protracted legal battle similar to what Breckenridge and Vail went through. The state’s water establishment has been dubious about how much water is needed for the parks to operate efficiently. The park in question has six structures that enhance whitewater.


Vail man boasts highest home


VAIL – Doug Wooldridge has a lofty claim. He’s the highest year-round resident in the Vail area, with a home at 11,220 feet.

Wooldridge lives in Two Elk, the swank cafeteria atop Vail Mountain. Nobody had lived in the cafeteria when the original Two Elk burned as a result of arson in 1998, but the ski area operator, Vail Resorts, decided to put somebody in the rebuilt cafeteria to improve security.

It’s not an easy jaunt to the grocery store. “There’s no such thing as running down to the 7-Eleven for a quart of milk,” he told theVail Daily. On the other hand, he does get in 50 to 60 days of skiing a year, despite often working from 6 a.m. to until 8 or 9 at night during the winter. He supervises the 100 employees at the cafeteria and warming hut.

At first, with stark memories of the fire, Wooldridge says he was easily spooked at the cavernous facility but has now become comfortable.

The Summit Daily News notes that in the wake of the 1998 fires, the other ski areas owned by Vail Resorts increased their security measures. Law enforcement officials say that while the potential of sabotage against a ski area has receded, the potential for other types of sabotage and also terrorism is “never off the radar screen.”


Aspen workers find housing


ASPEN – One way or another, the foreign workers who flooded into Aspen this winter are finding places to sleep.

Unlike during the last several years, the town’s seasonal housing quarters filled up rapidly this year. Housing officials then called upon residents of the Roaring Fork Valley to make their spare rooms available, reportsThe Aspen Times. Many did.

Others are couch-surfing or floor-crashing, although they are certainly not the first to do so. Aspen’s director of housing, Tom McCabe, recalls many nights at the ground-floor level during his first winter in Aspen.

Eyes are being cast on the Aspen Skiing Co. to expand its housing for seasonal employees. The company employs 2,000 workers each winter but has housing for only 200. Projects at Snowmass could yield 100 affordable housing units, including housing for seasonal employees. Local government officials also intend to make a strong push to get the company to build seasonal housing if and when it proposes a redevelopment of the base of the Buttermilk ski area.


China breaks railroad record


SALIDA – The Chinese government can now claim the world’s highest railroad. A new line to Lhasa, Tibet, reaches an elevation of 16,640 feet.

These new rails surpass those of a railroad in Peru that reach 15,698 feet, reports Salida’sColorado Central Magazine.

In the United States, Colorado boasts all the high-elevation records. While a cog railroad reaches the 14,110-foot summit of Pikes Peak, the highest regular rails are at an elevation of 11,000, on an excursion train out of Leadville.

In the same Leadville-Vail area, rails reach 10,239 feet at Tennessee Pass, although they have seen little use since 1997. As such, the Moffat Tunnel, located at Winter Park, has the distinction of having the highest standard-gauge through-route rails, reaching an elevation of 9,257 feet.

– compiled by Allen Best

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