Ski industry pioneer steps down

ASPEN – Pat O’Donnell retired last week as chief executive officer of the Aspen Skiing Co. at the age of 68. He started out during the 1960s in California, first at a ski area in Yosemite National Park and then launching Lake Tahoe’s Kirkwood. Then, in the 1970s, he was in Colorado’s Summit County, where he was responsible at Keystone for mountain operations and also creation of the first base-area hotel. Then, he directed Patagonia, the outdoor clothing manufacturer, and then the Whistler ski area, before finally joining Aspen in 1993, becoming CEO in 1996.

As the head of the Aspen Skiing Co., O’Donnell is widely credited with making Aspen a trend-setter. The company has become known for its various environmental initiatives, but particularly its efforts to take climate-changing greenhouse gases seriously. If not overnight, the company’s ski area, associated hotels and other operations have become a showcase for more efficient use of electricity and other fossil fuels. The company has also lobbied legislatively for concerted federal action to address global warming.

But the company has also developed real estate. It redeveloped the base of the Aspen Highlands ski area and refurbished its on-mountain restaurant at Ajax, as Aspen Mountain is known by locals. And most significantly, it is redeveloping and expanding the base village at Snowmass, one of the company’s four ski areas, while also spending $50 million in on-mountain improvements.

In an exit interview withThe Aspen Times, O’Donnell seemed to rue some of these and other changes that has Aspen fending off challenges from Deer Valley, Beaver Creek and other high-end resorts.

“We got into a capital shootout,” he said. Once the industry started adding faster lifts, customers’ expectations grew. Now a competitive resort must have the whole mountain covered with high-speed chairs or risk getting shunned, he explained.

O’Donnell also said that when Aspen Skiing Co. unveiled its new advertising campaign about climate change, it was criticized within the ski industry. O’Donnell likened this criticism to getting hit between the eyes with a marshmallow. “It didn’t hurt, but it was still offensive,” he said.

Other ski areas, however, will soon follow in Aspen’s path in making global warming central to their advertising messages. “I’ve said to people within the industry, ‘I will bet you a dollar to a doughnut that within 12 months and no longer than 18 months, you will see other ski areas within the United State messaging along these lines,” O’Donnell toldThe Times. “Exactly what medium they will use, I don’t know, but you’re going to see part of their campaign say, ‘Climate change, come on folks, climb on board.’”

Scientists take Sierra snow seriously

SEQUOIA NAITONAL PARK, Calif. – Scientists in California have been installing sophisticated analytical tools in the Sierra Nevada to get a better idea of how global warming is affecting the snowpack and runoff.

In California, as is true across the West, the effect of global warming is expected to be enormous on water supplies, explains theSan Francisco Chronicle.

“Even if the same amount of precipitation falls, it’s expected to come more as rain, less as snow, while spring snowmelts are likely to arrive sooner,” explains the newspaper. “That would mean less effective water storage during the long Sierra winters and, possibly, an increased risk of floods from fast mountain runoff.”

About a third of California’s water supply comes from the snowpack of the Sierra Nevada (and more yet comes from the Rocky Mountains). Altogether, 10 percent of California’s water supply could be lost because of the higher temperatures of global warming. In that case, what remains will have to be managed with even greater precision.

The equipment being installed will monitor sap flows in trees, detect changes in moisture, and also chronicle carbon dioxide in the air. Current plans call for clusters of instruments from the foothills, at about 1,200 feet in elevation, where most of California’s major reservoirs are located, up to the crest of the Sierra, 11,000 feet and even higher.

Cost of installing the equipment is estimated at $2 million a year for 10 years.

“There’s no chance the average winter snowpack in the West is going to be in the next 50 years what it has been the last 50 years,” said Philip Mote, a climate researcher at the University of Washington.

Temperatures are projected to increase by 2.5 to 9 degrees Celsius (5.5 to 16 Fahrenheit), pushing snow lines to higher elevations – anywhere from 1,500 to 4,500 feet higher.

Coop puts pressure on Tri-State

GUNNISON – The issue of climate change is being debated in a most concrete and pragmatic way at the Gunnison County Courthouse.

In Gunnison County, which includes Crested Butte, electric power is provided by a rural co-op, Gunnison County Electric Association, which in turn buys its power from a wholesale supplier, Tri-State Generation and Transmission. Tri-State gets its electricity almost exclusively from coal-fired power plants, which are the single largest contributor of greenhouse gases in the United States. And the U.S., of course, is the world’s leader in greenhouse gas emissions.

Two questions, explains theCrested Butte News, are at issue: Will the rural co-op extend its contract with Tri-State, which is now set to expire in the year 2040, to the year 2050? The answer to that question may depend upon the answer to a second question: Will Tri-State do anything differently?

Tri-State contends that it must burn coal, and it has plans to build two new coal-fired plants in Kansas during the next five years and one in later years in Southeastern Colorado. In addition to the three power plants, Tri-State figures to need another 700 miles of transmission lines. Costs are estimated at $5 to $6 billion.

Tri-State expects a 7.6 percent growth in demand for this continuous energy load during the next five years. But an environmental group, Western Resource Advocates, disputes the Tri-State plan in almost every respect. The group argues that Tri-State won’t need another coal-fired plant for 13 years. Even then, wind power, biomass and solar can be developed more rapidly, and in smaller increments as necessary to meet increasing demand.

Resort real estate still booming

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The golden triangle of Aspen, Glenwood Springs and Vail continues to post real estate totals that just a few years ago would have been staggering. While volume of transactions has declined this year, higher prices have all three markets ahead of last year’s record-setting pace.

Eagle County, where Vail is located, continues to lead the pack. For the third straight year it has now surpassed $2 billion in real estate sales, even if the growth in volume is only 1 percent ahead of last year. The strongest growth is in the upper middle-class down-valley areas, particularly in the town of Eagle.

Close behind is Pitkin County, where Aspen is located, which appears certain to surpass $2 billion for the second straight year. Growth in dollar volume is 12 percent ahead of last year, reportsThe Aspen Times.

Garfield County, which is down-valley from both Aspen and Vail, was well below $1 billion as of the end of September. However, the growth in volume was up 21.5 percent compared to last year, faster than either of the resort valleys. Garfield County also is strongly influenced by the oil-and-gas boom.

Elsewhere in Colorado, the Telluride-area market is also rising, but relatively slowly, with sales ahead of last year by 3 percent as of September. While real-estate agents agreed that the market was healthy, with semi-rural real estate strongest of all, one agent, Erik Fallenius, warned against too much optimism. “In general, as has always been the case, the Telluride real estate market is fragile,” he toldThe Telluride Watch.

Realtors overpopulate Jackson Hole

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – A two-week real estate class in Jackson Hole recently drew 71 students, the largest class ever at the school. But the field of real-estate agents is already crowded, reports theJackson Hole News & Guide, with 691 agents registered as of September with the Teton Board of Realtors.

Not all of these registered agents are actually working. Estimates of working agents range from 262 to 375. Nor are all working agents making gobs of money. David Viehman, owner and broker for Jackson Hole Real Estate & Appraisal, speculated that very few make $1 million, close to 10 percent are reaching $100,000 in annual income, and about half make less than $30,000.

– compiled by Allen Best

In this week's issue...

July 21, 2022
Wildlife success or deal with the devil?

Land swap approved in Southwest Colorado, but not without detractors

July 21, 2022
Tapping out

The latest strategy to save the San Luis Valley's shrinking aquifer: paying farmers not to farm

July 14, 2022
Hey, good environmental news

Despite SCOTUS ruling, San Juan Generating Station plans to shut down