Aspen Skiing defends green record

ASPEN – The Aspen Skiing Co. is building a major real-estate project at the base of Snowmass. It continues to expand ski terrain at Snowmass. And, on top of all this, its top executives have spent most of the last year driving around in hulking SUVs.

It would seem that any other ski company would get raked over the coals for that kind of track record. Certainly, Vail has. And even Crested Butte has been flunked in one ski-area report card for even thinking about real estate and ski area expansion.

Yet Aspen gets straight A’s in that same ski area report card. It has been lauded regionally and even nationally for efforts to combat global warming. And the ski company just launched an advertising campaign that seeks to draw attention to global warming – and in the process encourages people to visit Aspen, because Aspen is trying to stop it.

Mutterings of hypocrisy have circulated for several years in the Roaring Fork Valley, where Aspen is located, but recently they erupted into print. Leading the charge was Roger Marolt, a typically brash columnist inThe Aspen Times.

He capped his column with what is, in Aspen, the ultimate insult: Comparing Aspen Skiing unfavorably with Vail Resorts, which has now purchased a much larger quantity of wind-power electricity. “Is Vail greener than Aspen?” he asked tartly.

This debate points toward the ultimate question for all ski resorts who want to be seen as environmentally benign while catering to the world’s wealthiest people: How can you truly be a tree-hugging environmentalist when most of your customers arrive in jets, even private jets. Jets are singularly the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in Aspen’s economy.

In a coincidentally timed “sustainability” report that had been in preparation for four months, Aspen Chief Executive Officer Pat O’Donnell acknowledged the inconsistencies as being the “elephant in the room,” both within the company and the community more broadly.

The use of the gas-hog SUVs, he explained, was the result of “bad judgment.” The company has a sponsorship deal with Nissan, which provided 12 vehicles for which it was seeking exposure. Among the freebies was Nissan’s largest SUV, the Armada. A website,, reports the Armada gets 13 miles per gallon in city driving and ranks the vehicle as among the worst in emitting greenhouse gases.

Five months ago, Aspen Skiing informed Nissan that contract or not, the Armadas could not be used. Nissan agreed and is instead providing the smaller Pathfinders.

In the sustainability report, O’Donnell admitted to “some merit” in the questioning of the expansion of Snowmass ski terrain but ultimately rejected the thesis. “The logical extension of the criticism would be to shut down operations altogether,” he said. “Aspen Skiing Co. is a business trying to minimize its enormous impacts, operating in a way that enables us to be sustainable. But we are still a business,” O’Donnell wrote in the annual report.

O’Donnell also rejected criticism of the base-village redevelopment at Snowmass. He described the previous development as “sprawl posing as a mountain town.” He added: “We had to fix it if we wanted to stay in business.”


Mt. Shasta glacier refuses to melt

MOUNT SHASTA, Calif. – Not all the glaciers in the world are melting. Whitney Glacier, located on California’s Mount Shasta, is growing, and scientists think global warming is the reason.

Temperatures rose one degree Celsius during the last half-century in California, and that greater warmth has resulted in less snow lower in the mountains generally, said glaciologist Slawek Tulaczyk, of the University of California, Santa Cruz.

But warmer air carries more precipitation. Temperatures remain cold enough in the high mountains for snow. So, that increased precipitation is yielding more snow in just one place that the team of researchers have found, Mt. Shasta. Shasta is located in far northern California and, with a height of 14,161 feet, is second in height only to Mt. Rainier in the volcanic Cascade Range. Tulaczyk and his team believe the glacier on Shasta is the only river of ice in the world that is now growing.

“At the higher elevations and on Mount Shasta, more snow is being dumped,” Tulaczyk told theSacramento Bee. By the calculations of Tulaczyk and his team of researchers, the newspaper noted, it takes a 20 percent increase in snow precipitation to counteract a one degree rise in the temperature.

They believe this is the only river of ice in the world that is now growing. But why is the glacier on Shasta growing, but not

those on Rainier, Mt. Baker and other high peaks in the Cascade Range in Washington state?

The climate of California differs from that of the Pacific Northwest. California peaks, including Shasta, get nearly all their precipitation during winter, in the form of snow. But farther north, at Rainier, precipitation is more evenly distributed throughout the year.

Tulaczyk and his team do not expect the glacier on Shasta to continue expanding. Climate change computer models forecast temperature increases of 3 to 4 degrees Celsius, and Tulaczyk said snow precipitation at the higher levels would have to double to maintain the equilibrium.


Randonnée racing series created

  SUMMIT COUNTY – Backcountry skiing and frontcountry resorts continue to merge in Colorado. A new uphill-downhill, randonnée race schedule is planned for this coming winter at several ski areas, while Breckenridge may well drop the ropes on another 150 acres of steep, above-timberline skiing.

The randonnée  race schedule has been put together by Pete Swenson, who lives in Breckenridge and Boulder. Last year, he won the national championship at Jackson Hole but was only “pretty good,” in his estimation, when he competed at the world championships in Italy.

Swenson told theSummit Daily News that he believes the United States can draw closer to the European randonnée racers if there is more competition and Colorado has mountains suitable for such competition that are second to none. The competition will be called the Colorado Ski Mountaineering Cup.

The inaugural schedule begins in January with a race at Ski Sunlight, near Glenwood Springs, and then continues to Snowmass, Loveland and Arapahoe Basin, concluding at Silverton on April 21.

In randonnée  racing, there are both multiple uphill ascents – about 2,500 feet altogether on a recreational route, and 4,500 on the advanced course – and descents. The terrain is controlled, or free of avalanche and other overt dangers, but the snow is ungroomed.


Tunnel resurfaces in Winter Park

WINTER PARK – A tunnel under the Continental Divide was talked about intensely in Winter Park and other towns of Grand County during the 1980s. The county was then falling into what proved to be a protracted economic lull. Only one building permit was issued by county authorities for a single-family home during one year that many locals might well wish to forget.

The tunnel was proposed as a way to kick-start real estate sales and expedite increased tourism, helping put Grand County on a more level playing field with Summit County and Vail, whose economies slowed but never to the tread-water stage that Grand County experienced.

But the idea instantly drew many opponents, who argued against making access easier, as they worried it would sacrifice Grand County’s semi-rural nature.

Owing only partly to an improved highway across 11,314-foot Berthoud Pass but also the now far-higher prices and increased development along I-70, the Winter Park-Granby areas are now getting development and growth anyway, observes Patrick Brower, publisher of theSky-Hi News. With all the congestion on I-70, Brower muses that perhaps talk of a tunnel into Grand County will surface again.

Various tunnels have been talked about over the years to connect the valley with Boulder and cities along the high plains.


Gunnison boasts highest college

GUNNISON – Leadville is the nation’s highest city, Breckenridge has North America’s highest ski lift, and Western State College, located in Gunnison, down the road from Crested Butte, has the world’s highest collegiate gymnasium (7,723 feet in elevation) and the world’s highest collegiate football field, at 7,750 feet.

These collegiate bragging rights were cited in a story about the cross-country runners at Western State, who are title contenders in the Division II category. The team often goes to the Crested Butte area to run at elevations of 9,500 to 11,300 feet. “It’s very important to run at elevation,” says coach Duane Vanedebusche, who believes the thinner air makes runners hardier.

– compiled by Allen Best