Aspen Skiing struggles with its footprint

ASPEN – Often lauded for its environmental activism, the Aspen Skiing Co. continues to struggle to reduce its carbon emissions at its four ski areas and other properties.

In an extraordinarily blunt self-assessment, the company’s new sustainability report asks whether it is succeeding. In a terse front-page statement, the company says: “Not yet.”

Aspen Skiing aims to reduce its carbon emission 10 percent by 2012 from its 2000 baseline. As of last year, it had pared them by 4.1 percent.

Why all the difficulty? After all, hasn’t Aspen been at this for awhile?

It has succeeded, in many large and small ways. But the company’s operations have been growing. Snowmaking, which is very energy intensive, has expanded. Summer business has grown. And reducing energy use, particularly on existing operations commonly requires substantial capital investment.

“We think we can do it,” said Auden Schendler, the company’s vice president of environmental and corporate responsibility, “but it’s going to take a big capital investment.”

Schendler said one way Aspen can shrink its carbon footprint is replacing all the boilers used in the Little Nell Hotel, but that would take a $500,000 investment.

Another major problem for Aspen Skiing is that it buys most of its power from Holy Cross Energy, the local electrical cooperative, which also supplies the Vail and Beaver Creek ski areas.

Holy Cross Energy is an owner of the new Comanche 3 power plant, Colorado’s largest. Schendler tellsColorado Biz Magazine that Comanche 3 “takes us in the wrong direction” because it will increase the carbon intensity of Aspen’s energy.

But Del Worley, the co-op’s general manager, defends the $110 million investment in the $1.3 billion plant. The investment will save Holy Cross between $100 million and $400 million over the next 30 years, depending on several factors, including whether a federal carbon tax is applied to greenhouse gas emissions.

Separately, Mike Kaplan, president of the Aspen Skiing Co., told 250 business people recently that Aspen continues to lobby for limits on carbon emissions. “We really do need to put a price on carbon if our kids and grandkids are going to enjoy skiing and snowboarding in this valley,” he said. “We can’t continue as we are.”

Arkansas River death poses questions

BUENA VISTA – What’s fair? That has long been the question in outdoor pursuits. Now, that same question is being asked in connection with a hidden but dangerous water feature in Colorado’s Arkansas River. TheSummit Daily News explains that at higher volumes of water, the obstruction called Frog Rock gets washed out, posing no threat. But at flows below 1,000 cubic feet per second, as are common in late summer, an underwater sieve becomes dangerous.

Several people died there a decade ago, so river rangers posted signs alerting raft guides how to avoid trouble. They thought they had taken care of the problem. But again this summer, a 23-year-old raft guide from Breckenridge died. Her body still has not been recovered and is believed to be lodged within the underwater rocks.

Should the rocks in the river be rearranged to gut the danger?The Daily News reports support for the change, but also opposition.

“How many people have fallen off one of the climbing faces at Rocky Mountain National Park or Yosemite?” asked Stew Pappenfort, senior ranger in the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area. He said the general opinion in the rafting industry is that “we don’t take wild places and turn them into Disneyland scenarios.”

But it’s not an absolute. Checking with other river managers, he finds some features in both U.S. and Canada rivers have been altered “for public safety.”

River managers, however, also are assessing what liability they may incur if they modify the river flow – and the alternative results in injury or death.

Tibetans make return to Camp Hale

RED CLIFF – Many people in the post-World War II ski industry spent time at Camp Hale, a valley at 9,300 feet near what later became Vail. The valley was used to train the 10th Mountain Division.

But although most of the buildings were quickly torn down after the 10th Mountain left in 1944, the camp was in use for another 20 years. Most intriguingly, the Central Intelligence Agency clandestinely trained several hundred Tibetan guerillas there in the 1950s and early 1960s. This was after China had invaded Tibet, forcing the Dalai Lama to flee across the Himalaya and into India.

After being trained in sabotage, the guerillas were parachuted into Tibet or filtered across the border to harass the Chinese.

While this training has been mentioned in several books through the years, there was no official recognition of it at Camp Hale itself. That has now been rectified with a plaque and ceremony. TheVail Daily reports that U.S. Senator Mark Udall, plus various former guerillas and their CIA trainers, attended.

“I’m happy. This is like coming to my home,” said former guerilla Tashi Poljor.

Colorado ski areas opt for few upgrades

DENVER – While Canyons, the slightly renamed ski area at Park City, has pledged a major investment in infrastructure, Colorado ski areas this year have gone lightly, reportsThe Aspen Times.

Vail and Arapahoe Basin will have new high-speed quads, and Crested Butte has added a small amount of intermediate-level terrain. But beyond that, the upgrades are less capital intensive, such as more free parking at Copper Mountain, and a “magic carpet” conveyor at Eldora Mountain.

Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, takes the long view. He said that ski areas spent a huge amount of money between 1990 - 2008. Now, he expects ski areas to concentrate on “invisible investments” like snowmaking for another three or four years, then return to more eye-catching projects as the first generation of high-speed chairlifts needs replacing.

Solar farms popping up all over Colorado

RIDGWAY – The high country of Colorado is awash with news of solar farms that are under construction or pending.

In Ridgway, near Telluride, comes the story of a solar farm authorized for 20 acres that will produce two megawatts, or about enough for 40 average-sized homes. The Telluride Watch said it will be the largest solar farm yet by a rural electrical cooperative in the United States.

Meanwhile, in the Aspen-Glenwood-Vail area, Colorado Mountain College has started $3.7 million in energy upgrades. The program will include more efficient lighting and other energy-saving retrofits, plus the more sexy solar farms.

Also being installed is a geoexchange system, which draws upon the steady 56 degree temperature about 10 feet below ground to provide heat in winter and cooling in summer. The goal of the upgrades is a 15 percent savings in energy.

Aspen’s St. Regis Hotel in for a facelift

ASPEN – Another hotel upgrade is on the way in Aspen. The 179-room St. Regis Aspen will be sold by Starwood Hotels and Resorts to a Thailand-based investor, OptAsia Capital Co.The Aspen Times reported a purchase price of $70 million in the deal, which is to be consummated near the end of September.

The buyer has agreed to a $30 million renovation of the rooms. With conference, ballroom and other venues, the property has 24,000 square feet. Starwood will continue to manage the hotel.

The Times notes that this will be the third major hotel renovation in Aspen in recent years. The Aspen Skiing Co. spent $18 million to renovate rooms at the Little Nell Hotel last year. And the owners of the Hotel Jerome have been authorized to spend between $45 million and $50 million, although that project is on hold.

As for the sales price, sources told the paper that the St. Regis sale was not made under distress, although the recession did affect the sale price to some degree. For the record, the price was $391,000 per room for the property.

– Allen Best