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|March 12-18, 2009
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Colorado ski resorts respond to global warming
by Conan Bliss
Well over a decade ago, I read an article about glacial recession in the Alps, describing what this meant for the ski areas there. Many of the ski areas in Europe have runs that are on or adjacent to glaciers, and have built the resort infrastructure based on the assumption that the glaciers were relatively static, neither receding nor growing. With nearly every glacier in rapid retreat, the ski areas were beginning to think of how to adapt to the changes. Engineers designed huge insulating “blankets” to place on the snow near the resorts in the summer to keep it from melting so quickly. Additional lifts were planned to carry people from the new terminus of the glacier/ski run to the base area and the existing lifts.
Four years ago, I witnessed this firsthand in the Valle Blanche of Chamonix, France, where the original train that shuttled people from the end of the glacier to the town of Chamonix, now had its “Glacier Station” hundreds of feet above where the glacier ended. Not only had the glacier receded, but its loss of volume meant it was thinner and had lost a huge amount of ice depth, leaving the train station high and dry. To fix the problem, a ski lift was added some years ago to shuttle people from the glacier up to the train. Of course, you now have to hike up to the lift a few hundred feet from the glacier. Eventually, if global warming remains on its current trajectory, the glacier will be altogether gone from the lower Valle Blanche.
Here in Colorado, only a few small permanent snowfields remind us of the great glaciers of the ice ages. We do not have a visual glacial gauge to keep track of the onslaught of global warming, but must rely on temperature and snowpack data to tell us the story. In spite of this, the story is very obvious to all but the most uninformed or ignorant. There is a call to action, especially in areas that thrive on cold winters and abundant snowfalls — namely, ski towns and ski resorts. Without snow, there is no skiing, nor the multi-billion dollar industry that thrives on the sport. For obvious reasons, ski resorts began to look at ways they could alleviate their environmental footprint and help to curb global warming, or at least minimize their affect.
Three years ago, a number of large resorts announced their intent to offset some or all of their energy consumption by purchasing green energy credits and wind power to run their lifts, buildings and infrastructure. Notably, the Aspen Skiing Company, Steamboat Resort, Vail Resorts and Crested Butte Mountain Resort lead the charge in the 2006-07 winter, with other resorts quickly following.
While purchasing alternative energy is more costly than using more conventional electricity from coal-fired or hydro-powered plants, it is environmentally friendly. As a bonus, the “greening” of a particular ski resort’s power also makes for an excellent marketing campaign. All other things equal, environmentally conscious individuals would naturally favor a ski resort that uses green energy.
Today, with a large percentage of the skiing industry powered by wind, or at least purchasing renewable energy credits, it has become the norm to see signs attached to lift towers advertising the resort’s commitment to the environment. Looking more closely, many resorts are also changing out light bulbs to Compact Fluorescents (CFLs), giving their food services a complete makeover with recycled and recyclable containers, and using buses and vehicles that run on alternative fuels. All of these steps are relatively easy ones to make, as they are easily integrated into the normal business of running a ski resort.
The more difficult challenges lie ahead: minimizing the environmental footprint of new development, and working with local, state and federal government to provide green transportation alternatives for the skiers. With development being perhaps the largest engine that drives the ski resort economy, it should naturally be next in the green progression that the resorts should take. Using green building materials and techniques is only part of the picture, as new construction and development inherently has a negative environmental impact. Resort planners are increasingly looking to the new urbanism model with the redevelopment of dated and aging base areas rather than the expansion into adjacent forest land. Copper Mountain’s new base area and Mountaineer Square at Crested Butte are examples of the redevelopment that creates more multi-use density for shops and lodging without taking up any more land area.
Perhaps the largest environmental hurdle facing the ski industry is skier transportation. Until recently, this has been considered to be a problem that needs to be addressed by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), the Federal Highway Administration, and other government agencies. The challenge now is that in many parts of the country, and notably the I-70 corridor, the traffic woes are really beginning to affect the ski resorts. People are no longer making the trip to ski due to the traffic problems, and this means that ski areas lose potential revenue. Green ethics aside, revenue loss will continue to grow unless an adequate solution is put into place, something that should concern the ski industry. Considering the environmental impact of all of those individual skier’s automobiles is staggering, and yet it has been largely ignored precisely because it is such an enormous challenge. A good start in addressing the challenge would be the ski industry putting some lobbying dollars into seeking Colorado State and Federal funding for alternative transportation (i.e., light rail) from the Front Range throughout the I-70 corridor. This is not a call for private industry to fund public transportation, but simply another step that the ski industry could make for preservation of the environment, not to mention their own bottom line.
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Hiking through history
by Dave Philipps
What destroyed the Castlewood Dam? How did Cripple Creek’s Poverty Gulch get its name? Where can you walk in a dinosaur’s footprints? The answers to all these questions can be found in this fun guide that takes hikers to ghost towns, forgotten battle sites, abandoned mines and other out-of-the way historical nuggets. Maps, color photos and concise histories make this guide a great way to learn more about our state.
—The book: Walking into Colorado’s Past, 50 Front Range History Hikes, by Ben Fogelberg
—Where to get it: Boulder Bookstore, 1107 Pearl St., 303-447-2074, www.boulderbookstore.com
—Bonus: Lots of hikes that are fun for kids
—Bummer: Leaves out some classics, such as the quarries at Red Rock Canyon Open Space
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