Aspen Skiing Co.’s Schendler talks climate change at Pitkin County retreat
The Aspen Times
Citing a lack of snow, operators of the Mount Baker ski area in Washington announced its temporary closure Sunday. The shuttering was not lost on Auden Schendler when he addressed Pitkin County’s department heads and commissioners at their annual retreat Monday.
The trickle-down impact — “If you think about the community around Mount Baker and what happens to the hotels and the servers and the restaurants and the restaurant owners …” — can’t be disputed, said Schendler, Aspen Skiing Co.’s vice president of environmental sustainability.
Mount Baker’s management said the ski area, which often has bragging rights for some of the largest snowpack on the globe, would reopen with 6 to 12 inches of new snow.
For Schendler, the closure is a foreboding sign for ski towns. The Aspen area endured, without closing, a similar rut to Mount Baker’s earlier this year, he noted.
“We got a taste of it this year with six weeks of sunny, beautiful weather,” he said. “We had bookings drop.”
As Skico’s gatekeeper of environmental efforts, Schendler explained to county officials that his role isn’t always straightforward. For one, there’s the task of balancing company goals with environmental ones. The Winter X Games and snowmaking don’t exactly foster goodwill with the environmental community — or the environment, for that matter. But Skico also has taken steps forward by building such LEED-certified buildings as the Holiday House and the Sundeck, along with three others.
But none of that matters “if we’re not trying to solve the climate problem broadly,” Schendler said.
Schendler has written letters and op-eds for various news publications, including The Aspen Times. He also has found himself on the receiving end of criticism from some members of Aspen’s conservative block.
Schendler recently visited the office of Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton, both Colorado Republicans who serve in Washington, and “not my natural allies,” he said. “But we had very cordial conversations.”
He added, “I asked both (Gardner and Tipton’s) staffers, ‘Are you hearing from your constituents? (about climate change)’ And the answer was ‘no.’”
But they should be, Schendler said.
Schendler told county officials that such grassroots movements as writing to elected officials wield more influence than “sexy technology or innovative social messages.”
And Aspen must use its leverage — “We have influence, we have reach and we have fame” — to promote a “message of action,” he said.
That message, Schendler continued, doesn’t need to be driven home with those who are addressing climate change. Rather, it’s the ones who aren’t. But, noted County Commissioner Rachel Richards, that often comes at the expense of people who might “basically laugh in your face.”
Likewise, Commissioner Michael Owsley wondered how Schendler thinks the climate-change message will alter the mindsets in China, India or Indonesia.
Yet Schendler said he remains optimistic.
“There’s a conversation going on, and we’re breaking past that,” he said. “Maybe in rural Colorado that won’t change, but we don’t need anyone.”
His optimism, however, was tempered by his statement that “I think it’s fair and possible that we’ll fail.”
Even so, he said, the battle cry must continue.
“We’re probably not going to solve this problem. … But it’s good practice to try.”
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