Skico’s environmental branch influenced snowmobiling plan |

Skico’s environmental branch influenced snowmobiling plan

Jeremy Heiman

Aspen Skiing Co.’s decision to withdraw its application to operate snowmobile tours was heavily influenced by a local environmental committee organized by the company, officials say.

The Skico announced it was withdrawing the application Friday after the group pointed out that the plan was inconsistent with the company’s move toward environmental consciousness. The company needed permission from the U.S. Forest Service and the town of Snowmass Village to start the tours.

The Skico’s Community Environmental Advisory Committee is about one year old. Auden Schendler, the Skico’s environmental affairs director, convened a meeting of the group on Dec. 13, after the Skico’s snowmobile plans were made public.

Members of the committee voiced several objections to the proposal, said Pitkin County wildlife biologist Jonathan Lowsky, a member of the group. But the members spoke in unison when they pointed out that the snowmobiling proposal is inconsistent with the company’s efforts to work with the community and to become environmentally conscious.

Schendler said the company’s managers were influenced by the group’s message.

“Following the meeting, we talked extensively with senior management, and they decided to pull the project,” he said.

“They took our concerns to heart,” said Jack Hatfield, a Snowmass Village town councilman and a member of the committee. “The Skico deserves a compliment, because they are demonstrating they are sensitive to the concerns of the community.

“It was an important statement by the Skico that they want to be consistent with the values they profess.”

The company’s failure to consult the committee before the plans were submitted was apparently inconsistent with company policy, which calls for a review of any significant proposal.

“In this case, we dropped the ball,” Schendler said.

Skico spokeswoman Rose Abello said the decision to withdraw the application was a group decision by company executives, but the call was ultimately made by President and CEO Pat O’Donnell.

“I commend our management for taking a second look at this,” Abello said. “We just got more information and perspective after the application was submitted.”

Lowsky said he and other members of the group commented that night snowmobile tours would have negative effects on wildlife on the mountain. Others noted that recent scientific work has determined that pollutants from snowmobile exhaust is deposited in snow and can pollute streams as the snow melts.

The company intended to begin the tours with snowmobiles already in their stable. Those two-cycle machines produce several times as much pollution as experimental four-cycle snowmobiles that the company is considering purchasing.

The Skico proposed to operate one tour per evening, perhaps two to three evenings a week, with two guides and 12 guests driving snowmobiles. The tours would have traveled uphill starting about 5:30.

The proposal had snowmobilers stopping for refreshments and an instructional talk on wildlife at the wildlife center near the top of the Elk Camp lift, and returning to Fanny Hill by 8 p.m.

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