Skico’s snowmobile proposal is loaded with irony |

Skico’s snowmobile proposal is loaded with irony

Aspen Times Staff Report

A pair of headlines in The Aspen Times this week represented a remarkably ironic set of circumstances, having to do with the Aspen Skiing Co.’s reputation as an industry leader in environmental consciousness.

On Thursday, local readers learned that the Skico recently ranked among the best in the West in terms of its environmental record, according to an independent group of “green” organizations.

That means the Skico (at least in the last three years, according to the scorecard) has one of the best records in the region for doing business in an eco-friendly fashion.

And, indeed, this newspaper has trumpeted the Skico’s “green” accomplishments more than once in recent times, doing our best to give credit where credit is due.

The irony, however, was that only one day before the news came out about the Skico’s environmental record the company was pushing forward a proposal to start a snowmobile tour operation at Snowmass Ski Area. The highlight of each tour is planned to be a stop at the wildlife center at the top of the Elk Camp area.

Any increase in the use of snowmobiles for recreation naturally raises the eyebrows of environmental activists, and as such, this proposal might have changed the Skico’s grade in the environmental scorecards. But, since the scorecards came out before news of the proposal, we take it as our responsibility to address the matter.

To be sure, snowmobiles already are used at Snowmass by Skico crews for a variety of tasks, and the noise and stink of the machines does not cause undue stress among the skiers.

But in the evening, when everyone is winding down and hoping to relax, the whine and clatter of snowmobiles charging up the hill may not be the most welcome sound.

On top of that, there is the fact that snowmobiles are notoriously wasteful in their use of petrochemicals, both in terms of what they consume and what is spewed into the atmosphere. Recent studies have gone so far as to suggest that they be banned because the residue from their exhaust and leakages are having measurable environmental impacts.

Then there is the plan to stop by the wildlife center for a “nature talk.”

Imagine the scene: the sun is setting on a day of hectic activity on the mountain, and the local nocturnal wildlife is finally feeling confident enough to come out of its holes and hollows and get to the business of survival. Suddenly, the quiet is shattered by the drone of a dozen approaching snowmobiles, and the animals scurry for safety once again.

This not only interrupts the animals’ cycles of behavior, it undoubtedly adds to their level of stress – a good subject for any nature talk.

Once again, it must be conceded that Snow Cats groom the mountain every night. But it is certainly arguable that the larger machines are actually less disruptive than snowmobiles, at least as far as wildlife is concerned.

Would not a far more appropriate outing be to take a group of cross-country skiers on a short jaunt to a location lower on the mountain? In that way the customers can at least have the chance of actually seeing some wildlife in its natural habitat, rather than being satisfied with a talk by a Skico employee about what they would have seen if they hadn’t caused so much noise and stink.

The Skico’s interest in broadening its appeal to snow sliders of all kinds, in order to bring in more customers and make a better return, is certainly understandable.

But this particular proposal seems to fly in the face of environmental common sense, as well as the Skico’s apparent interest in being perceived as a good “green” neighbor. This is a rather dumb idea, as it is now formulated, and could certainly use a little more thought.

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