Think of this next time you hit the ski slopes | AspenTimes.com

Think of this next time you hit the ski slopes

Next time you head up Aspen Mountain to enjoy the pure, white powder and crystal-clear air, consider this: every time you hit the slopes, you’re responsible for pumping 52 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

That’s the equivalent of driving 50 miles in a vehicle that gets about 20 mpg.

That assessment of a skier’s impact isn’t a wild rant by some rabid environmental group. It comes from the Aspen Skiing Co. itself.

In its third annual Sustainability Report, the Skico takes a stab at estimating how much CO2 it produces through its various operations.

In other words, it evaluates the amount of greenhouse gases that are produced by running the chairlifts, powering the grooming machines, making snow and undertaking the other operations needed to run Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk.

The intent wasn’t to make people feel guilty when they hit the slopes. That would be the equivalent of corporate suicide.

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“We don’t want people running around the world feeling terrible,” said Auden Schendler, Skico director of environmental affairs. “The report is helpful in that it will make people aware of the impacts of their actions.”

@ATD Sub heds:How Skico arrived at the figure

@ATD body copy: For its study, the Skico calculated how much CO2 was produced during the 2001-02 season in categories such as fuel burning, snowmaking, electricity consumption, municipal water use, natural gas and propane use.

It found that its operations ? which included The Little Nell hotel and Snowmass Club ? were responsible for creating 33,297 tons of CO2 last season.

The Skico then divided its 1,268,706 skier visits into the 33,297 tons to conclude that .026 tons were emitted per skier visit. That’s about 52 pounds per visit.

“I salute their honesty in saying what the hell are the impacts,” said Randy Udall, an energy efficiency expert and director of the Aspen-based Community Office for Resource Efficiency.

However, he believes the Skico was too tough on itself. A more accurate reflection of greenhouse gases produced to get skiers and riders up and down the mountain would be determined by calculating the amount of electricity needed to run the lifts and dividing by skier visits, Udall said.

Electricity usage at the four ski areas is responsible for half of the Skico’s CO2 emissions, the Sustainability Report shows. About 26 pounds of CO2 are emitted per skier visit in electricity use alone.

@ATD Sub heds:Eco-tourism? Oxymoron!

@ATD body copy: Udall said the ski industry shouldn’t get a black eye due to the light shed on greenhouse gas production by the Skico. “It’s not that skiing is bad,” he said.

In fact, skiing for a day is no worse ? in terms of CO2 produced ? than driving to Denver for a Broncos football game or driving to the mall in Grand Junction, according to Udall.

“Two people driving roundtrip from Aspen to Glenwood Springs to soak in the hot springs pool in a typical car would be about 45 pounds of CO2 per person, not counting whatever electricity they use to operate the pool,” he said.

And Udall is particularly tickled by the concept of eco-tourism, which is portrayed as having no environmental damage. Flying to Nepal for two weeks of trekking has a huge effect in terms of CO2 production, he noted.

To offset the CO2 production, a person could plant trees. A tree removes about 45 pounds of CO2 annually on average over 40 years, said Udall, citing figures from the nonprofit advocacy group American Forests.

So over 40 years, a tree would remove about the same amount of CO2 produced by a person who hit the slopes 35 times last season.

@ATD Sub heds:Pressuring itself

@ATD body copy: The Skico’s CO2 production per skier visit dropped from 60 pounds during the 2000-01 season to 52 pounds last season, but it doesn’t really represent a meaningful decline, said Skico’s Schendler.

The annual figure is a crap shoot because snowmaking varies so widely from year to year. Where the Skico can make improvements in bringing that figure down is through the purchase of wind power from the local power supplier, he said.

The Skico increased its wind power purchases from 2 percent to 6 percent. Therefore, its CO2 production from electricity usage should decline this season.

Schendler said the key to reducing production of greenhouse gases isn’t getting “Joe Blow to change his ways,” it’s getting government and industry to usher in systemic changes.

By producing an annual Sustainability Report, he believes the Skico is a ski industry leader in putting pressure on itself to try to do better.

Udall agrees. “I salute the Skico for publishing honest numbers and for beginning to wrestle with their implications. More of us should do likewise,” he said.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

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