Paul Andersen: A base village for Tourtelotte Park? | AspenTimes.com

Paul Andersen: A base village for Tourtelotte Park?

Aspen skiers may now take comfort in the fact that the Silver Queen gondola is being run on wind-powered electricity. The Aspen Skiing Co. is paying extra for this clean, renewable source of electricity, broadening its environmental commitment and projecting a pragmatic view of the future.

Given a recent news story about the meltdown of glaciers in Glacier Park, where global warming is doing away with ice faster than a snow-melt patio in Aspen, the Skico’s timing is good. According to predictions, the glaciers of Glacier Park will be history in about 30 years.

“Study: Global warming will dry up the West,” stated a headline last week. A following article predicted that water will become an acutely critical issue as our hothouse atmosphere evaporates more of the West’s dwindling water reserves.

Time Magazine recently reported that the glaciers of Bolivia are melting so rapidly that water supplies for Andean communities are gravely threatened. Recession rates of 10 yards a year are being reported on centuries-old glaciers that are soon to fade into memory.

As the Skico knows, global warming is making a difference on our ski mountains. If this November feels mild and the early season snowpack seems tenuous, that’s because they are. Springlike skiing on Aspen Mountain last week was indicative of climate change that everybody can feel.

Naysayers who deny global warming pass off the verified upward trend in global temperature to “natural cycles.” Denial is perhaps the greatest human defense for unwanted truths ? the ultimate head-in-the-sand ostrich behavior ? and the American people have been in this posture for some time.

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In a recent study of the Greenland ice cap, researchers found hard proof that increasing levels of lead have been introduced into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution. Logic indicates that if lead from American and Canadian industries has reached Greenland, then carbon monoxide ? the greenhouse gas ? is more widespread still.

The Skico knows full well that if global warming matches predictions, skiing in Colorado below 10,000 feet will become sketchy in the near future. Buying wind power won’t stop the warming trend, but the Skico is doing what it can to alleviate its impact.

Aspen Skiing Co. President Pat O’Donnell described his concerns about global warming in a letter to President George W. Bush, dated June 13, 2001:

“As President/CEO of one of the largest ski resorts in the United States, I am particularly concerned about the potential effects of climate change on our business. The best scientific studies available suggest that resort skiing in Colorado will virtually disappear by the year 2100. This would be catastrophic for Colorado’s economy and for the tens of thousands of employees who depend on this industry for their livelihood.”

It is frightening that O’Donnell would write such a letter, and more frightening still considering the recipient. The Bush administration is no cheerleader for the environment. Just the opposite; denial and corporate self-interest are the prevailing policies in the Oval Office.

Aspen’s wind-powered chairlift is not the first clean, renewable chairlift on Aspen Mountain. Until 1958, all ski lifts on Aspen Mountain were powered by clean, renewable hydroelectric power that came from the Castle Creek hydroelectric plant, now a city shop.

The plant, built in 1893, utilized gravity water flow from Castle, Maroon and Hunter creeks in a remarkable system of flumes and pipelines. The water pressure drove pelton wheels attached to generators that furnished all of Aspen’s electricity needs until a shortsighted city council dismantled the plant for scrap in favor of slightly cheaper electricity from the Western power grid.

Aspen is still an exemplary energy user, thanks to its progressive municipal electric utility. Today, 55 percent of Aspen’s electricity comes from wind and water power. The wind power is generated in Nebraska and Wyoming, and the water power comes from dams on the Frying Pan River, Maroon Creek and on the Gunnison and Colorado rivers.

More than a third of Aspen’s total energy comes from local hydro plants on Maroon Creek (5.4 percent) and at Ruedi Reservoir (31.5 percent). Aspen utilizes the highest share of wind power of any city its size in the U.S., and still the global meltdown may eventually wipe out our ski economy.

[Paul Andersen wonders when Intrawest will design a new base village for Tourtelotte Park. His column appears every Monday.]

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