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Paul Andersen: POW is not enough to save Aspen winters

Paul Andersen
Fair Game

Snowmaking machines don’t make snow; they make ice. Only nature can produce the beautiful crystalline snowflakes we equate with winter. Man-made ice is no substitute for the real thing.

Yet, many think we have it under control, that technology is a cure-all for the ills technology has spread throughout the natural world. Climate change is not a pressing issue for those with a faith-based belief that the fixes of science can ameliorate trouble in the biosphere.

Meanwhile, New Year’s resolutions are trending toward battling climate change as science reveals that fixes are desperately needed. A report last week from Aspen Journalism shows that Aspen is warming significantly.

“Pitkin County’s average temperature has been rising at a rate of 0.4 degrees per decade since 1950, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In 2018, the average temperature throughout the year in Pitkin County was 39.5 degrees — 2.9 degrees warmer than the mean temperature during the baseline period of 1950-75.”

That’s why Aspen Skiing Co. is raising funds for climate activism through the “Give A Flake Sale,” which raised over $100,000 in two years. Funds go to the Protect Our Winters (POW) Action Fund, “a PAC targeting key elections in swing states, and the presidency, to ensure the election of climate leaders.”

Funds come from a share of lift tickets, group lessons and rentals. The goal “is actively turning visitors into an engaged electorate for climate action,” announced Skico, which dresses up employee uniforms with the POW logo.

According to Skico, “The POW Action Fund works to make action on climate change a top policy priority for the outdoor sports community, help elect climate champions and hold accountable those who question the science of climate change. The fund provides outdoor enthusiasts with the tools to take action on climate change, including electing leaders who understand the relationship between climate and outdoor recreation.”

This is an ambitious claim for a company that promotes X Games snowmobile races under banks of blinding lights in a city where profligate monster homes are served by a large fleet of private jets. One day, legitimate activists of the POW fund may rightfully contest the very source of their funding.

Climate is crucial to our ski economy and lifestyle, as Aspen Journalism reports: “More dramatic changes are happening in the cold-season months. Temperatures are rising almost half a degree per decade between November and April, compared with about one-quarter of a degree the other half of the year.

“March is by far the fastest-warming month, heating up at a rate of 1 degree per decade since the 1950s. The average temperature of 34.4 degrees in March 2017, when Aspen hosted the World Cup ski racing finals, was a record 9.4 degrees higher than the 1950-75 baseline temperature.”

Climate change does not respect the Aspen bubble. No amount of prestige will ward off a warming world from iconic ski mountains. Snow guns and ice crystals from precious water resources offer some assurance against the inevitable, and even moreso do alpine slides, which require no snow at all.

The POW Fund is a great concept, but it is cognitively dissonant with Aspen as a no-limits consumer cornucopia with gridlock on Main Street, jets roaring in and out of the Aspen airport, and conspicuously consuming homes gulping resources, whether occupied or empty.

A climate researcher quoted by Aspen Journalism warned that warming trends and a diminishing Colorado snowpack may “look a little threatening to the local lifestyle.” That lifestyle is being gambled away with conspicuous consumption and vainglorious hopes for a quick techno fix to climate change without fundamental changes in consumer habits.

“Under these (warming) scenarios,” a Skico spokesman told Aspen Journalism, “some of our seasons are shortened and our terrain could be reduced. We would be in download situations more frequently. We would build and concentrate snowmaking at higher elevations. We might have more hike-to or hike-out terrain. We would build lifts to access areas that have more consistent snowpack.”

Never mind tempering consumer excess and replacing material expectations with loftier rewards. Aspen is like an obese person sipping SlimFast while noshing a cheeseburger.

Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at andersen@rof.net.


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