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Mountain News: ‘Green guy’ says change is difficult

ASPEN, Colo. – By the measure of most environmental activists, Auden Schendler has a dream job. He’s the executive director for community and environmental responsibility at the Aspen Skiing Co.

ASPEN, Colo. – By the measure of most environmental activists, Auden Schendler has a dream job. He’s the executive director for community and environmental responsibility at the Aspen Skiing Co. He seems to have the strong support of the company’s owners, the Crown family of Chicago, and corporate executives, who have been frequently honored in recent years for Aspen’s work in confronting energy use.

In fact, largely because of Schendler’s efforts as a crusader confronting greenhouse gas emissions, Aspen has become known in the ski industry as the leading advocate for change.

But a profile of Schendler in a cover story by Business Week, headlined “Little Green Lies”, paints a picture of deep dissatisfaction. “I’ve succeeded in doing a lot of sexy projects yet utterly failed in what I set out to do,” he told the magazine. “How do you really green your company? It’s almost… impossible.”

He has done lots of interesting, cutting-edge things. Eight years ago, when he took the job, he got the incandescent light bulbs in hotel parking garages swapped out with compact fluorescents. It was a struggle, because of the higher initial cost, despite the substantially lower long-term operating costs. He notes he needed to get a $5,000 grant from a local non-profit — this in a company that does $200 million in revenues.

In 2003, he got a micro-hydro plant installed at Snowmass, to create electricity using snowmaking equipment during the months of high runoff. That electricity gained eliminates the need for some electricity produced by burning coal.

More recently, he got Aspen to buy wind-energy credits, one of the first in the ski industry to do so. Dozens of ski area operators have since followed in the steps of Aspen’s claim being 100 per cent wind-powered.

But lately, he’s been dubious of the legitimacy of the wind energy credits. He’s having a hard time finding evidence that the purchases are actually causing new wind farms to be built.

This has caused Schendler to backtrack on his claims for Aspen — and some of his co-workers to get very annoyed with him. “You are confusing to the point of complete exhaustion,” wrote one.

Another co-worker, John Norton, who is now at Crested Butte, says he admired Schendler, even if he didn’t necessarily agree with his full agenda.

“We were trying to run a very complex set of businesses — four ski areas, three hotels, two athletic complexes, and a golf course — but Auden never let us forget that he belonged in the family portrait,” Norton told the magazine. “Usually he elbowed in with good humor, but also sometimes with the grim single-mindedness that’s the mantle of a true believer.”

Schendler’s take-home message is that even at Aspen, greening up the business has been very difficult. Imagine how tough it must be in a normal business, he says. “So let's be realistic about the level of change needed and how we might get there."


Aspen needs to pick up pace

ROARING FORK VALLEY, Colo. – Randy Udall, who has been at the forefront of the debate about energy in Colorado, has left the Community Office of Resource Efficiency after 13 years as its director.

The group is dedicated to promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy.

But in leaving, he’s telling Aspen that it’s time to step up the efforts.

“We are on the cusp of change in this country, and things will change dramatically over the coming 10 years,” he said recently in meeting with the Aspen City Council. “We need to get ready in this valley, and we are not ready today.”

Aspen city officials two years ago also launched a program called the Canary Initiative. The city council earlier this year adopted the goal of reducing Aspen’s carbon emissions 20 per cent by 2020, and 80 per cent by 2050.

“It’s clear we’re not going to reach those goals unless we dramatically scale up our efforts,” he said.

CORE is now embarking on a broader, more regional effort, to promote energy efficiency and conservation down-valley to Rifle, where many of Aspen’s workers live, and possibly eastward along the I-70 corridor toward Vail.

Gary Goodson, who has replaced Udall, emphasizes localizing food, energy and even building materials.

Goodson acknowledges that Aspen can look hypocritical given its continued dependence upon visitors who travel on jets and ride chairlifts. But he takes a pragmatic approach.

“We operate in the world as it is right now,” he said. “We don’t want the perfect to become an enemy of the good. People are going to ski, and they’re going to travel long distances. Why not give them a place where they can do less damage and celebrate? A place that maybe imparts a lesson or two.”

Added Goodson: “You can’t get too far ahead of people. We can’t be a voice in the wilderness.


Landlord sees upside

REVELSTOKE, B.C. – There has been great angst in Revelstoke this year about the rapidly tightening housing market. But there’s a silver lining for Ike Pannu. He owns 116 apartments in Revelstoke, and he reports that formerly troublesome tenants are starting to behave. “For the first time we are seeing stable renters who don’t abuse the property or leave without paying their last month’s rent,” he told the Revelstoke Times Review. “They know they can’t find another place to rent.”


Little Bighorn warriors honoured

CANMORE, Alberta – Most newspapers make a point of honouring war veterans on Nov. 11, called Veterans Day in the United States and Remembrance Day in Canada. Usually the stories are about veterans of the world wars, or possibly the Korean action. But the Rocky Mountain Outlook this year carried an unusual story, about the six locals who went off to help Sitting Bull fend off Custer in the Battle of the Little Bighorn in June, 1876.

“We are proud of them now,” says Wilfred Fox, an elder of the Nakoda, a First Nations group from the Banff-Calgary area. “They were protecting their land. They were protecting their food supply (bison).”

One of those veterans was a short man who stood only 4-foot-10, named Little Big Man. That is the name of the chief character in the 1970 movie staring Dustin Hoffman, which was filmed in part near Morely, a town between Calgary and Banff. A grandson of Little Big Man died fighting the German Army in France in 1944.


Is it too late to emulate Lech?

LECH, Austria – For a model of how to do it right as a mountain resort, you could do worse than Lech, located in the Arlberg region of Austria. Dave Riley, chief executive officer of Telluride Ski and Golf, notes that Austria’s first ski lift opened at nearby Zurs in 1936.

In trying to preserve a balance between the economic goals and the beauty of the natural environment, Lech focuses on high-end lodging properties, but also decreed that no second-home ownership would be permitted.

He also notes that Lech installed a biomass heating plant to reduce air pollution. Local biomass is transported from a conveyor system directly to a biomass oven, where it is heated to 1,100 degrees C and distributed as warm water in pipes to 90 per cent of the hotels, households and other buildings in the village.

“While I’m sure Lech has its issues,” says Riley, writing in The Telluride Watch, “it appears they may have found a model which drives environmental protection, economic prosperity, and cultural stability — without sprawl.”


Limited pot use approved

HAILEY, Idaho – Voters in Hailey, located down-valley from Sun Valley, on Nov. 6 approved three measures to decriminalize marijuana.

Proposals to legalize industrial use of hemp and medical use of marijuana passed by modestly wide margins, and a proposal to make enforcement of marijuana laws the lowest police priority passed by a more narrow margin.

However, voters denied a proposal that would have legalized marijuana altogether, by regulating and taxing its sale.

The election results come three years after an activist named Ryan Davidson tried to initiate petitions for legalization to the cities of Hailey, Sun Valley and Ketchum. But all three municipalities denied his petitions. He sued, and won. The Idaho Supreme Court last year ruled that the towns did not have the right to determine the constitutionality of proposed initiatives.

He hopes to take similar measures before voters in Ketchum and Sun Valley next year.


Aspen to restore hydro plant

ASPEN, Colo. – By a wide margin, voters in Aspen last week agreed to a $4 million bond issue to pay for restoration of a hydroelectric plant on Castle Creek, which flows through the town. The plant operated from 1892 to 1958. The plant is being restored partly to lessen the town’s reliance on electricity from coal-generated power plants.


Aspen created in Utah HEBER CITY, Utah – A developer from Park City says he intends to develop a skiing-based resort near Heber, located south of Park City. His name for it: Aspen. The developer, Dean Seller, told the Deseret Morning News that he owns 5,700 acres of the 8,366-acre property, which has mostly been used for grazing. Speaking with the Associated Press, he said he has the resources to build the ski town from scratch, with the backing of investors he declined to identify. His experience was as a developer in Arizona for 37 years.


Taos gets snowmaking upgrade

TAOS, N.M. – Taos seems to be a place of extremes. Winters are either epic or no-snow affairs. Accordingly, the big change over the summer at Taos Ski Valley was the upgrading of snowmaking, with the hope that it will keep the bulk of the mountain’s intermediate terrain covered.

Of course, snowmaking requires cold, and there hasn’t been all that much in New Mexico, notes the Taos News.

Still, it’s not even Thanksgiving. “We all panic that we’re not going to open,” Taos spokeswoman Adriana Blake said. “And then we do.”


Winter Park still building

WINTER PARK, Colo. – The drought year of 2002 provoked a great many concerns in Winter Park about whether there was sufficient water to meet the needs of all the real estate that was being contemplated. The town council has decided there is at least enough to allow another 138 units to be built in a project called Lakota. Still in the works, reports the Sky-Hi Daily, is a pumpback from lower down in the town, to ensure minimum stream flows through the town. Meanwhile, Intrawest continues its major buildup of real estate at the base of the ski area.


New Sierra ski resort opposed

WESTWOOD, Calif. – Three environmental groups have filed suit to stop development of a major ski- and golf-anchored resort near the small town of Westwood, which is located in the Sierra Nevada near Lassen National Park. This is about two hours from either Reno or Sacramento.

The groups — the Mountain Meadows Conservancy, Sierra Watch, and a branch of the Sierra Club — claim that the governing jurisdiction, Lassen County, failed to provide sufficiently detailed analysis of the impacts caused by the resort, when it was approved. The resort would include 4,000 housing units, three golf courses, and a ski resort. It is being called the Dyer Mountain Four Seasons Resort.

Steve Frisch, president of the Sierra Business Council, questions the location.

“The reality is the northern Sierra will be severely affected by climate change with reduced snowpack and early runoff, so putting a new resort at 6,000 feet and calling it viable is a little difficult to believe,” he told the Sierra Sun.

Meanwhile, the development partners are recapitalizing. They tell the Sun that they have a potential dozen investors. Sara Duryea, one of the three managers, said she and her partner have almost 47 million invested in the project.

It will, she said, be the only master-planned community in the Sierra. “We get to see what’s happened in Tahoe and learn from the mistakes of others,” she said.


Real estate parade continues

ASPEN, Colo. – Despite the real estate meltdown elsewhere in the country, it’s the same-old, same-old in Aspen. Citing research from the Land Title Guarantee Co., the Aspen Times reports that real estate sales this year have topped $2 billion in Pitkin County. The number of transactions was down 30 per cent, but the dollar volume through September was up 8.7 per cent. This will be the third straight year that Pitkin County has exceeded $2 billion in real estate sales.

Meanwhile, downvalley in Garfield County and the communities of Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and Rifle, sales dollar volume is 27 per cent higher than last year. However, the market cooled during the summer. Those communities offer lower-cost — but not necessarily cheap — housing, and are in demand from those both engaged in the resort and real estate economy, and those in the oil-and-natural gas economy of Northwestern Colorado.


Smoking banned

SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo. –The smoking ban in Snowmass Village, already in existence for all indoor public spaces, has been extended to all outdoor public land. As such, smoking will be prohibited in lift lines, at music concerts, and on the mall.

“Some 3,800 people will die next year due to second-hand smoke,” said Councilman John Wilkinson. The Aspen Times reports there was only one dissension in the council vote.


Blind moose put down

PARK CITY, Utah – Wildlife agents “put down” a moose that had been wandering around Park City, apparently too blind to find food. Rick Ryan, a police captain, says the moose bumped into cars and houses. The animal was young, but moose are vulnerable to several sorts of diseases and infections.


Denver airport ready for snow

DENVER, Colo. – Denver is spending $31 million in an effort to preclude anything remotely resembling the 45-hour closing of its airport just before Christmas last year.

Among the acquisitions, reports Denver’s Rocky Mountain News, is a new type of machine, a snowmelter, which is said to be more efficient than plows because the snow doesn’t have to be hauled away. In addition to new equipment, snow-removal crews have been augmented, and software has been improved to allow travel plans to be more easily modified.

Altogether, airlines had to cancel 4,000 flights in and out of Denver during last winter’s shutdowns. United Airlines said it lost $40 million in revenue because of storms in Denver and, to a lesser extent, Chicago. Frontier lost $16 million.

More than 40 per cent of the overall traffic at DIA comes from connecting passengers, such as in flights to Aspen, Steamboat, and Jackson Hole. Denver is now concerned that some of the fly-through business could be diverted to Dallas and other airports.

Denver officials had bragged that the airport could operate in anything short of a total whiteout. Money to upgrade snow removal, however, formerly was diverted by concerns about terrorism in the wake of the 9/11.


‘Normal’ oxygen levels studied STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – A study being done at Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs and other hospitals seeks to determine exactly how much oxygen is needed by newborns.

After neonatal nurse practitioner Tracie Line began working seven years ago in Steamboat Springs, she noticed many newborns were being sent home with supplemental oxygen.

“I previously worked at sea level, where home oxygen use was not as common. My question was, ‘What is normal at this altitude?’”

The elevation of Steamboat is about 6,800 feet. Researching past studies, she found studies at 5,280 feet and below. She found studies at higher locations, including Colorado’s Frisco and Leadville, 9,000 and 10,200 feet respectively, as well as from higher yet, in Peru and Tibet. But she found no studies from the middle-elevation band of 5,000 to 9,000 feet, where many of the resorts in the West are located.

After talking to researchers, she finally lined up Dr. Patricia Ravert, a nursing educator at Brigham Young University, in Provo, Utah. She has contacted hospitals in Aspen and Vail, and invites interest from other mountain town hospitals.

“We cannot run a research study by ourselves at our little hospital,” Line told the Steamboat Pilot & Today. “But we can participate, and I am inviting hospitals in other Colorado mountain towns to join the study.”

The research involves testing healthy newborns, to find out what the baby’s oxygen saturation is. So far, 35 parents have consented to the testing, although data from about 500 babies will be needed.

The end result will be a better standard for differentiating between “well” babies and those who require special care during their first few hours, days, or weeks of life. And by knowing that, doctors and nurses may learn if they can reduce the number of tests and treatments.

“This could have an impact on all babies born in the Rocky Mountain West, and at similar altitudes around the world,” said Line.