Mountain News: 

Aspen defends environmental stance

By Allen Best

ASPEN, Colo. – The Aspen Skiing Co. is building a major real-estate project at the base of Snowmass. It continues to expand ski terrain at Snowmass. And, on top of all this, its top executives have spent most of the last year driving around in hulking SUVs.

It would seem that any other ski company would get raked over the coals for that kind of track record. Certainly, Vail has. And even Crested Butte has been flunked in one ski-area report card for even thinking about real estate and ski area expansion.

Yet Aspen gets straight A’s in that same ski area report card. It has been lauded regionally and even nationally for efforts to combat global warming. And the ski company just launched an advertising campaign that seeks to draw attention to global warming — and in the process encourages people to visit Aspen, because Aspen is trying to stop it.

Mutterings of hypocricy have circulated for several years in the Roaring Fork Valley, where Aspen is located, but recently they erupted into print. Leading the charge was Roger Marolt, a typically brash columnist in The Aspen Times.

He capped his column with what is, in Aspen, the ultimate insult: Comparing Aspen Skiing unfavorably with Vail Resorts, which has now purchased a much larger quantity of wind-power electricity. “Is Vail greener than Aspen?” he asked tartly.

This debate points toward the ultimate question for all ski resorts who want to be seen as environmentally benign while catering to the world’s wealthiest people: How can you truly be a tree-hugging environmentalist when most of your customers arrive in jets, even private jets. Jets are singularly the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in Aspen’s economy.

In a coincidentally timed “sustainability” report that had been in preparation for four months, Aspen chief executive officer Pat O’Donnell acknowledged the inconsistencies as being the “elephant in the room,” both within the company and the community more broadly.

The use of the gas-hog SUVs, he explained, was the result of “bad judgment.” The company has a sponsorship deal with Nissan, which provided 12 vehicles for which it was seeking exposure. Among the freebies was Nissan’s largest SUV, the Armada. A website, www.fueleconomy.gov , reports the Armada gets 13 miles per gallon in city driving and ranks the vehicle as among the worst in emitting greenhouse gases.

Five months ago, Aspen Skiing informed Nissan that contract or not, the Armadas could not be used. Nissan agreed, and is instead providing the smaller Pathfinders.

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