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December 25, 2006

Interesting Info on Aspen's Green Program

I wrote briefly about Vail and Aspen using Wind Credits to offset their power usage in September. I got an e-mail from Neal Dikeman from Cleantech Blog about an entry he had posted after visiting Aspen:

Then while taking a brief time out from skiing (I am not actually very good) I went in to drink coffee in the sunny lodge of the Sundeck Restaurant on Aspen Mountain. The first thing you notice walking through the front door (besides the massage chair, which I really needed after a day of skiing) is the plaque which bills the Sundeck as one of the first 10 LEEDs buildings in America. Details of the Sundeck Restaurant project here. The total cost was $9.8 mm, or an eye-popping $425/square foot (I assume driven partly by LEEDs requirements, and partly by the top of a ski resort location!). But the part I liked the most was the re-use of 86% of the materials from the previous Sundeck building. Because at the end of the day, despite all the advances in cleantech - the real answer to our energy issues is still the same - Reduce, Recycle, Reuse.

Aspen also fuels its snowcats with biodiesel, from Blue Sun Biodiesel. The best part is they actually publish on their website an interesting description of the impact of the biodiesel use: "In the winter of 2002, ASC experimented with an 80% diesel/20% biodiesel blend. Mechanics noticed that the fuel, which makes snowcat exhaust smell like french fries, radically reduced black tailpipe smoke and that the snowcats ran smoother, a result of biodiesel’s higher lubricity, a quality that also extends the life of mechanical components. Based on our testing, ASC has now switched its entire fleet of snowcats to biodiesel. The cost is about 20 cents more per gallon, a small cost to pay for benefits that include hydrocarbon emissions reductions of 20% and CO and particulate reductions of 10%. The one drawback is that biodiesel typically increases NOx emissions by 2%."

I really dig the move to biodiesel, but have a major problem as I wrote about in the previous article with Aspen paying their ticket clerks $9.25 an hour, yet being willing to pay that extra $.20 a gallon for biodiesel. Do the math on $9.25 an hour times 40 hours per week ($370 less taxes) times 4 weeks in a month ($1480 a month). And also keep in mind that most of these jobs are only part-time. It is a mixed bag for me. I am always one to say that before you worry about global issues, have your own house in order. That means pay your workers enough and have affordable housing for them before you save the world. But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't minimize your impact on our natural resources. It just means that I am not going to get all ga ga about being environmentally conscious until wages and housing are also addressed. But putting that aside for a moment, it is awesome that Aspen is reusing their old materials and using biodiesel and wind credits.

It is tough for me to be an "environmentalist" or think like the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club opposes snowmaking on the San Francisco Peaks at Snowbowl because it uses reclaimed water in Flagstaff, yet they also opposed Aspen using water from Snowmass Creek to make snow at Aspen. The environmental movement doesn't want skiing to exist (see AZ Snowbowl) or wants to stop things like snowmaking that allow the industry to exist. They have opposed expansion projects at Snowbasin and most other projects including the new Village at Wolf Creek that Colorado Wild and the Sierra Club oppose. In addition, the Sierra Club opposes nuclear power as an alternative to coal based power, saying, "Switching from dirty coal plants to dangerous nuclear power is like giving up smoking cigarettes and taking up crack." But that does not make them wrong about things like reuse and recycling. It does not make biodiesel less of a great idea. It does not make wind power a bad idea either. And Aspen doing these things is good for all of us.

I hope that the ski industry is able to adopt policies that allow for moderate expansion, upgrades, improvements, and growth so that we can get more people to enjoy the sport I love and enjoy the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. The biggest problem in skiing that I see is that due to the scarcity of resources and the high cost, the sport is unattainable for anyone but the upper middle class and above. Simple supply and demand dictates that if there are more lifts and more areas and more space, prices would be lower resulting in more skier visits. But this goes contrary to the exclusionist image that the industry wants. They want the sport to be more expensive and fewer people to be able to do it. I don't have all the answers, but I know this, the people working at resorts make next to nothing and your average middle class American cannot afford to ski because of the high prices, part of which results from lawsuits like the one at Arizona Snowbowl funded in part by the Sierra Club. Going green is great, but not at the cost of worker wages and housing and not at the cost of making the sport even more exclusionary with higher and higher prices.

Posted by Justin at December 25, 2006 09:20 PM


Justin, good points you make. At Breckenridge, there are bunches of jobs which are filled by H2B visa folks. Lots from Argentina,Brazil. I guess they don't mind earning $9/hr and get cheap housing. Free Trade, sure whatever.

I am glad that Vail Resorts is going the wind power route for electricity. And I would love to see Breckenridge Resort stretch all the way down to Peak 1. It won't work for Vail unless they are allowed to develop the base of every peak though.

And as for upper class only, $350 for a season pass to Keystone, Arapahoe, Breck, and 10-days at BC and Vail. A bargain, even for the middle class. Nevermind the 4 hr commute home on Sunday afternoon, $2+ gas, and $8 hamburgers. Heck, even they spend $4 on a latte.

Cynical perhaps. But keeping it real.

Keep up the great posts,

Posted by: Jon at December 26, 2006 08:49 PM

Ah, the Colorado Pass of which he speaks and of which I pimp. =) Problem is that the CO pass is really only for CO residents. I got one and for five days if skiing, it pays for itself. Utah has no such pass. And that really sucks for a family of 14 in UT (cheap shot at our Mormon friends there).

Twenty years ago, working at a resort was not a "good paying" profession, but land prices and food prices at the resort had not gone out of sight to the point that your average ski instructor could not afford to live, eat, have a vehicle, and possibly pay rent. Now there are no more ski instructors that are locals and instead, we have to import most of the labor at the resorts. The folks that work at the resorts don't get to spend much time on the slopes unless they instruct or are ski patrol because they are so busy working just to pay rent.

I spent all day instructing with two buddies from PHX. I would love nothing more than to instruct part time. I would make $6.50 an hour here at Brian Head plus get a free season pass. That is a bargain considering my pass cost me $250 for the year. I mean, $6.50 an hour (welcome to Brian Head) times 8 hours, that is almost $40 after taxes for giving up a ski day. If they paid $10-15 per hour, I would instruct two days a week at Brian Head. But come on. $6.50 an hour? That is less than most McDonalds have to pay. Hence why Aspen has to import a huge portion of their labor. BUT THEIR H1B EMPLOYEES get to ride in snowcats powered by biodiesel. =)

Posted by: Anonymous at December 27, 2006 10:27 PM