The answer is blowing in the wind
When it comes to being environmentally friendly, Aspen is often perceived as the precocious golden child of the ski industry, while Vail is viewed as the class clown.Vail Resorts has spent the four years since it was victimized by the worst eco-terrorist attacks in United States history trying to convince skiers that it isn’t the big, bad wolf the green community says it is.Vail’s four Colorado ski resorts, since the Two Elk arson attack of 1998, have embarked on ambitious programs of recycling, energy efficiency, reduction of water usage and the purchase of renewable energy and related technology. But its reputation as an enviro-bully persists. So what’s a misunderstood mega-resort to do?The answer may be blowing in the wind. Vail officials recently announced a bid to build a small wind farm atop Vail Mountain that would actually put electricity back into the power grid and could generate enough energy to power two or three chairlifts.”People don’t think of Vail as an environmental place, but we do things that we don’t publicize,” says Luke Cartin, environmental coordinator for Vail. “In my mind, this is a huge benchmark; this is taking a whole new step up in the chain. We support renewable energy by making our own.”Vail is seeking Forest Service approval to erect four 100-kilowatt wind generators on Ptarmigan Ridge at the western edge of Vail Mountain. Pending approval and the resort coming up with between $400,000 and $500,000 to fund the project, Cartin hopes to have the farm up and running by the summer of 2004.”I view this as the beginning of a whole new thing for ski areas,” Cartin says. “We’re such users of power; why not start generating our own, because we’re usually built in such windy places?”Aspen Skiing Company generated quite a bit of publicity earlier this ski season by announcing it had partnered with a coalition of groups including Holy Cross Energy to raise the money to purchase enough wind-power to run its gondola all season and power its World Cup ski races, the 24 Hours of Aspen race and the upcoming Winter X Games.The Aspen group is buying most of its juice from a wind farm north of Greeley, and now claims that 6 percent of the power the company uses comes from the wind and that the next-best user of wind power, Vail, is at about 1 percent. But Vail’s Cartin says buying it and producing it are two very different things.”We buy a ton of wind power already, and we figured, why not just take this to the next level and produce our own?” Cartin says. “You can buy all you want, but why not back up your words with action.”Aspen officials are dubious of Vail’s efforts to go into the wind-farming business.”I was blown away by this, and frankly I didn’t quite get it,” says Auden Schendler, Aspen’s director of environmental affairs. “The payback is marginal compared to, say, energy efficiency ….”But that said, I think we should give credit where credit is due. if Vail pulls this off, how can we perceive it as anything but a genuine sustainability bid? It will be a stunning move.”A matter of marketingVail Resorts officials tout a long list of environmental accomplishments, including the design and construction techniques at Blue Sky Basin the expansion area that sparked the $12 million eco-terror attacks.Cartin says Vail recycles more than 60 tons of trash a month and uses every form of energy efficient technology it can, from florescent lights to variable frequency drives on snowmobiles that alternate the amount of power being used.The resort recently dropped SoBe energy drinks because the bottles couldn’t be recycled, Cartin says, and Vail buys more expensive cups in its restaurants and cafeterias because they’re recyclable.Beaver Creek, another Vail Resorts mountain in Eagle County, touts a long list of enviro-friendly policies in a 17-page document on its Website everything from the recent purchase of a natural gas-powered, 20-passenger bus to buying wind power to recycling 20 percent of its waste to revamping the golf course irrigation system to save 10 million gallons of water.None of this seems to impress some environmental groups, which continue to blast Vail Resorts and sing the praises of Aspen Skiing Company.The Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition, which watchdogs the industry and issues an annual environmental report card, gives three of Vail Resorts Colorado ski areas F’s (Vail, Beaver Creek and Breckenridge) and gives its fourth resort Keystone a D.All four of Aspen Skiing Company’s resorts, by contrast, received A’s.”We get some bad press sometimes with the Ski Area Citizens’ Coalition and other radical groups,” Beaver Creek environmental coordinator Mark Tirone says of the resort’s environmental manifesto on its Website, “and this is our way to say, ‘Hey, we’re actually doing some really good things.'”Aspen’s Schendler obviously takes a slightly less hard-line view of the Durango-based environmental group. “There’s nothing wrong with a third party watchdog organization keeping tabs on this industry, or any industry,” Schendler says.”People finally said, Hey, ski resorts are not just pretty and fun, they’re big polluters and they’re growing like crazy into green space and responsible for sprawl and congestion,” he adds. “To be brutally honest here, I think the environmental community is right.”But Beaver Creek’s Tirone says ski areas tend to be painted with a broad bush by some environmentalists and lumped in with other mountain resort development they have nothing to do with.”There’s pressure with growth,” acknowledges Tirone. “(The Vail Valley) is highly developed, and that’s part of it people see that and associate it with either Vail Resorts or Beaver Creek and we have nothing to do it.”Even Aspen’s Schendler gives Vail some props: “They are doing very well in some areas recycling, composting and in some areas, like energy, they need more work. But they are a public company, a very different beast than Aspen.”Tirone says Aspen is a good environmental steward, but he feels Beaver Creek and Vail Resorts stack up just as well.”They (Aspen) manage to do a great job at marketing (their environmental record), and we don’t understand how or why it’s so much better than us, but we definitely want to improve on that,” Tirone says.