Valley Voices: Onus on Vail Resorts to reduce its energy use |

Valley Voices: Onus on Vail Resorts to reduce its energy use

Allen Best
Vail CO, Colorado

Ed Stoner quoted me right in saying that Vail Resorts is not the same industry leader in the environmental realm as it is in the guest-services side. (“Vail windmills could power four lightbulbs,” May 23). Neither is it the most laggard. And finally, it should be noted that there is not that much of a gap between Vail, in the middle of the pack, and the industry leaders in the environmental realm.

So what criticism is fair? Because of its huge size, Vail Resorts sometimes gets a pass. When it buys windpower, it’s national news. I don’t fault Vail for taking advantage of marketing opportunities. At some level, every business had better connect with its core base of customers. That’s what I see Vail Resorts doing. It’s been more of a marketing story than anything else.

That will change ” has changed. While we wait to see just how “green” Ever Vail really is, we now have proof of the pudding in the new energy reduction goals announced by Rob Katz, the Vail Resorts CEO.

Like it or not, we’re all going to be living very differently in 10 years because of even more expensive gasoline and diesel, higher-priced natural gas, and far more expensive electricity. There is no panacea. Drilling into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will yield a very temporary supply of oil. Electricity from nuclear reactors will still be far more expensive. We still have no technology for sequestering carbon on a massive scale.

The environmental story is rapidly shifting. The story now is no longer local, but utterly global. More difficult yet, the story of today is very much the future ” not next month, not next year, but at a time when many of us now living will be gone.

How very different from the 1960s, when Vail Associates was scrapping to survive. Pete Seibert Sr. was running Vail Associates, and Bob Parker was his key right-hand man, a master of marketing, but much more.

Cutting-edge environmentalism then was wilderness preservation. Parker was a key figure in helping kill the routing of Interstate 70 through what is now the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area. A few years later, he helped stop a timber sale near Piney Lake in what became a national test case of wilderness preservation. You can Google the case even now: Parker vs. U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Later, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, environmentalism within ski-based mountain valleys became defined in other ways. Some people say they, too, were environmentalists, as they also hated littering. A sense of aesthetics also was part of the surge in support for open space preservation.

But in this still new century, it is now clear that the energy foundation for our lives of recreation and leisure is shaky. Life cannot continue on as we have known it. We are polluting our global atmosphere in ways that make Denver’s brown cloud and ozone problems seem trite. Houston, we’ve got a little problem here.

I have the sense that this is like 1939. Storm clouds had gathered over Europe. HItler had seized Czechoslovakia, and then, in concert with the Soviet Union, invaded Poland. Japan had seized Manchuria. Here in the states, Pete Seibert was in New England, dreaming of his future ski resort. Merrill Hastings was having a dandy time at the new Berthoud Pass ski area. And in Aspen, plans were afoot for a major new destination ski area using Mt. Hayden, near Ashcroft. Elizabeth Paepcke was soon to visit the old mining town, urging her husband in Chicago to do the same.

Then came Pearl Harbor. Walter Paepcke, despite being a wealthy industrialist in Chicago, couldn’t get to Aspen to inspect the future his wife had glimpsed. Ski Hayden was shelved. The pioneer bore for what, in ways, became the Eisenhower Tunnel when it was completed ” but then sealed, the work of perforating the Continental Divide in Colorado postponed to another decade.

Before Pearl Harbor happened, though, some skiers could foresee the future. One of them was Minot “Minnie” Dole, an insurance agent in New York City and founder of the National Ski Patrol. He lobbied the U.S. Army for creation of mountain ski troops, and found out Army generals had been thinking similar thoughts. What came to pass, after Pearl Harbor, was Camp Hale, and the 10th Mountain Division. Earl Eaton helped build it, as did a number of other local boys, some still living and others passed, and then Pete Seibert, Fritz Benedict, Merrill Hastings, and Bob Parker, among so many others, passed through it.

That’s where I see things now, only this war is different, and in some ways more difficult. The evidence of global warming is hardly at hand. Like the two-pack-a-day smoking habit you have at age 19, the damage is mostly hidden, and not likely to be felt until it’s too late.

I asked a photographer for National Geographic on Monday whether he expects the surprising, even shocking retreat of the glaciers that he is now documenting will yield the Pearl Harbor moment that will galvanize the meaningful changes that many scientists and other activists now believe are necessary. He didn’t answer directly, but he said that scientists are worried that such a stunning disintegration of polar ice is entirely possible.

Who am I to talk like this, saying frightening things? What makes me an expert?

I’m not an “expert” that Chris Jarnot seems to think is necessary to have standing. I have read and listened much, but admit that there is much that I do not know.

However, I am also reminded of an evening spent in Eagle, at the old McDonald Building. That was in May 1988. A settlement had been reached on the Superfund cleanup, and so the representatives from the office of the state attorney general were on hand to explain the outcome. It came out that they intended to plug the adits of the mine, to prevent the acid-mine drainage from further polluting the Eagle River.

How do you know this will work, I asked meekly. Well, said the geologists, we believe the geology will take the polluted water far underground below the Front Range.

I reported their comments, buried deep in the story, for after all, who was I to question these learned people?

Two years later, in 1990, the Eagle River was looking like Kool-Aid, the orange-orange variety. Water used for snowmaking at Beaver Creek was yielding orange snow.

A few years ago Bob Dylan played at the Ford Amphitheater, and the place was packed “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows,” said Dylan in one of his songs.

What do I know about energy? What makes me an expert? Where did George W. Bush get his experts on weapons of mass destruction?

Good luck to Rob Katz. He has to deliver dividends the next quarter, but he also surely realizes we have a modern-day Pearl Harbor somewhere down the line. He is being asked by people, like me, to reconcile the hedonism of being carted up mountainsides in easy chairs to ski on manufactured snow in November with the grim energy and environmental story that is developing. That is a tough job. It will take some real leadership to finesse that balancing act of today and tomorrow.

Allen Best is a longtime Colorado journalist covering the environment. E-mail comments about this column to

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