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Vail Daily column: Powder days for energy nerds

Don Rogers
My View
Don Rogers
Laura Mahaffy/lmahaffy@theunion.com | The Union

A colleague from sales made the sympathetic sounds you save for unfortunates who had to attend a funeral.

You know, the “ah” and the “I’m so sorry” face. Behind that, a passing cloud of sheer wonderment at how anyone would choose to spend a weekend this way.

But no, really. I had a great time hanging out with the suits at the Vilar on perfectly fine days for skiing.

The fourth annual Global Energy Forum fits my dweeby sense of fun perfectly. Other than some cramping and fat fingering from trying to keep up with the talks and panels and such while taking notes.

On Sunday I joked with a guy about being here long enough to forego the suit. No such luck, he said with a shrug. Those were all he packed. He’d be on the road for the next week attending suit affairs.

Markedly, he wasn’t unhappy about this.

Saturday and Sunday provided barrages of speakers and panels, blizzards of information and interaction among academics, company leaders, government officials from the United States, Canada and Mexico. Oh, a senator and governor, too.

Luminaries for me included Condoleezza Rice — friendly, funny, clear and best of all, concise in the keynote address Friday night — Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund; J.B. Straubel, one of the Tesla Motors founders and chief tech officer; and Arun Majumdar, a scientist who oversaw Google’s energy efforts before becoming the Jay Precourt Professor at Stanford.

Majumdar had the good sense in taking George Shultz’s place for the closing remarks of the forum to consult the sage. If you’ve ever heard Shultz speak, you know I’m far from being flippant here.

And if Precourt’s name sounds familiar, it should. He’s the main founder and driver of the forum that just finished its fourth year. An attendee I met told me, make no mistake, this one already had risen among the top of these gatherings. Provincials like me would have no idea, though thankful for the opportunity to listen in.

A bigger deal is Precourt establishing the Institute for Energy and the Energy Efficiency Center at Stanford. Yes, he did well in the gas and oil industry. He’s doing better in seeding innovation for the future.

A big part of the fun is whom you bump into and meet at these. I might get more out of this serendipity than anything.

Last year I chatted with a lady who helped invent Siri (“Ah, so we have you to blame!”) and makes her living inventing cool stuff that happens to be useful.

This year it was a genial investor who claimed no special skill other than listening — really, really well. I knew he was off the charts bright, of course, and we had a wide-ranging conversation that continued long past the closing remarks into finally being gently shooed out of the theater. I left with books to read, a great website called Bigthink.com to check out, and the value of “I don’t know.”

I also left with the sense that we need more of this. We have everything else, it seems. Great ski hills, restaurants, events, recreation, entertainment and all.

We scratch at brain food with presentations through the Vail Symposium (I’m on that board, disclosure here), Walking Mountains, Vail Leadership Institute, Eagle Valley Library District, The Bookworm. And Colorado Mountain College is getting richer and deeper in their offerings.

It’s just that the Global Energy Forum exposes a gap in our intellectual lives. Here Aspen has us. And we’ve slipped a bit, too.

I remember a favorite for me — the Festival of Words, a weekend of novelists, nonfiction authors and poets that died out a decade ago. And the Vail Institute, which took on huge topical issues and brought in top minds for several days of Socratic dialogue.

They died of general disinterest, I guess, but each teased me in from our stunning outdoors.

It may be intellectual centers must remain few and far between in our more athletic and social culture, and that we’re doomed to play Sparta to Aspen’s Athens.

But the Energy Forum is a beacon for what’s possible. Meantime, I can tell you there are a lot worse ways to spend a weekend.

Editor and Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at drogers@vaildaily.com and 970-748-2920.


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