Friday, August 26, 2011

A glimpse of sustainability initiatives at Apsen Snowmass.

I recently interviewed Matt Hamilton, Sustainability Manager for the Aspen Skiing Company that operates several resorts including Aspen Snowmass. If you you get a chance, visit their website at They are doing some really cool stuff!

Thanks to Matt and Auden Schendler, Vice President of Sustainability for the Aspen Skiing Company. In fact, as I wrote this article I noticed that Auden is planning a trip to Washington DC along with Gretchen Bleiler and Jeremy Jones (POW) to inform policy makers on carbon dioxide legislation!

What do you think is the biggest environmental challenge facing the ski/snowboard industry and why?

Climate change and the associated long-term impacts and viability from a business standpoint.

The risks and potential impacts of climate change in Aspen have been highlighted in several published reports from Aspen Global Change Institute. For example, Aspen’s climate has changed noticeably over the past 25 years. Temperatures have increased about 3 degrees F, and the average number of frost free days per year has increased about 20 days (1). It is important to remember that climate change is based on long-term trends and that you cannot take seasonal fluctuations as evidence of climate change because those are meteorological changes.

The risks of climate change to a ski resort include the impacts of temperature on the ability to make snow and the quality of that snow. Increasing temperatures impact the costs of making snow and ultimately the ability to make snow at all. Without man made snow resorts are less capable of operations early and late in the season. Shorter seasons ultimately impact the long term profitability of the resort. Climate change could reduce the amount of terrain available for operations limiting acreage available for skiing to the upper reaches and higher elevations.

How long did it take you to achieve ISO 14001 Certification and can you share any lessons learned?

The actual process itself took approximately one year to 18 months to complete. The Aspen Skiing Company is fortunate, however, that we have looked at long-term environmental risks going back many years prior to the certification. Once you receive certification it doesn’t mean that you are done, there are continuous improvements that are required as part of the certification process. Certification has allowed us to improve our environmental management system database to create and track standard operating procedures, such as hazardous waste tracking and minimization.

One important lesson learned is that it was key to find an ISO auditor that understood and related to the hospitality and tourism industry and that was able to think outside of the box. You really need to be able to understand how you can take their advice as a consultant and apply this back into your business in a way that makes sense.

How do you measure and report metrics for your environmental policies?

We have published an annual Sustainability Report since 1999 and use this document as broad discussion on the improvements of our environmental performance. For example, we have a goal to reduce our CO2 emissions and energy use 10% below 2000 levels by 2012. To achieve these goals, we have 10-20 initiatives that vary from small process improvements such as replacing compressor valves to improve to larger projects such as replacing three 22-year old boilers in our lodging facilities.

I notice that you operate solar power at several locations on Aspen Snowmass and have a 147-kW installation offsite at the Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale. How important were state incentives and do you think that you would have done this in the absence of a state renewable portfolio standard?

State incentives and rebates for solar installations were critical for our payback and return on investment, even though the cost of solar has come down. In the absence of incentives, it would not have made financial sense.

I recently met former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter at a solar conference. He had a very aggressive state renewable energy plan. How much do you work with policy makers to advise them on policy issues and how important is it for the ski industry to work with their state/local/federal politicians to push for renewable incentives and climate change legislation?

Aspen Snowmass is a member of Business for the Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP), an advocacy coalition of businesses committed to working with policy makers to pass energy and climate legislation (see We also actively talk to members of the House and Senate and leverage lobbyists to take a stand and advocate. This is very important because it is an opportunity to leverage our brand to lobby on behalf of energy efficiency and policies that reduce the impact of climate change.

Do you have a land management plan and how do you determine ecosystem health?

We are permitted by the US Forest Service and have to develop a Resource Management Plan that includes compliance and mitigation.

Your small hydroelectric system incorporated into your snowmaking infrastructure is very innovative? Can you tell us a little more about it?

The micro-hydroelectric system generates renewable energy by utilizing the existing retention pond and snowmaking pipes on the mountain. It generates during the spring runoff period when snow is melting and the piping is used when not making snow to generate power. During the first year of operation the system made 200,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity ~40 homes, preventing 400,000 lbs. of carbon dioxide emissions.

What are some of simplest things that you have done that has resulted in improvements?

One interesting story involves the Cliffhouse Restaurant on Buttermilk. We started scrutinizing our electricity bills and noticed that during the summer months when the facility was closed the bills were high. Upon inspection of the building we noticed that the heat tape that is in use during the winter month for the freezer was running during the summer. When this was turned off and the problem corrected, there was a noticeable improvement in the bill amount. This is just an example of a small action that was looked into, but that made a difference!

1. Climate Change and Aspen: An Assessment of Impacts and Potential Responses