Resorts sound off on climate change

ASPEN – An opinion piece about climate change by the head of Vail Resorts has Aspen Skiing Co.’s point man on environmental issues scratching his head.

Rob Katz, chairman and CEO of Vail Resorts Inc., wrote an opinion piece about climate change that appeared Dec. 21 in The Denver Post.

Katz criticizes the efforts of some unnamed people to use last winter’s lack of snow and this winter’s slow start as proof of global warming. The head of the country’s largest ski-resort operator said the ski industry must play its part in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions for the right reasons – to save the planet for future generations.

“When the effects of climate change really show up, no one will care about skiing at Aspen and Vail,” Katz wrote. “They will be rightly focused on the wildlife, natural habitat and people of our planet, about the sea levels, flooding and natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy.”

The opinion piece coincided with an advertisement Vail Resorts ran in The New York Times. The headline read, “The climate has changed.” It features shots of skiers and riders at the company’s various ski areas and trumpets the new snow they received the previous week.

Auden Schendler, Aspen Skiing Co.’s vice president for sustainability, said Vail is playing with fire with the ad and sending a defeatist message with the opinion piece.

“The advertising piece struck me as taunting the gods. I’m not sure why they’d do that,” Schendler said. “I think it’s mocking the conversation” about climate change.

Schendler has emerged as a major voice about climate change on behalf of Skico. He is on the board of directors of a nonprofit organization called Protect Our Winters, which is building awareness about climate change and lobbying members of Congress for legislation to limit greenhouse-gas emissions.

In a teleconference earlier this month to release results of a study that shows how climate change could affect ski areas, Schendler challenged the ski industry in general and its trade associations specifically to play a greater role in fighting climate change.

Schendler has a fundamentally different strategy from Katz’s. Schendler believes using the plight of skiing – a sport “everybody loves” – to educate people about climate change is exactly what needs to be done. Katz’s opinion piece could be interpreted to snub that approach.

Vail Resorts spokeswoman Kelly Ladyga said that would be a misinterpretation.

“No, not a response to Aspen Skiing Co.’s position or Auden’s recent challenge,” she wrote in an email. “(Katz) was addressing the topic more broadly as there have been numerous stories on it well before Auden’s recent challenge. We’ve been pretty public about our position on climate change.”

Vail Resorts is aiming to reduce its energy use by 20 percent over a 10-year period. Aspen Skiing Co. invested $5.4 million in a plant that produces electricity by using methane vented from a coal mine near Paonia. That plant will produce enough power at build-out to offset Skico’s total annual electricity needs.