When it comes to ski resort development, typically ski resort owners and environmentalists are at odds with each other. Look no further than our local ski area, Eldora Mountain Resort, to understand why. Eldora is currently engaged in an effort to expand the resort’s boundaries, building new lifts and trails, and in the process pushing into the Indian Peaks wilderness, and encroaching on the creek drainage directly adjacent to the village of Eldora. Many types of wildlife make their home in the Indian Peaks wilderness including threatened species such as the Canada Lynx and the Greenback Cutthroat Trout. As ski resorts try to expand, they must seek approval of these plans and secure permits from the U.S. Forest Service to do so. Part of this process can be holding public meetings, or otherwise soliciting public comments on these expansion plans. As one might guess, environmentalists are frequently one of th emost outspoken foes of such plans, and the Colorado Mountain Club and Sierra Club have often exerted their political muscle to put a stop to such plans.
However, one growing environmental issue has brought the two groups together — climate change. This past fall, the EPA held public hearings on its new Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule, a plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants. This plan would assist states with cutting increasing levels of carbon emission into the atmosphere. Hearings were held here in the local area in Denver this past summer. As I listened to the coverage of the hearings through National Public Radio, it was interesting to hear those people who spoke out on its behalf, which included both environmental groups (not surprising), but also ski resort operators and owners. The ski resort business is a huge part of the economy here in Colorado, with Colorado ski resorts last year receiving a record 12.6 million skier visits, generating a huge amount of revenue for a state dependent on tourism to drive the economy. Even with snowmaking, ski resorts are dependent on natural snow and cold temperatures to open trails and attract skiers. The writing is on the wall for ski resort owners, who foresee climate change as the potential death knell to their business. Overall, in the last 50 years, the U.S. western states have seen the average low temperatures increase 4 degrees, which is significant. Warming temperatures during the winter months would eventually shorten ski seasons, as well as create deteriorating conditions, as ski resorts can not even make snow during temperatures above freezing. The colder the temperatures, the more snow they can make. And in truth, it’s only when the Front Range areas of Denver, Boulder, and Colorado Springs get colder temperatures and even snow, that send the greatest number of skiers heading into the mountains on busy weekends.
They say political issues can make for strange bedfellows, and it seems climate change has turned longtime enemies into allies when it comes to the issue of the climate change. Since climate change is such a controversial issue, the power of these two groups coming together to lobby in support of strengthening rules could make the difference. And it’s a difference that might make or break not only the future of Colorado’s wilderness, but its fortunes when it comes to ski tourism. Let’s hope for both their sakes, that it’s not too little, too late.