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Ski Resort Have Everything to Lose from Global Warming;
Taking Steps to Reduce Substantial Carbon Footprints
By Eric Billingsley, Albuquerque Journal, N.M.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Dec. 25, 2007 - New Mexico ski areas have everything to lose from global warming, industry experts say.

If scientists' estimates are correct, average temperatures in the state could increase by 5 degrees Fahrenheit this century and decrease the winter sport's lifeline: snowpack.

"The more we learn about climate change the more we realize how it directly affects ski areas," says Adriana Blake, marketing director for Taos Ski Valley, who added that ski seasons already seem to be starting later and ending earlier.

So, some of the state's ski areas are taking steps to reduce their carbon footprints -- the amount of carbon dioxide emitted through the combustion of fossil fuels.

Ski areas are selling renewable energy offsets known as "green tags," upping the energy efficiency of equipment and exploring the use of alternative fuels and energy-efficient building techniques.

"Climate change is happening now," says David Griscom, renewable energy program manager for the Regional Development Corp. in Santa Fe, a nonprofit economic development organization. "And ski areas have a huge opportu- nity to re-invent themselves."

Last year, the Office of the State Engineer completed an analysis of how global warming could impact New Mexico. The analysis predicted warmer temperatures could increase the risk of drought in New Mexico over the next century and affect mountain snowpacks, especially south of Santa Fe, a Journal story reported.

New Mexico's ski industry generates $290 million and attracts thousands of tourists to the state each year, according to Ski New Mexico, an industry trade organization. But, Griscom says, resorts have a substantial carbon footprint.

For example, one large New Mexico ski resort consumes 3.8 million kilowatt hours of electricity and 100,000 gallons of propane each year, which equals 9.4 million pounds of greenhouse gas emissions, according to Griscom.

This is equivalent to the emissions from 855 cars in a year's time.

A medium-size resort uses 1.2 million kilowatt hours per year for its main lifts only, which equals 2.6 million pounds of greenhouse gas emissions.

These numbers do not include pollution from vehicles driven to and from the resorts.

"Ski areas are massive consumers of electricity and natural gas," says Griscom, noting that electricity in New Mexico comes primarily from coalfired power plants that emit greenhouse gases. "Energy efficiency is one of the easiest ways of reducing a ski area's carbon footprint."

Taos recently launched a green tag program.

Visitors can pay $2 extra on the price of a lift ticket to offset their carbon emissions from driving to the resort. The money is given to Bonneville Environmental Foundation, which invests it in wind, solar and other types of renewable energy development. Blake says the $2 offsets carbon emissions for 150 miles of travel.

Taos is exploring how to incorporate energy-efficient building design into a $35 million renovation of its base area. The resort also recently overhauled its snowmaking equipment to be more energy efficient, is exploring using biodiesel for its automobile fleet and revamped snow-plowing methods to reduce sediment going into a nearby stream.

"It's good for marketing but good for the company, too," says Blake. "Part of operating on public land keeps you thinking about environmental initiatives."

Angel Fire Resort is developing an environmental education campaign for consumers, launching a green tag program to offset the energy of running its high-speed quad chairlift, and exploring partnering with a hybrid car manufacturer. It also hopes to incorporate environmentally sustainable design into renovations of the base area, country club and hotel.

Dave Dekema, director of marketing for Angel Fire, acknowledges many of the initiatives are in the exploration phase. And he says people may be cynical about whether the ski industry is just "greenwashing" for marketing purposes. But he says the industry has a lot to lose by not being proactive.

"I wish we were 10 years in but the reality is we're just getting started and playing catchup," says Dekema. "We have to overcome any backlash and cynicism and demonstrate actual change."

Pajarito Mountain Ski Area in Los Alamos is looking into erecting a wind turbine on the mountain to provide much of its electricity.


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Copyright (c) 2007, Albuquerque Journal, N.M.

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