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Opinion: For Colorado’s ski industry, reversing climate change is practical, not political

The federal Build Back Better Act will protect a $4.8 billion industry from ruin

Arapahoe Basin Ski Area in Summit County, Colorado, supports climate change solutions in the Build Back Better Act and we are calling on Colorado’s senators and representatives to pass these measures.

Mike Nathan, left, and Alan Henceroth

It’s past time to take seriously the impacts of climate change and their potential to devastate not only Colorado’s natural treasures, but the economies, communities, and jobs that rely on good stewardship of those treasures.

Collectively, the ski industry has undertaken significant and meaningful action to reduce our environmental impacts, but time is running short to mitigate the dire consequences of climate change, and we cannot do this alone. As businesses whose operations rely on the natural environment, ski areas need Washington to act on bold legislation to address climate change – now.

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Ski areas are major employers in rural communities across 37 states, representing more than 533,000 jobs. Colorado is home to 31 ski areas, supporting nearly 50,000 jobs, contributing $4.8 billion in annual economic output and $1.9 billion in annual labor income. Many of these resorts are found in “purple” districts. Calling for action on climate change to protect both local economies and environments is practical, not political.

These are not simply feel-good measures. Climate change is driving increased operational costs for ski areas like ours. Shorter and shifting winter seasons and unreliable snowpack mean we spend more on snowmaking, water resources, water facilities, and year-round recreation activities.

The devastating impacts of wildfires in the West have resulted in damage to property and natural resources, increases in property insurance premiums, and closures of resort operations due to smoke, fires or the threat of fires. Flooding has caused severe structural and erosion damage at ski areas, including on nearby Loveland Pass and at our ski area, specifically, during the significant landslides that also affected Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon.

These are just some of the examples of how climate change is impacting our bottom line right now.

These threats to our business operations at Arapahoe Basin also impact our ability to confidently hire and employ hundreds of seasonal and year-round workers, the lifeblood of our mountain community. These employees are heavy equipment operators, career chefs, marketing and finance professionals, skilled diesel mechanics, ski patrollers and instructors, lift operators, and a diverse group of other talented individuals.

Without the presence of a local workforce, businesses close their doors, visitors have less-positive experiences and don’t return, and the building blocks of the rural and mountain-town economy begin to crumble. These threats significantly challenge our way of life.

We support the inclusion of numerous climate-change provisions in these critical bills, including: major investment in electric-vehicle charging infrastructure and clean-power infrastructure; the Clean Electricity Performance Program; caps and fees on carbon emissions; duties on carbon-intensive imports; a clean-energy tax overhaul; reduced emissions from federal buildings and vehicle fleets; energy efficiency rebates; a Civilian Climate Corps program; environmental justice; and increased funding of U.S. Forest Service wildfire recovery efforts.

In addition to engaging in advocacy and pushing for the passage of these measures, we are taking action by setting ambitious science-based emissions targets and working to reduce our own carbon footprint. We source 53% of our electricity from renewable sources; we recycle, compost, or otherwise avoid landfilling approximately 51% of our waste; and our domestic water consumption has decreased for three consecutive seasons, all in an effort to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

More than 50 ski areas have joined Arapahoe Basin and participate in the National Ski Areas Association’s Climate Challenge. The association and ski areas like ours are leaders in taking action on climate change, but we can’t do this alone. We need Congress’ help, and we need your help, with systemic change and the broad-scale solutions included in the Build Back Better Act currently being considered in Washington.

Congressional action in the next few weeks can help position our country for a successful, net-zero future and support a healthy outdoor recreation experience for all. We implore Colorado’s senators and representatives to take this seriously.


Mike Nathan is sustainability manager at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area. Alan Henceroth is A Basin’s chief operating officer. Both live in Dillon.


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