Steamboat Resort is ‘national example’ of environmental consciousness, panel says
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Resort is a national example for how to make snow while protecting its local river, according to Nancy Smith, director of external affairs in the Colorado River Program for The Nature Conservancy.
Smith joined a panel with Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. employees and other Nature Conservancy representatives Wednesday to discuss outdoor recreation and climate change — particularly as it pertains to using local rivers for snowmaking.
“Steamboat Resort is really thoughtful about their stewardship of the Yampa River,” Smith said. “Like any water use, snowmaking has to be done in a really thoughtful way.”
Corey Peterson, Ski Corp. director of slope maintenance, said he does not have a specific estimate of how much Yampa River water the resort uses to make snow, but he said the ski area has used more environmentally-conscious snowmaking guns and reduced energy usage in operating the gondola and chairlifts.
“Over the last five years, we’ve increased our efficiency pretty significantly from year to year,” Peterson said. “There’s an economic impact as well, and we want to save money on energy costs.”
Colorado’s huge outdoor recreation industry relies heavily on the Colorado River Basin, which the Yampa River is connected to. Smith said scientists predict temperatures in the Colorado River Basin will rise by two to five degrees by 2050, which will result in a cycle of drier soils, decreased snowpack and warmer seasons, Smith said.
“The Colorado River Basin supports a $26 billion recreation and tourism economy, and skiing is a big part of that,” Smith said. “On the Yampa, the resort is dependent on water in the winter but also in the summer. There is a year-round need for people in the tourism and recreation industry to think about water.”
While snowmaking does take water from the river, Smith and water attorney David Bower said the process can benefit ecosystems around ski mountains because it brings more water to tree soil. Additionally, Bower said, much of the water used to make snow runs back into the river.
“There’s less and less snow in every ski area, and snowmaking is something we can do to put water on the slopes,” Bower said. “It slowly percolates back to the spring whereas otherwise it would’ve just flowed downstream.”
Sarah Jones, Ski Corp. director of sustainability and community engagement, emphasized the need for the outdoor recreation industry to be especially interested in climate change mitigation, as warming temperatures will drastically impact the industry’s future.
“The ski industry is very invested, because our business is directly linked to a climate that allows for snow and skiing,” Jones said.
While local governments and resorts can take small actions to fight climate change, meaningful climate action needs to come from the national policy-making level, said Thomas Minney, state director of The Nature Conservancy in West Virginia.
“We need national change, because work on the ground is not enough,” Minney said. “This requires efforts at the state and national policy front.”
Minney spoke specifically to Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia, which uses snowmaking guns from October to the spring season but still manages to do so in a way that conserves energy and ensures snow benefits the ecosystem around the resort.
“Snowshoe is sort of a national example of restoration efforts,” Minney said. “We need to have a focused low carbon future for all of us.”
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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