Polis lauds Skico’s work in climate area, promotes proposed clean energy legislation

Colorado governor talks clean energy then takes a lap on Aspen Mountain for sunset skiing

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis leads a group of skiers Friday afternoon down Silver Bell run on Aspen Mountain after visiting for the 75th anniversary of lift access skiing in Aspen and to talk about climate issues. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

On what turned out to be a postcard mountain town day — nearly half a foot of powder in the morning gave way to bluebird skies Friday afternoon — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis stood atop Aspen Mountain to talk climate initiatives and Aspen’s role in leading the charge.

With the art installation known as “The Melted Gondola” as his backdrop, the first-term governor talked about how Aspen Skiing Co., celebrating its 75th season, is an industry leader in raising climate concerns, and how the area utilities have been an example of supporting renewable energy.

Addressing a gathering of a few hundred skiers who stuck around to enjoy sunset skiing on Ajax and others who ventured to the Sundeck, Polis touted Skico’s work on climate concerns and his administration’s goal to be a leading state in addressing ways to combat the issue. Alongside the governor were Skico CEO Mark Kaplan and Aspen Olympian Alex Ferreira, who both later joined the governor and others as a group skied down in the late afternoon before sunset.

“We are proud to join and in many ways follow in the footsteps across the state the leadership of Aspen Skiing Co. and Mike Kaplan, who have done so much in the art of the possible in relation to climate,” Polis said.

He also cited work by the city of Aspen’s push to get to 100% renewable energy electric portfolio and Holy Cross Energy’s push to 100% renewables.

Earlier this week, Polis joined legislative and community leaders to unveil bills to preserve and protect Colorado’s air quality and ensure Coloradans are healthy. The legislation include record investments in clean transportation, energy efficient buildings, and air quality monitoring, regulation and incentives, according to his staff.

“We have a goal that within six years every school bus in the state will be an electric school bus,” Polis said. “Not only does that do our part on climate, it helps the health of the kids with asthma, bus drivers’ health, and it also frees up money for school districts.”

He went on to say those savings could go toward increasing teacher pay instead of paying for diesel fuel.

This week’s bill package builds on the governor’s proposed $400 million in air quality and climate investments in his budget request to the state legislature, which according to his staff includes more than $150 million to support Colorado’s transition to electric vehicles with a goal of putting more than 1 million electric vehicles on the roads by 2030.

Gov. Jared Polis addresses a crowd of skiers Friday afternoon on Aspen Mountain after visiting for the 75th anniversary of lift access skiing in Aspen and to address climate change.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Pointing to the art installation at the top of Aspen Mountain, Polis went on to say “this gondola is really the symbol of the importance of our work on climate. It’s about our lives. It’s about our economy. It’s about our outdoor fun and recreation. And it’s the urgency of taking action now.

“It’s always important to remember it starts here at home,” he added, “and it works way up until the national and international institutions can no longer stand in the way of the critical actions that are needed right now to protect our environment.”

The governor reiterated his push to get rid of coal energy and rely on wind and solar power. Polis and Kaplan pointed to Skico’s plant in Somerset that converts methane from a coal mine into electricity, which has proven to be an environmental and economic success since it opened in November 2012. A progress report released in January 2021 said the plant has prevented emissions of 250 billion cubic feet of methane annually into the atmosphere. That is equivalent to removing 517,000 passenger vehicles from roadways for one year.

“If we, a bunch of ski bums, can figure that out, I know this governor and his team is going to lead the way on a state level, and of course, we’re going to do it on a national level,” Kaplan said Friday.

He drew parallels to the March 2020 ski industry pandemic shutdown and how similar impacts could be in store if more climate action isn’t taken and ski seasons become shorter with warmer months. He did note it was a powder day Friday on April Fool’s, and this season was extended a week because of the snow that started in mid-December and has just kept coming (including 5 inches Thursday night on Ajax), but that was a welcome surprise, not the norm.

“We learned during COVID (that) when we shut down in mid-March, that hurts bad. That hurts our economy, that hurts our businesses, that hurts our communities in a big way,” said Kaplan, who spoke with the governor on March 14, 2020, the day Polis decided to turn off the lifts and disperse the crowds. “And unfortunately, that is our future with what’s going on with climate. If our winter gets any shorter and March really starts to melt away, that’s going to be painful.

That’s a good, tangible, example of why we take such strong positions on climate and strong actions as a community and obviously as a company.”

By Skico’s measures, Aspen’s average temperature has risen 3 degrees Fahrenheit since its inaugural 1946-47 ski season. Some 30 days of naturally occurring winter have been lost since 1980, the company has said previously.

Friday’s event was so important to former Olympic alpine skier and local Wiley Maple, who is recovering from knee surgery, that he attended with the help of crutches and said he was going to have to do his first ever download off Aspen Mountain.

“Climate change has been one of my biggest fears for my whole life,” said Maple, who is a longtime Protect Our Winters athlete representative. “Not only does this community rely on snow, but all of our food relies on a stable climate.”

Gov. Jared Polis speaks with Coloradans at the top of Aspen Mountain on Friday, April 1, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

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