Aspen Skiing Co. donates $60,000 to elect climate leaders in 2020
Aspen Skiing Co. donated $60,000 last month to a political action committee that wants to mobilize outdoor enthusiasts to oust Congressional climate deniers, but the head of the company’s sustainability department says other resorts need to do more.
Auden Schendler, Skico’s senior vice president of sustainability and community engagement, said “the industry as a whole isn’t united” behind the group Protect Our Winters (POW).
“There isn’t the fire that this is the thing,” Schendler told The Aspen Times recently. “You’ve got a few leading actors, but look, this should be a five-alarm fire.”
He thinks many ski areas are stuck in what he labeled the old-school model of thinking that reducing carbon emissions of their operations is enough action. He believes they need to make the leap to support national policy change.
Skico’s recent contribution was to the POW Action Fund, which will target key Congressional races in six states this year to try to get climate leaders elected in November.
The efforts will be focused on Congressional districts in Colorado, Nevada, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Maine, according to the plan.
POW Action Fund will work to rally voters on climate issues in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, which includes the Roaring Fork Valley. Rep. Scott Tipton, a Republican from Cortez, is seeking re-election. He might not be unseated this election, Schendler said, but POW will aim to build momentum for success down the line.
“Truth is, Aspen Skiing Co. has been spending money against Rep. Tipton for years while Rep. Tipton has continued to protect our public land and water,” Tipton’s campaign strategist Michael Fortney wrote in an email to The Times. “But it’s their money, they can spend it however they see fit.”
The Action Fund is a sister organization and essentially the political arm of Protect Our Winters, which was formed in 2007. Its goal is to “make action on climate change a top policy priority for the outdoor sports community.”
The POW Action Fund says its goal is to educate outdoor-oriented people about climate issues and how they can be part of the solution through voting and activism.
“It’s what’s really important this election cycle,” said Schendler, who also serves on POW’s board of directors.
The strategy involves more than a traditional “get out the vote” effort, POW Action Fund executive director Mario Molina told The Aspen Times. The idea is to educate outdoor enthusiasts about climate issues and turn them into ambassadors, he said.
The U.S. has an $887 billion outdoor recreation economy that supports 7.6 million jobs, according to the POW Action Fund’s website. To harness the sleeping giant, the organization works with the most inspiring athletes, photographers, artists, musicians and moguls from outdoors businesses to deliver a message to outdoor enthusiasts and turn them into climate advocates.
“With the window to address the climate crisis closing, we can no longer simply rely on the traditional climate movement to help us in these critical elections,” Molina said in the organization’s 2020 Strategic Plan. “We need to bring passionate new voters into the fold to build decisive, sustainable political and cultural power.”
POW Action Fund’s strategic plan said it will strive to get a few thousand outdoor enthusiasts to the polls in key Congressional races to influence the climate debate. The targets are areas where a 5% to 10% voter swing can tip the district toward supporting climate policy.
The Action Fund is trying to raise $1 million for its political agenda in 2020. It’s about one-quarter to one-third of the way there, but contributions tend to increase as the political season heats up, Molina said.
He is looking beyond the 2020 elections. Effective political action groups have year-round influence even in off-election years, he noted, initially citing the National Rifle Association as an example, but then saying that might not be a good model.
“I think we need to move past the election-cycle mentality,” Molina said.
POW Action Fund has scheduled 150 events to educate people on climate issues prior to the 2020 election. Molina said the ski industry is “moving in the right direction” on climate activism but wants to do more.
“We’d love to partner with ski areas to reach their customers,” Molina said.
Skico has been one of the biggest supporters of POW from the ski industry. In addition to its financial commitments, it sends company executives on lobbying missions and to testify in support of legislation in Washington, D.C.
Skico held its Give A Flake flash sale Dec. 3 to 6 to benefit POW. Give A Flake is Skico’s campaign to build awareness about climate issues. The company donated 10% of proceeds from the four-day sales of lift tickets, group lessons and rentals to the POW Action Fund.
Over the past two years, Skico has raised $40,000 for Protection Our Winters and $60,000 for POW’s sister organization, Schendler said.
Skico, Alterra Mountain Co. and Powdr Corp. stand out within the industry for embracing POW’s efforts, Schendler said. He also credited National Ski Areas Association, a trade association, for its lobbying work on climate initiatives.
Alterra is Skico’s sister organization. Alterra president and chief operating officer David Perry, former second in command at Aspen, was recognized by POW this fall for his support of the organization through lobbying trips to Washington, D.C., and participation on panels coordinated by POW.
In addition, Alterra’s Ikon Pass has been a “POW Summit Level Partner” at $25,000 annually for the past two years.
“One of Alterra Mountain Company’s values is to protect our environments to ensure our future, and partnering with POW is one way we can support that ideal and an organization that shares that vision,” Alterra said in a statement when asked about its philosophical reasons for supporting POW.
Powdr Corp. bills itself as an adventure lifestyle company and owns several ski resorts.
Schendler said the ski industry is just a small part of the broader outdoor industry that POW is trying to engage. That includes everything from outdoor clothing manufacturers and retailers to outdoor recreation resorts to rank-and-file people that enjoy getting outdoors.
Molina said he is excited about recent efforts to engage climbers and trail runners to a higher degree.
“That will add thousands of people to our group,” he said.
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