Aspen’s Sustainability Quest Continues to Lead Colorado’s Charge

If you’ve been paying attention to the march towards renewable energy in Colorado, you know that Aspen is a town that takes its evolution and progression in sustainability seriously.

In 2006, the infamous ski town declared its goal to be run by 100% renewable energy. They reached that threshold in 2015, joining just a handful of places around the country that had been successful in doing so.

Since then, the town has also focused on smoothing out the edges, most notably with the introduction of an electric bus fleet a few years ago.

Meanwhile, Aspen Skiing Company (ASC), the private company that runs the area’s four ski resorts, has been busy on its own path. It has several on-going initiatives that showcase how renewable energy can be harnessed to fuel outdoor recreation and mountain lifestyles, and perhaps make them more pure than ever.

A Increased Commitment to Renewables at the Ski Resorts

While the electricity produced by Aspen’s municipal power utility is already 100% renewable, the same is not yet the case at Aspen Skiing Company – “yet” being the key word.

In December, the utility company that services ASC, Holy Cross, announced its commitment to provide electricity made from 100% clean, renewable energy by 2030. Representatives from ASC played a role in encouraging the commitment from Holy Cross. Previously, Holy Cross’ goal was to achieve only 70% clean energy by 2030.

Aspen RFTA hybrid town bus. Photo by Jesse Hoffman.

“Think about it: less than a decade from now, every hotel, every restaurant, every ski lift (in Holy Cross territory) will be running carbon-free,” Auden Schendler, senior vice president for sustainability and community engagement at ASC, told the Aspen Times after the announcement.

“Less than 20 years ago, Holy Cross was 5 percent renewable and had just purchased part of a new coal plant,” he said. “This is what it looks like to solve the climate problem.”

A Unique Partnership with Audi

Aspen Skiing Company and Audi have teamed up to help the resorts eliminate excess gas-driven vehicles, and perhaps more notably, to showcase that electric vehicles can handle the ups and downs of mountain terrain.

Aspen Skiing Company’s hotels use Audi’s electric shuttles/vans for its guests, which is good in itself. But, one of the main ideas behind the partnership is to change public perception of the electric vehicle.

The program introduces the ski resorts’ “often influential” clientele to electrified vehicles and offers a test drive program. The top executives at ASC drive Etrons, hoping to demonstrate that electric SUVs – especially those powered by renewable electricity – are up to the task of an active, mountain lifestyle.

Latest and Greenest: State of the Art Snowcats

Aspen Skiing Company recently purchased multiple Stage 5 Bison groomers that run with lower emissions and more fuel efficiency. The company is keen on improving its fleet to embrace the latest and greenest technology possible.

Electric Snowmobile

Speaking of, ASC is involved in the quest to create a snowmobile that runs completely on renewable electric power. The journey has been a long-but-fascinating story, involving a man named Greg Hoffman and his teenage son, Connor, who, despite issues related to the pandemic, have continued to build much of it in their garage and have tested it upon Aspen’s slopes.

Prototype electric snowmobile being built in Aspen by Greg Hoffman and his son, Connor.

Though production issues due to the pandemic have slowed down the project in the past year and derailed partnerships, Aspen Ski Company says it expects other manufactures to debut an electric snowmobile in the coming years and plans to be a part of the revolution when it happens. For now, the father and son team continue to build a local prototype that will help introduce it to the Aspen market.

Electrified Employee Housing

Aspen Skiing Company is in the process of building affordable housing for its employees that includes electric car chargers, bike sharing, and a location in close proximity to mass transit, restaurants, and a supermarket. The idea is to create housing solutions that involve renewable energy and smart urban planning.

Backing “Ground Work” With Policy Push

Schendler says that it’s not enough to do the right thing as individuals; rather, we must strive to change policies and systems on a larger scale. For his part, he’s been busy publishing persuasive essays on the subject of electric energy and writing letters requesting action from local politicians.

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