Don Rogers: Faust on the hill
A smart-ass journalist a decade ago asked Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz how the ski company was preparing for the day when palm trees would sprout in Vail.
“Listen, if temperatures rise like that, I think we’re going to have a lot bigger issues than what that means for skiing,” he said. Or something like that.
This didn’t keep Vail Resorts and the others from going green and churning out press releases clapping themselves roundly on the back. Pledging to work for a zero carbon footprint with energy use, zero waste, zero impact on the forest and environment generally.
All while piling up millions of visits to the slopes each year. Whisking us along in chairlifts and gondolas. Feeding and lodging us where humans once were bright enough to stay away during winter.
And don’t forget the rich communities that sprung up around the ski resorts, because of the ski resorts. The heated driveways, the cars, the McMansions warm and ready for distant owners, the sushi flown in fresh, the whole thing.
Aspen always was more affected and preachy, oozing earnest authenticity as if they actually believed they were saving humankind, not merely providing skiing and opportunities to be seen for the rich and famous.
I hear some of this echo today in Squaw Valley. Look, look how responsible we are! Preserving winter and the environment for future generations! We care! We really do!
No doubts there. We all do. And of course we want our enlightened ski companies to lead the rest of the world with their emphasis on 100 percent renewable energy, recycling everything, keeping their resorts Scout camp clean, no-trace skiing.
Squaw, more than any ski mountain this side of Wolf Creek, reflects the tension between love for the environment and the business impulse to expand.
We need the ski business to work well, too, no question. Resorts must freshen up, stay competitive, change with the demands of residents, second-home owners and visitors who support not only the ski resorts, but the wider community.
So Squaw finds itself touting a light footprint on Mother Nature while promoting the jobs and economic boost of expanding its village and horrifying watchdogs with plans for a water park, the cherry on top, or ultimate middle finger, depending on your viewpoint.
It’s easy to point out the ironies here, the hypocrisy running rife in the ski industry. There’s the jet fuel alone as so many fly in and out of airports serving ski towns, erasing all those hard-won renewable gains.
But we each are no different. Our smart phones are far worse for the environment than paper, a renewable resource, by the way. The plastic and rare metals in our devices are extracted from somewhere and are bound to pile up in landfills and ocean bottoms somewhere, too.
We’re all complicit, whether we drink from plastic bottles or not, car pool or drive solo.
We need housing, a job, a life. Many of us fight to live here for the obvious reasons despite the expense, the hardships and our personal impact on the environment.
We’ve each made similar choices as Squaw Valley, facing familiar challenges.
I’m not saying anyone should agree with their business decisions, whether to connect to Alpine Meadows by lift, enlarge the village, build a 90-something-foot-high climbing wall amid, um, mountains with no lack of real granite faces.
But we should be able to understand the motivation is survival and a quest to thrive rather than evil intent and all the “corporate greed” banalities people find so easy to hurl, people with let’s say insufficient awareness of their own habits and what a successful resort like Squaw means for the whole community.
Let the battles roll over what most improves life here, but understand it’s never all one way, as much as we like to think so in these Trumpian times. Genuine improvement comes in shades of gray rather than pure black or pure white. Hard choices, not easy answers, and always consequences.
The Truckee that had weathered the mining days gone past, unpainted and squalid downtown, that Truckee left the far lighter footprint. Was it a better place to live and visit?
The few people who were here then might think so, aided with the rosy tint of nostalgia. Far more who love Truckee today can’t say. They weren’t here then and wouldn’t be now if not for the business of skiing.
The business — and fun — side has that much more of a chance with the resorts’ focus on better stewardship, and us doing our part more conscientiously, as well.
A bright example from this week was citizens helping persuade the Truckee Donner Public Utilities District to step back from considering a commitment to a nuclear power source.
Who knows, enough of these small steps and maybe we’ll keep those palm trees out of the yard yet.
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Truckee Sun and The Union in Grass Valley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4299.