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Global warming drives change at ski areas

A host of new environmental initiatives will mark this year's ski season at Mount Bachelor.

The Bend-area resort has assembled a "green team" and commissioned a climatological report that is expected to reveal the 9,065-foot mountain's snowfall and accumulation for the next 100 years. Due out in February, the report will direct Mount Bachelor's long-term planning for new lifts and facilities, said Kevin Stickelman, director of the resort's skier services.

Concerns over global warming are driving Mount Bachelor's effort, as well as "greener" approaches throughout the winter recreation industry. Scientists have warned that ski seasons likely will be shorter, conditions more erratic and snowpack negligible at areas below 5,000 feet if global warming continues at its current rate.

"It obviously has a huge effect on our sustainability," Stickleman said.

Mount Bachelor — like Mount Hood Meadows and Mount Ashland — has promoted for several years the sale of "green" passes, which for about $20 per season or $2 per day allow visitors to divert greenhouse gases and augment the areas' purchase of renewable energy to power lifts. The National Ski Areas Association in recent years has recognized all three resorts for their environmental programs. Mount Ashland was honored in May for its excellence in energy conservation and use of clean energy.

"We have found that our guests overwhelmingly support it," said Rick Saul, Mount Ashland's marketing director.

In March, Mount Ashland guests paid for the first year of a three-year contract with Bonneville Environmental Foundation to purchase $18,720 in renewable energy — all the electricity needed to power its four chairlifts, lights, lodges and the Ashland business office through the 2008-09 season. The foundation supports the development of wind, solar and other renewable energy sources.

Mount Bachelor also is challenging ticket-buyers to power its Summit Express lift using only renewable energy. The mountain's Sunrise and Pine Marten Express lifts operate solely on wind power purchased from MidState Electric Cooperative, according to the resort's Web site.

But Mount Bachelor is looking to go much further in its commitment to the environment, Stickelman said.

The mountain's green team, in its first brainstorming session this month, identified the need for environmentally conscious construction, which would take into account available solar energy and recycled materials, Stickelman said. No new buildings are yet in the works, he said. But Mount Bachelor will rely on the upcoming climatological report in its long-range plans.

The resort already was phasing out all petroleum-based cleaners and solvents, working to expand the use of biodiesel in its bus fleet and soliciting environmentally minded food and beverage providers, Stickelman said.

The most obvious eco-friendly step skiers and boarders will see this season is china and glassware in place of paper at West Village Lodge restaurants, Stickelman said. Purchasing dishes and installing dishwashers cost about $60,000, Stickelman said. The switch from disposable to reusable items is planned for all mountain lodges, he added.

Simply a "cost of doing business" at this point, Mount Bachelor's increased environmental initiatives, Stickelman said, likely won't result in higher ticket prices. The resort recognizes that current efforts will negate future hikes in fuel and energy costs, he said.

Mount Ashland is one of many ski areas that sell “green” ski passes to help ski operators buy energy from renewable sources.