[The Sustainability Logbook is a new column covering sustainability news, thoughts, and initiatives taken by the 10th Mountain Hut Association.]
Anyone who has ever booked a hut trip in the early winter season has invariably asked themselves the question: will there be enough snow on the trail to get to the hut?
It’s a valid concern. We’re losing a little bit more of winter every year. Since the early 1990s, the number of frost-free days in the Aspen area has increased by 1.3 days annually. That’s over 30 days of winter that we’ve lost in just the last few decades.
In 2015 we saw 150 frost-free days at 10th Mountain’s headquarters, the highest in the record that goes back to 1940. The trends are clear— winter is arriving later and ending earlier. That’s unwelcome news for all of us in the 10th Mtn hut community who rely on winter conditions to access the hut system we all love.
As our leaders struggle to reach a consensus or enact effective policy, we acknowledge the issue and are confronting it head-on. We’re actively reducing our footprint and working towards a more sustainable hut system.
Sustainability initiatives make sense. They lessen our environmental impact and preserve the experience for future generations. Moreover, they can lead to considerable emissions reductions, which also translates to cost savings.
But to make a meaningful difference, we have to do more than change the light bulbs to LEDs and divest our endowment fund from fossil fuel investments (which we’ve already done.)
So in recent years, we’ve been working to identify steps to make our organization more sustainable. Some are being planned, while others have been completed. And we’re always looking ahead to identify new opportunities.
Here are a few examples of recent initiatives that we wanted to share with our hut users:
We’ve been replacing our original propane stoves with more efficient cooktops. Recent visitors to select huts have seen the new setups. Other huts are scheduled for improved stovetops this summer. We’re also exploring upgrades to our solar systems that could allow the installation of induction cooktops.
It takes a lot of fuel to melt snow for water, and we’ve identified water systems and storage as a great way to reduce our footprint. Last summer, we drilled a new well at Uncle Bud’s, providing potable water all year. In addition to being convenient, the available water cuts down on firewood and propane consumption and emissions from melting snow.
Over the next few summers, we aim to drill several new wells and replace or install large storage cisterns at various huts throughout the system. It’s a win-win for hut efficiency, a reduced carbon footprint, and guest convenience.
Behind the scenes, we’ve been making significant changes as well.
Our employee housing in Aspen has seen considerable improvements. We recently converted the building’s heating and hot water from natural gas to electricity and installed solar panels to bank electricity with our provider. We also upgraded the system for future EV charging and increased the building’s efficiency with improved insulation and sealing. These steps reduced 10th Mountain’s overall greenhouse gas emissions by an impressive 28%.
And it doesn’t stop there. We’ve worked with our utility providers so that our employee housing and our new, fully electric Leadville Base Operations buildings are powered entirely by renewable wind and solar sources.
Transitioning from a gas-powered vehicle fleet to an electric one is an obvious way to reduce our emissions. We’re exploring the feasibility of electric truck options, which are continually improving. Newer electric snowmobiles and ATVs also look promising as emission-free alternatives to help staff access the huts to get their important work done.
We’re all grateful for the cold, snowy season. But the data points to warmer temperatures and a continued loss of winter days, which is a concern for all of us in the 10th Mountain hut community.
But rather than let it get us down, we’re opting to do something, to lead by example. As Edward Abbey said,” Action is the antidote to despair.” We’re taking action, being more sustainable, and reducing our footprint. We encourage you to do the same, and together, as a community, we can work to preserve the experience for future generations.
Stay tuned for more entries here in the 10th Mountain’s Sustainability Logbook.
(For more information on frost-free days and other climate trends in our region, check out https://foresthealthindex.org/)