Olympian and county commissioner: Let’s protect Summit’s outdoor recreation economy

For County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier and POW Alliance member and Olympian Taylor Gold, the mountains of Summit County, Colorado are more than an outdoor escape, they’re home. But as the impacts of climate change become more apparent, taking meaningful action to fight climate change has become the forefront of their approach to protect their state.

Stiegelmeier and Gold’s piece, found here, was originally published in the Summit Daily.

For both of us, Summit County is home. From the slopes of Breckenridge to the summit of Grays Peak, we have a deep appreciation for living in Colorado’s mountains. Though we pass our time differently — training for the Olympics and serving as county commissioner — we are equally grateful that we can experience the great outdoors without venturing far from home.

Unfortunately, our unparalleled quality of life here in Summit County is threatened by warming winters. In our lifetimes, we have seen significant changes in our backyard. Snowpack is diminishing. Seasons are shorter. As temperatures rise, what should be snow falls as rain. Drier winters melt into hotter summers, where the wildfire season has become longer and more destructive. Just two months ago, the Buffalo fire near Silverthorne led to the evacuation of 1,400 homes, with $2 billion of total value at risk.

This isn’t the Summit County we know and love. We fell for snow-covered peaks of the Rockies and healthy, roaring rivers. These changes not only alter the landscape, but they hurt our local economy, which is dependent on a healthy environment for outdoor recreation. Here in Colorado, the snowsports industry contributes $7.9 billion in revenue and provides over 71,000 jobs each year. Summit County is home to five major ski resorts, Nordic ski trails and numerous ski shops and outfitters. Beyond these businesses, our county’s hotels, restaurants and local shops all depend on the ski industry as a basis for our economy, drawing visitors to our county. We cannot afford to put our community’s economy at risk.

This is not the future we want for Summit County. While we applaud the actions that Governor Hickenlooper and our elected officials across Colorado have taken to reduce carbon emissions and protect our winters, we know there is more we can do. We need to quickly move to a future where our county embraces clean energy and transportation.

Right now, we have the opportunity to take meaningful action that will help Colorado reach its climate goals and protect our communities from further impacts. On Thursday in Denver, the Air Quality Control Commission voted to initiate a process to consider expanding the availability of zero-emission vehicles. We look forward to urging the Commission to advance this program in their December meeting.

Here in Summit County, many of us use our vehicles to access ski areas and trailheads. But, we also know transportation is responsible for the largest amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. (now beating out the electricity sector). Fortunately, Colorado has the chance to improve vehicle efficiency, reduce carbon pollution and expand access to electric vehicles, all while saving families and businesses fuel costs.

Whether representing Summit County at the Olympics or as a local elected official, we both are proud to call Colorado home. As proud Coloradans, we believe it is time to move from a bold vision to bold action. Let’s protect our winters and our local economy by adopting forward-looking efficiency and electric vehicle standards. We know it’s the right thing to do to protect our quality of life.

Karn Stiegelmeier serves as County Commissioner for Summit County. A fifth-generation Coloradan, Stiegelmeier has a background in natural resources and education. She resides in Silverthorne. Taylor Gold is an Olympic Snowboarder from Breckenridge. He is a member of the Protect Our Winters Alliance and resides in Breckenridge.