Aspen Skiing Co. goes for LEED gold

The Aspen Skiing Co. seeks gold-level LEED certification for its projects, including Elk Camp, It's mid-mountain restaurant at Snowmass. PHoto/Jeremy Swanson, Aspen Skiing Co.

The Aspen Skiing Co. seeks gold-level LEED certification for its projects, including Elk Camp, It’s mid-mountain restaurant at Snowmass. PHoto/Jeremy Swanson, Aspen Skiing Co.

Aspen Skiing Co. goes for LEED gold,

but getting there can be frustrating

The Aspen Skiing Co., the single largest developer at Snowmass Village, with plans for a major new hotel, blessed the adoption of the new building codes. David Corbin, the vice president for planning and development, calls them the “inevitable wave of the future,” but also notes that they will change little about how the company goes about building the hotel.

“We already build to standards ourselves that are very similar,” he says. “We have done most of our major buildings with some kind of LEED certification. For example, we applied for and expected to get LEED gold for the Elk Camp project (a mid-mountain restaurant), and we got LEED platinum on a housing project in Aspen. Our understanding of the new green-building code is that it is equivalent to LEED gold, and we aim for that standard already.”

Corbin has worked in mountain real estate since the late 1980s, when he began at Beaver Creek. Planners and developers paid attention to energy efficiency then, but the benchmarks were different. They would shoot for R-19 in the walls and R-29 in the ceilings. Those standards have been left far behind. Today, the lower-hanging bar is for R-29 for walls and R-49 for ceilings.

“It has advanced by leaps and bounds,” he says.

The Aspen Skiing Co. argued successfully that while the building component of the IGCC code was fine, the land-use elements within the code were redundant and possibly confusing. Snowmass has its own land-use regulations, and on the ski mountain, the ski company’s operations are governed by Forest Service regulations.

But making buildings more efficient is also more involved than just putting more insulation in the walls. Corbin points to the complexity of heating and cooling systems.

“It’s so much harder to get all these new highly sophisticated mechanical systems to work and perform like they’re supposed to, simply because they’re complicated and they’re sensitive,” he says. “It sort of requires almost continuous attention to them. I have been sort of frustrated by the complexity of mechanical systems. I wonder if our buildings shouldn’t be dumber and have less sophisticated controls and maybe we should instead be working harder on our basic building envelopes.”

Location can also be a challenge. The resort market prizes big windows, which never provide good insulation no matter how many panes. Too, the views may be other than the optimal south-facing. Building locations on mountain slopes may also not favor best practices for energy consumption. “It’s tricky pulling all those things off,” says Corbin.

Buildings are getting better and more energy efficient, but it’s a process, he says, of looking back at completed buildings to study if they’re performing the way they were expected and, if not, figuring out and addressing the reasons why.

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About Allen Best

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
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