Carrying Capacity Durango Herald Environment


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© Richard Grossman MD, 2008


One of the conditions of my wife’s and my courtship was that she teach me how to ski. I got back at her by teaching her to drive.

This has been a cold, snowy winter. Although we’re all grateful for the moisture, many people have had a difficult time with all the shoveling and power outages. It was a real Colorado winter!

If you read the Herald regularly you know that I recently accepted a wager on global climate change. Dr. Roger Cohen bet $5000 that the climate will be cooler in a decade; I hope he is correct. Unfortunately, there is much evidence that the climate is warming, and that we humans are causing the change.

This cold winter does not undermine the concept of global warming. “Global climate change” is a more descriptive term than “global warming” since not all parts of the world will heat up. Furthermore, there is so much variability in climate from year to year that a cold winter doesn’t prove that global warming isn’t happening.

            It would be absolutely amazing if all the people—with all our consumption—didn’t alter the planet’s climate in major ways. One savant predicted that climate change will lead to decreased agricultural productivity. Lack of food will cause the death by starvation of hundreds of millions of people. Our population has outgrown our planet! I am sad that my grandchildren are likely to suffer from the profligate expansionism of my generation. We can help restrain climate change with our daily decisions, including skiing.

            It was late February when I started writing this, and snow was abundant both in the air and on the ground. I shoveled one morning and skied cross country in the afternoon. Both were good exercise. The day before, we hit Purgatory (now officially “Durango Mountain Resort”) for a beautiful day of powder. When we stopped to catch our breath on Sally’s Run, my wife commented “You’re really smiling!”

            On skinny skis we travel through the woods close to our home. With just a short car ride we’re off on forest roads or going cross country on gentle slopes.

There is a lot to see in the winter woods. Deer, elk and cottontail rabbits are common. Once we were treated to a glimpse of an ermine (the short-tailed weasel in its winter coat) as it porpoised through the snow. We also enjoyed tracking a mountain lion walking along a road up north. The big cat had come out of the woods, gone up over the snow bank at the side of the road, and then walked along the road. We were sure that it was a cat because the prints were lacking claw marks. At one place we saw where it had lain down and left a clear imprint of where its tail had rested. We have also had a peek of (or seen the tracks of) voles, mice, coyotes, turkeys and many other animals.

            Comparing alpine and cross country skiing, there are several differences. Skinny skis take us into quiet terrain where we seldom see other people—and usually our dog can come along. Cross country skiing is always a good workout.

            At Purgatory we usually run into friends, so it is more sociable. It is fun to push our skills to see if we can survive the black diamond trails. There is intermittent exercise with a chance to catch your breath on the lifts.

            Another way to look at the comparison is cost. Cross country is quite inexpensive. In addition to financial expense there is also the cost to the environment. Roundtrip to Purgy takes over two hours and a half tank of gas. Although convenient, the lifts that haul us up hill have an environmental price. They run on fossil fuel that generates green house gases. All in all, cross country has much less impact.

            It is possible to estimate the impact human activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide produced in a year—the “carbon footprint”. This should include direct uses (such as burning fossil fuels) and indirect usage (such as the energy used to manufacture a pair of skis). My favorite calculator (although it doesn’t include one’s choice of skiing) is at You’ll find the calculator link in the lower right corner.

            We are fortunate to live in an area with wonderful outdoor activities, including skiing. In order to keep our environment healthy, however, we should make conscious choices to decrease our impact.

By Richard

I am a retired obstetrician-gynecologist who has been fortunate to live and work in the wonderful community of Durango, Colorado for 40 years.

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