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Courage of convictions: ski companies standing up, speaking out on immigration, climate change

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September 8, 2017, 11:15 am
smoky moonscape over Eagle-Vail

Where there’s smoke, there’s almost always fire. Is it the moon, or is it the sun? Hard to tell these days in the smoky skies over Eagle-Vail.

On a cool and slightly rainy Friday morning in Eagle-Vail, it’s hard for me to get too excited about last night’s stinging defeat of the hated New England Patriots (because it came at the hands of bitter division rivals Kansas City) or the Rockies’ destruction of Clayton Kershaw (because Colorado has been so inept in its first playoff push in seven years). No, I’m actually somewhat glum, even though ski season looms.

That’s because we have been choking on smoke all week in the Vail Valley as wildfires rage from British Columbia to Steamboat Springs. Meanwhile, the more than four feet of rain that deluged Houston has been all but forgotten (by everyone outside of Houston) as yet another massive hurricane bears down on Florida. Still, climate deniers continue to come out in force.

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Tom Brady, left, and Donald Trump.

All around us there are signs of a growing climate catastrophe and yet we have a president who wants to take us back to the 50s (1850s, that is) before we knew that the burning of fossil fuels warms our atmosphere and amplifies the effects of weather events and that building a nation on the backs of slaves and immigrants comes with social obligations that cannot be abrogated by the stroke of a pen.

I was encouraged to see Aspen Skiing CEO Mike Kaplan take a courageous stand against President Donald Trump’s cowardly refusal to defend DACA and the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers now in the cross-hairs of Jeff Sessions’ overzealous ICE enforcers. I have been writing for months about the Dreamers Trump promised to “show great heart.”

Kaplan clearly gets that Aspen and Vail wouldn’t exist without immigrants, many of them illegal. True, the ski companies aren’t hiring undocumented workers, but many companies in both resort areas do. From landscapers to restaurants to construction companies, nothing in the nation’s top two ski destinations functions without immigrant labor — most of it from Latin America.

So many Dreamers were brought here by their parents seeking a better way of life offered by an economy eager for cheap labor. Places like Aspen and Vail — indeed, cities all over the nation — benefit massively from that labor pool. Turning our backs on their kids now is a moral issue, not a political one, and everyone has an obligation to speak up.

Immigrant labor rebuilt New Orleans after Katrina, and while Trump, Sessions and Steve Bannon ramp up the hate train and push their wasteful and wrongheaded border wall, that same labor pool will be even more in demand in the wake of both Harvey and Irma.

Comprehensive immigration reform needs to recognize and accommodate labor demands, legalizing guest worker programs and reducing wage and worker’s comp abuses that run rampant in the current wink-and-nod system.

The billions spent on rebuilding hurricane and fire-ravaged areas can’t be diluted by the ridiculous border wall (which would require even more Mexican labor) — nor should it be business-as-usual reconstruction in obvious flood zones that are expanding inexorably inland as sea levels rise due to climate change.

Rebuilding in coastal areas should be done right, with building codes and zoning regs that recognize and account for climate change. In the West, that means no more building on drought-prone forest lands.

Vail Resorts, a publicly traded company typically more tight-lipped than privately held Aspen, has been taking a lead on offsetting its climate footprint, earning recognition from luminaries like popular-vote winner and climate crusader Al Gore.

But in the White House we have a reality TV star president bent on slashing regulations of any sort, while chasing away our labor force, cozying up to right-wing white extremists and Russian-billionaire oligarchs and pulling out of every meaningful global agreement that mitigates climate change while projecting and maintaining American power and international leadership.

As the apocalyptic smoke-orange sun sets over the crispy, cremated Rocky Mountains, all I can say in conclusion is, “Thank God it’s finally Broncos season, and that God is a Bronco fan.” Oh, and that a clearly past-his-prime Tom Brady may finally be getting his comeuppance for so brazenly backing Trump.

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is an award-winning freelance reporter based in the Vail Valley of Colorado, writing on health care, immigration, politics, the environment, energy, public lands, outdoor recreation and sports. His work has appeared in 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Colorado Independent, Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the London Daily Mirror, the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, SKI Magazine, Atlantic Media's RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), Ski Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail and Westword (Denver). Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

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