Feel like schussing down the mountains of soft powder with the wind in your hair this winter? You’re not alone. Every skier on the planet waits with bated breath to hit the slopes. But there’s one thing many don’t realize: What an energy hog ski resorts are.
From the snow machines, to the ski lift, to the amount of lighting required, ski areas use an exorbitant amount of energy. But some facilities are taking it upon themselves to do something about it.
Realizing that it’s a little incongruous to promote the great outdoors only to slowly ruin it with energy-hogging practices, turning to renewable energy sources sounds like a fine idea. There are several in Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California that have already done so. But unless you’re planning on increasing your carbon footprint by taking a trip out there some time soon, it might be best to take a look at what we have locally in New England
Mad River Glen in Waitsfield, VT, takes a holistic approach to their environmentalism. According to their web site, they purchase carbon offsets for a carbon neutral end result. The offset funds are directed toward the purchase of methane digesters used at local dairy farms, one of Vermont’s main resources. They also converted their single chair lift drive to electric from diesel. And, they use CFL lighting and a ski-area recycling program to eliminate excess waste.
Stowe Mountain Resort, another well-known Vermont ski area, not only supports an extensive recycling program but they compost their food waste. Based on a recent press release, the resort works directly with a local farmer to convert the food waste into soil nutrients. More than 102 tons of organic matter has been composted. They fund a resort wildlife preservation program and their golf course is tended without the use of pesticides or herbicides, correlating with their efforts to diminish storm water runoff.
But Jiminy Peak in Hancock, Mass., is New England’s energy star. A few years ago, the facility installed a 386-foot wind turbine. Why? Because their last electric bill was over $600,000.
With the turbine, nicknamed Zephyr after the Greek god of wind, they have significantly reduced their energy output. During the summer months, they can create enough energy to go back to the grid.
"The wind turbine came about because we had done all these things and there was no more low-hanging fruit," said the resort’s owner Brian Fairbank in an interview with the Associated Press last winter. "We now make twice the amount of snow, with half the amount of money that we did 15 years ago."
But Jiminy Peaks goes a few steps further in their green initiatives. They have installed waterless toilets and they even recycle the motor oil used in their snow guns. And, according to their web site, they try to control storm water runoff with silt fencing and hay bales to protect the nearby waterways.
While the $4 million turbine might be the crowning green achievement, it wasn’t all that easy. It took about three years to make the idea come to life. Funding had to be secured, which came from a combination of bank loans, grants and renewable energy credits. Five hundred tons of parts had to be hauled up the mountain on a two-mile stretch of slope listing at a 26% gradient. When conventional equipment couldn’t haul the turbine parts, a custom flatbed had to be made to deliver the machine to the top.
But with all that said and done, the resort saves over $200,000 on their energy bill. They even provide tours of the turbine during the summer and early fall.
To offset their energy costs, ski resorts in Maine like Shawnee Peak in Bridgton, Sugarloaf USA in Carrabassett Valley and Sunday River in Newry have all opted for wind turbines, too.
Not to be outdone, New Hampshire has hopped on the green band wagon. According to an article in the Union Leader in early August of last year, the state’s ski areas like Loon in Lincoln and Bretton Woods and Cannon in Franconia have teamed up for a recycling program. For a number of years, skiers would search in vain for a recycling bin because there was no pick-up for the area. Other resorts like Cranmore collect their fry oils and repurpose them as biofuel for their machinery.
With all this effort to be a little more environmentally conscious, skiing isn’t the energy hog it used to be. So this winter, you can schuss down the mountain with a clean—and green—conscience.
Images courtesy of Jiminy Peak and Okemo Resorts.