It’s obvious: snowboarding and skiing require cold temperatures for the snow that we all love to slide on, whether that snow falls from the sky or from snowmaking guns. Climate change and the possibility of warmer temperatures in certain locations signify an existential threat to the joys of a snow day for winter lovers. Compounding the issue, running a ski area is an energy-intensive undertaking, with snowmaking operations being the primary contributor to electricity consumption at a ski area.
Thus, many ski resorts are getting serious about reducing their energy consumption, including the 35 ski areas that participate in National Ski Areas Association Climate Challenge. Here are five ski areas that are going all in to reduce their power usage and to source their electricity from renewable providers.
Whiteface, Gore, and Belleayre
Three ski areas in New York operated by the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA), including the largest ski areas in the state, have switched to renewable energy. In August 2015, ORDA signed a 25-year purchase agreement to buy its energy from the sun to power resort operations at Gore Mountain, Whiteface, and Belleayre. “We want to make sure that this wonderful recreational sport stays around for generations to come,” said Jon Lundin, Director of Communications for ORDA. “The initiative also makes good business sense by reducing energy costs. Operating a ski resort is an energy intensive operation and, other than labor, the cost of energy is one of the biggest line item budgets for any ski resort.”
Belleayre will run on 100% solar by March 2016, with Gore will utilize 85% of its power needs from solar. Whiteface will be 100% renewable energy, with 40% from solar and 60% from other sources. The effort is part of a larger strategy New York State is undertaking to lower its carbon footprint statewide.
Berkshire East, in western Massachusetts, is the first ski area in the world to generate 100% of its electricity on-site – all from renewable energy. The 900-kilowatt wind turbine atop Mt. Institute was installed in 2011 and is complemented by a solar farm with 1,800 panels, featuring 90 panels that rotate to follow the sun. The Solar Tracker panels generate 35 to 40% more electricity than the fixed panels.
The savings in electric power costs has enabled Berkshire East to spend more on “the fun stuff, like more snow making, mountain bike trails, rafting, mountain coasters, and not the power company,” according to the resort’s website. The ski area even offers tours of the wind turbine and solar field, which are both located at the top of the mountain and featured on the trail map.
A pre-season ritual for some skiers is to have a sacrificial bonfire to the snow gods. Stevens Pass is doing more than praying for snow – they are committed to offsetting 100% of their energy usage with renewable windpower credits. The ski area east of Seattle has partnered with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation to purchase the credits, which offset about 3,500 tons of CO2 per year (about the amount of electricity 500 US homes use in a year).
Not only does the ski area offset their own energy use, they also offer their customers the opportunity to purchase a carbon offset for a day ticket (for an additional $2) or a season pass (for an extra $20). The ski resort has been bestowed with numerous environmental and sustainability awards for its efforts over the past decade.
Ski areas can be such heavy users of electricity that the local power grid can’t always handle the load, resulting in local brown-outs. Managing their demand on the grid was one of the motivations for Shawnee Peak to take an aggressive strategy to reduce their overall energy use. “[We wanted] to better manage and control our energy costs and consumption,” according to Geoff Homer, Vice President at Shawnee.
Several years ago, the western Maine ski area embarked on a multi-season commitment to replace all snowmaking guns with high-efficiency models. As of this season, all the snow guns are Low-E tower or fan guns, making Shawnee’s snowmaking operations one of the most energy-efficient in the industry.
But they didn’t stop there – they also replaced many of the diesel compressors in their pump house with electric ones, reducing overall diesel consumption at the ski area by 50% (with the added benefit of a significant decline in noise emissions). As a bonus, Shawnee has special front-row parking and charging stations for electric vehicles! For its efforts, Shawnee was awarded the 2015 Golden Eagle Environmental Award for small ski areas by SKI Magazine and National Ski Areas Association.
Mt Hood Meadows
An inaugural participant in the NSAA Climate Challenge, Mt. Hood Meadows has established a goal of reducing greenhouse gasses to 6 percent below 2011 levels by 2020. To focus on reducing electric and fuel consumption, the ski area has retrofitted most of its buildings with energy efficient and motion-sensor lighting, Energy Star appliances, and an energy management system throughout the ski area. These improvements have resulted in a 76,000 kWh reduction in energy use, which supports Meadows’ efforts to “focus on the responsible use of resources in order to be sustainable over the long run,” according to Heidi Logosz, Environmental Sustainability Manager at Mt. Hood Meadows. “We are passionate about protecting the place we play!”
Beyond cutting energy use, a food composting program at Meadows has diverted 141,000 pounds of food from the landfill to a local commercial composting facility, which sells the compost back to local farms and backyard gardeners. As well, Meadows promotes public transportation use for guests and provides free employee bus transportation to get their seasonal staff to the slopes. Meadows also has two LEED-certified buildings – the Emergency Services building is LEED Gold and the Ski Patrol building is LEED Silver.
Many other ski areas are also working to reduce their carbon footprint and to be responsible stewards of the environment. Addressing the issues that contribute to climate change is serious business at winter resorts. Check out the innovations at these and other resorts on your next ski trip (which will certainly be a carpool or public transportation, right?)