While ski areas may have a reputation as high energy users, employing more sustainable options make both financial and social sense. That was the message at the inaugural Northeast Weather Summit in a session on efforts to promote sustainability at ski areas. The summit was put on by North American Snowsports Journalists Association (NASJA) and Stratton Mountain with other sponsors at Stratton Mountain, VT, in December.
More ski areas are deploying sustainable technology based on financial concerns or environmental ones, and there is evidence of established successes in ski resorts throughout New England. During the session for “Ski Area Sustainable Practices” sponsored by the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA), there were five presenters who reviewed measures they were taking to reduce their carbon footprint.
Jiminy Peak in Massachusetts switched to sustainable power (wind, solar, cogeneration) both from a monetary and social standpoint. In 2007, the ski area was the first to generate power from its own wind turbine. It followed with the building of a solar facility, owned and operated by NEXAMP, on 12 acres of its property.
Killington/Pico Ski Resort Partners, LLC in VT is also making great strides toward sustainability. Killington’s 50% decrease in its carbon footprint was enabled in part by appointing a sustainability officer to oversee its efforts.
Other initiatives include “cow power,” using methane from cow excrement. The Cow Power program is a unique form of producing energy from “farm to peak” whereby about a dozen Vermont farms use cow manure at their farms in an anaerobic digester system to generate electricity to sell to Green Mountain Power. Killington purchases 1,125,000kWh annually of this energy to power the K-1 Gondola and the Peak Lodge.
Killington has installed 47 chargers for electric cars, and it also uses 200,000kW annually from a solar farm grid. Waste water at the area is recycled, so no potable water is being squandered in toilets, saving up to 35,000 gallons of water during the peak season. Transportation, another significant contributor to carbon emission, is being addressed at Killington by funding the local bus routes supporting a regional ridership of 800,000 one-way trips annually, with almost half of all trips for those going to the resort.
Killington uses Freeaire, a system which draws in winter air to keep walk-in coolers cold when the outside temperature drops below 40°F. Energy is also being conserved in accommodations, where hotel thermostats are linked to card usage, so the hotel is not heating the room when no one is there. The ski area also raises honey bees and sells honey and related products.
New York state’s ORDA (Olympic Regional Development Authority includes Whiteface, Gore, and Belleayre), has deployed more energy efficient snow guns, making more snow over a faster period using less energy than ever before. Gore Mountain will be “turning sunlight into snow,” where 85% of the mountain will be powered by solar with two 25-year contracts that are estimated to offset 113,919 tons of carbon over the course of the contracts.
ORDA is also part of I AM PRO SNOW, the Climate Reality project, which commits ski areas to 100% renewable energy in the future. I AM PRO SNOW is a worldwide project aiming to help organizations, cities, communities and individuals to become sustainable.
Sugarbush Resort in VT has experienced a 30% reduction in energy use since 2014 and is one of more than 40 ski areas nationwide involved in the NSAA Climate Challenge, a voluntary program that aims to help ski resorts reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and reap other benefits in their operations, such as reducing costs for energy use, according to NSAA.
Sugarbush installed 15 electric vehicle charging stations, built a solar panel array that supplies power to the local grid, and upgraded its snowmaking system to reduce its energy use by 24%. The resort participated in Green Up Day, a statewide initiative to clean up trash, with the help of volunteers collecting 65 bags of trash and 33 bags of recycling. The waste management in the dining halls provides separate bins for compost, trash, liquid, and recycling.
Like Killington, Sugarbush helps fund the local bus route, which runs from December to March, and there are transportation initiatives for staff including three employee van pools and carpool cafes, which facilitates staff carpooling. Sugarbush has put NO IDLING signs in the parking lots and forbids staff to idle their vehicles.
Replacing old snow guns with high efficiency models are changes that make a huge difference in cost and energy use for any ski resort, John McMurry of Efficiency Vermont noted, and Vermont ski areas have been leaders in the country.
Efficiency Vermont thoroughly tested snow making equipment to determine ideal conditions for each type of high efficiency gun and encourage ski areas to replace snow guns that cost around $10 per hour to operate with guns that cost about 10 cents per hour to operate.
Whether for monetary gain or environmental concern, northeast ski areas are clearly leading the charge to put sustainable practices to good use and make exemplary models for other businesses to follow.
Lillian Eden is a laboratory research assistant at Tufts Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences in the Neuroscience Department and hopes to attend graduate school in science journalism.