Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Sustainability and Challenges for XC Ski Centers

Craftsbury Outdoor Center’s rooftop solar and diesel groomer. All photos courtesy of COC.

Roger Lohr

Cross country skiing and snowshoeing are some of the most “sustainable” recreational activities requiring skiers or snowshoers to use their own power and techniques to move over the snow. But when these sports are offered commercially, the trails are groomed, the snow is machine-made (at some ski areas), and as a business operation providing skiers and snowshoers with easy access to the outdoors, there is a different equation regarding sustainability.

Craftsbury Outdoor Center (COC) in Vermont is a cross-country ski area operation that surpasses many competitors in the area of sustainable practices. The COC mission statement includes using and teaching sustainable practices and protecting and managing the surrounding land, lake and trails.


Electricity is net metered with 32kW on an array of solar trackers and 3,000 square feet. of panels on the roof, supplying the Activity Center with close to 70kW. In 2018, a new 37kW solar PV array was installed on the maintenance shed providing energy to the new dining hall. These solar panels provide a substantial portion of COC’s electricity, and solar thermal also provides summertime domestic hot water, which is supplemented with heat pumps.

COC has incorporated massive amounts of insulation into all of the new buildings, and many of the wood products used in the building construction are locally sourced. The insulated roof of the Activity Center is at R72 and the walls are R46. The dining hall and kitchen area was expanded and retrofitted. The new kitchen uses a closed-loop, ground-sourced heat pump system to heat hot tap water, radiator water, and cool the walk-in fridge. Much of the baking was switched from propane to electricity, and the new significantly larger building saved 4000 gallons of propane in its first year as a result.

The new super-insulated, energy-efficient dining facility

Improvements were also made on the off-campus athlete and staff houses installing two heat pump water heaters, three insulated and sealed basements, an insulated attic, wood pellet furnace and wood pellet boiler, and 80 window inserts. Additionally, two heat pumps were installed in two of the waterfront cottages.

The locker rooms feature composting toilets, as well as low-flow water fixtures, timed showers, and hand-dryers to minimize paper towel waste. They also are warmed with a heat pump and used locally-sourced wood for paneling and recycled steel beams for support in the construction. High efficiency wood gasifying boilers provide all of the heating and domestic hot water demands during the cooler months. They are tied into the 10 million BTUs of thermal storage in the form of 20,000 gallons of water. This storage system allows them to cogenerate with the snowmaking generator, providing electricity for the pumps and guns, and catching waste heat off the engine.

An electric vehicle (EV) charger was installed and there are preferred EV parking spot designations. Signage helps to inform COC guests about sustainable efforts being undertaken.

Froling pellet boilers in a well-sealed and insulated basement for renewable heating along with many other creative ways to lower their emissions at COC.

COC grows much of their veggies and herbs, and they source as much food from local Vermont farms as possible. Meals are altered every month to adapt the menu to the food that is in season. Additionally, they participate in the meatless Monday movement, which is a campaign to reduce meat consumption for environmental reasons.

Tracking progress on efforts since 2009, the detailed data of energy expenses on all fuels has been converted to estimated CO2 emissions. This data will instruct future projects to strive to reduce the overall footprint. Some of the findings have shown that CO2 emissions from fossil fuels rose from 2009-2013, primarily due to expansion, before they switched some of the energy systems. From 2013-2017 there was a decrease in emissions as new heating systems and buildings became more efficient.  But realities such as a long, cold winter and having lots of snow will impact emissions according to Hannah Dreissigacker, the COC sustainability coordinator. Hannah stated, “It turns out that when all of the ski trails are open for almost the entire winter, it takes a lot of diesel fuel to groom them all increasing the level of emissions!”

According to sources in Vermont, in 2003, the entire state land had 115.9 days with a minimum of one inch of snow cover that reduced to 22.5 days by 2013. COC is dealing with this by creating a gigantic snow mound produced by the most efficient snowmaking equipment. The mound is stored and protected during the warm summer months and then uncovered in the fall to be transported from the mound to the trails. This guarantees the operation will be open and programming can commence as scheduled rather than being as susceptible to the whims of climate change. The concept is being analyzed at the University of Vermont in terms of financial and energy justification. The battle against global warming continues on all fronts at Craftsbury Outdoor Center.

Roger Lohr of Lebanon, NH, who owns and edits XCSkiResorts.comhas published articles and promotional topics on snow sports, sustainability, and trails in regional and national media. He is also the Recreational Editor for Green Energy Times.

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