Green has been the new white in ski resorts for many years, spearheaded by organizations such as Protect Our Winters and the NSAA Sustainable Slopes Climate Challenge. But in light of the recent U.N. climate change report, it looks like changing to LED light bulbs, recycling and merely reducing energy costs will not be enough.
With solar power becoming more affordable, several U.S. resorts are making the dramatic move to renewable energy. Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows has collaborated with Liberty Utilities to go solar, aiming to eradicate the equivalent of the entire carbon footprint of 2016’s World Cup in 16 years. This season, the Tahoe resort will have 100 percent renewable electricity, cutting its total annual carbon footprint almost in half. By becoming Liberty’s largest Green Tariff customer, Squaw Valley Ski Corp. will contribute approximately $325,000 the first year, helping accelerate the transition to affordable renewable energy for the utility’s 49,000 regional customers.
This season, Arapahoe Basin’s snow-making is powered entirely by solar energy. “We have the power to save the powder” is the Colorado ski area’s sustainability slogan. “While everything we do at the ski area does have a cost-saving and environmental-impacts goal in mind, we also hope that all of our initiatives and projects will key people into changing behaviors in their everyday lives,” says Mike Nathan, the resort’s sustainability manager.
Last season, Wolf Creek in Colorado went 100 percent solar — the entire resort, lifts and buildings. Owner Davey Pitcher worked closely with the local utility co-op to build the Penitente Solar Project, a 25-acre solar farm 50 miles from the slopes. With an operational lifetime of 25 years-plus, the solar panels follow the path of the sun for optimal solar gain.
The first resort in North America to espouse wholesale renewable energy was Massachusetts’ Berkshire East Mountain Resort, where 100 percent of electricity is generated from onsite renewable energy. The resort’s first wind turbine was built in 2010, followed by 1,800 solar panels. Next was Maine’s Mount Abram, which installed a $940,000, 803-panel solar system in 2013. With the project partly funded by a $235,000 federal grant, the system’s power output and available tax credits will pay back the investment by the end of this year, says owner Matt Hancock. Massachusetts’ Jiminy Peak, the first ski area to install a wind turbine in 2007, has recently combined its system with solar to become 100 percent sustainable.
This year, the ski destination of Vail, Colo., was certified by Sustainable Travel International as the world’s first Sustainable Mountain Resort. Vailhas two on-site solar photovoltaic installations and is working with local electrical utility Holy Cross Energy to lower the CO2 footprint. These efforts are part of Vail Resorts’ “Commitment to Zero” initiative to achieve zero net emissions, zero waste to landfill and zero operating impact on forests and habitat by 2030 across all its resorts.
POWDR Corp. resorts are gradually adopting solar. Boreal, near Lake Tahoe, derives 65 percent of its base area power and 15 percent of total energy from solar. In Vermont, Pico Mountain and Killington generate over 10 percent of annual power from four local solar farms, eight onsite solar installations, and 14 GPS-linked solar trackers. In New York state, Whiteface, Gore and Belleayre are all using solar energy from a 14,589-panel solar installation.
In Utah, Alta has its own Environmental Center that has spearheaded renewable solar energy, powering three buildings so far. And the town of Breckenridge in Colorado has a 100 percent renewable energy goal for 2035.
Although Aspen Snowmass has been hot on eco initiatives across its four resorts in western Colorado since installing solar panels at Highlands in 2004, its latest project, Give A Flake, is harnessing the power of people politics. Using Twitter and postage-paid letters to senators, it’s encouraging voting for climate-friendly legislation. As well as solar energy from nearby Carbondale, Aspen has rooftop solar panels at The Little Nell, Thunder River Lodge, the Snowmass Club and the Sundeck atop Aspen Mountain, as well as its staff housing.
In Canada, eco-pioneer Whistler Blackcomb has become a driving force behind several environmental components of Vail Resorts’ “Commitment to Zero” initiative. As well as a micro hydro-renewable energy plant that returns to the grid the equivalent of its annual demand, Whistler focuses on energy-saving vegetarianism, green staff initiatives, and the four Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle and repurpose.
Also in British Columbia, Sun Peaks has started investing in solar, with panels powering the outdoor pool, security system and water-level monitors. Nipika Mountain Resort, which specializes in Nordic skiing and snowshoeing in Kootenay National Park, is completely off-grid thanks to its own solar power system. The SunMine at Kimberley is starting to power the town and ski hill.
In Alberta, although Banff Lake Louise is limited by Parks Canada restrictions, there are tentative solar projects such as The Piranha, a wastewater heat recovery system pioneered by Lake Louise Inn that reduces energy used for laundry by 85 percent. Lake Louise Ski Resort has solar power at remote weather stations, with plans for expansion.