Resorts encouraged to green up snowmaking
By Bruce Edwards
STAFF WRITER | September 01,2014
It could be called the snowmaking version of Cash for Clunkers. Only in this case, the clunkers are old, energy-guzzling snow guns.
Fifteen of the state’s ski resorts have partnered with Efficiency Vermont in the Great Snow Gun Roundup — a program to scrap 1,800 of the old snow guns for 2,300 new energy-efficient models for the upcoming ski season.
Efficiency Vermont is providing $5 million in grants to offset the $15 million cost to purchase the new snow guns, said Efficiency Vermont spokesman George Twigg.
“It started last year, we brought up a number of national snow gun manufacturers into Vermont, had them test all of their equipment,” Twigg said, “to get a real apples-to-apples comparison so we could see what was the most efficient equipment.”
Resorts participating in the Great Snow Gun Roundup agree to scrap four older snow guns for every five energy-efficient snow guns purchased.
Proceeds from scrapping the 1,800 older snow guns will be donated to Ski Vermont’s Learn to Turn program.
Killington Resort is investing $2 million in energy-efficient snow guns this season.
Killington will retire 317 snow guns in a variety of styles and add 396 guns to its fleet in five models, including tower guns.
The resort has 600 fixed-tower locations, and will add 150 new tower bases for the new snow guns.
According to the resort, tower mounted guns result in more snowmaking “hang time,” adding efficiency and output while reducing noise for skiers and providing a more authentic snowfall experience.
“We are building an arsenal with the ideal balance of portability and flexibility for all conditions,” Dave Lacombe, snow surfaces manager for Killington, said in a statement. “Modern, energy-efficient snow guns require up to 85 percent less energy to operate than older snow gun models, and the new snow guns being installed this year represent the most advanced, energy-efficient technology available.”
Okemo Mountain Resort has also signed up for the program, adding 100 new snow guns to its arsenal, bringing the total number of tower guns at the Ludlow resort to 1,125.
Bromley is making the switch to an all-energy-efficient arsenal.
“Bromley is scrapping 100 percent of our remaining ground guns (59 total) in exchange for 74 new efficient HKD tower guns,” Bromley spokeswoman Janessa Purney said in an email.
In partnership with Efficiency Vermont, the southern Vermont resort will be the first ski area in the country to employ a Snowmaking Energy Index.
“This system will allow our snowmakers to measure the effectiveness and efficiency of our snowmaking system in real time,” Purney said, “giving our team the ability to adjust variables allowing for maximum output, best quality snow and lowest energy consumption possible at all times.”
Together, the energy-saving snow guns and snowmaking measurement system will allow Bromley to eliminate the need for diesel-powered air compressors.
At Jay Peak, the resort is buying 42 high-efficiency tower guns that will cut energy consumption by 600,000 kilowatts a year.
To cope with the uncertainty of winter weather, Vermont resorts have invested heavily over the years in snowmaking operations. But the Efficiency Vermont program has taken investment in snow making to a new level.
“This is truly unprecedented, first of its kind, to have such a comprehensive, multi-resort — 15 resorts all in one fell swoop,” said Parker Riehle, president of the Vermont Ski Areas Association.
Riehle said the upgrades will allow resorts to make snow in less favorable conditions.
He said snowmaking covers 80 percent of the skiable terrain in the state.
The resorts and Efficiency Vermont say the energy savings from the program are significant.
The Vermont Ski Areas Association estimates annual energy savings at 10,500 megawatt hours — enough electricity to supply approximately 1,500 Vermont homes for a year, and enough diesel saved to heat 340 homes.
At Killington, one standard diesel-powered air compressor produces 1,600 cubic feet of air per minute. Older snow guns use 600 cubic feet per minute while energy-efficient snow guns use 8 to 26 cubic feet per minute.
The energy-efficient guns also allow for more snow guns to be powered by a single compressor.
In addition, Killington is spending $60,000 to retrofit its diesel compressors to make them more efficient and cleaner burning.
The resort estimates this year’s snowmaking investment will result in direct savings of $470,000 for the coming season.
The savings come in the form of 1.45 million kilowatt-hours of electricity, 84,000 gallons of diesel fuel and a reduction of 3,452,000 pounds of carbon emissions.
Killington said it could see a full return on its investment in as little as 18 months.
“From Efficiency Vermont’s perspective, ski areas are really an important driver in terms of job creation, just economic activity for the state,” Twigg said. “This is a way we’re looking for them to improve their bottom line and so money they’re saving from not having to spend on inefficient snow guns is money they can use either to create jobs or reinvest, something new in terms of capital to further improve, upgrade their facilities.”