Skiing with the wind |

Skiing with the wind

Amanda Fehd

Ryan Salm / Sierra Sun/ Sugar Bowl Marketing Director Greg Murtha stands in front of the power supply for the Judah Express chair on Thursday.

Imagine if the wind could carry you to the top of your favorite ski mountain.

For some, this isn’t a fantasy: Sugar Bowl Ski Resort and Aspen Skiing Co. in Colorado are now purchasing 100 percent of their energy from wind farms. It amounts to a 30 percent increase in power bills.

“It’s a substantial financial commitment, but we feel it’s the right thing to do,” said Greg Murtha, Sugar Bowl’s director of marketing. “It’s not just writing a check. We try to be a genuinely green company,” he said, pointing to their recycling and public transit programs.

The move leaves the ski resorts’ competition in the dust when it comes to being green.

The Colorado-based Ski Area Citizens Coalition, which grades ski areas on environmental stewardship, says they give full marks for resorts that offset 5 percent of their energy use with renewable energy. But only 30 percent of resorts in America buy any of it.

The coalitions’ Ben Dune said ski areas have the most to lose from global warming. Science from the U.S. Geological Survey is showing more rain and less snow falling throughout the West.

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Carbon dioxide emissions from cars and power plants are thought to be the primary culprits.

Ski resorts require anywhere from 1 to 10 megawatts to run, depending on the number of lifts they operate. One megawatt is the energy required to power 600 homes, according to Sierra Pacific Power Co. spokesman Karl Walquist. The energy company serves several ski areas in Northern Nevada, including Vail-operated Heavenly Mountain Resort.

Aspen, which by all accounts has led the charge in skiing green, claims its purchase of 21,000 megawatt hours will keep 20,000 tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere each year. The company owns four resorts and two hotels in Colorado.

“Clearly the most pressing issue of our time is climate change, and addressing energy use is one of the most important actions we can take on that front,” said Aspen CEO Pat O’Donnell.

Aspen and Sugar Bowl are not building wind turbines at the resort. Instead, they buy energy credits from wind farms to offset the energy they use from traditional sources. Murtha said the method also works out well because it reduces the company’s dependence on the volatile oil market.

Ironically, Aspen’s O’Donnell helped start Kirkwood Mountain Resort south of Tahoe 30 years ago. The resort is not connected to an outside power grid and now pays over $1 million a year to it’s subsidiary power company Mountain Utilities for power solely generated by diesel fuel.

The California resort is currently looking into alternatives like fuel cells and wind power.

Dune pointed out that if Aspen can afford the price tag of renewables, so could larger companies like Vail.

Vail owns five ski resorts and one hotel. Unlike Aspen, it is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, meaning its financial decisions must pass muster with shareholders.

“It’s a consideration,” said Heavenly spokesman Russ Pecoraro. “It’s an extra hurdle.”

Heavenly is considering proposals from companies that sell renewable power and Pecoraro pointed out Sierra Pacific already has a strong renewable energy portfolio.

Sierra Pacific is required by the state to get 20 percent of their power from renewable sources, presently geothermal plants in Northern Nevada.

Sierra-at-Tahoe and sister resort Northstar-at-Tahoe are also making steps to be greener. Northstar has completely converted its grooming fleat to using biodiesel, which is made from vegetable oil and pollutes less. It also purchased a considerable amount of wind power credits last year, enough to power 180 homes for a year.

Sierra’s mountain-top restaurant is mainly operated by solar power, while its bus programs prevented 78,000 miles in car travel to the resort.

Most area resorts have similar carpool incentive programs and free buses, including Kirkwood and Heavenly.

How does it work?

Wind farms, solar and geothermal power companies send energy to the power grid. When they make 1 megawatt, they get a 1 megawatt credit, which they can sell to utilities or companies like ski resorts.