Ski Resorts Go Green With Wind Power

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In total, 51 resorts use at least partial amounts of renewable energy—and the roster is growing.

Some resorts are trying an on-site approach.

Jiminy Peak, in Massachusetts, is constructing a massive on-site windmill that operators hope will provide a third of the resort's electric energy—at a savings of more than $500,000 (U.S.) each year. (Related photo gallery: "Beyond Fossil Fuels" in National Geographic magazine.)

But for many other areas, such as those located on state or federal lands, such infrastructure changes may not be possible.

In these cases resorts can buy energy credits from central suppliers. This ensures that the resorts' total energy use will be restored to the larger power grid by renewable energy producers.

The system allows any business to purchase wind-powered electricity—even if they may not be able to physically run their operation from a local wind farm.

Sugar Bowl Ski Resort in Truckee, California—the first U.S. resort to reply completely on wind power—may have started the movement.

Their decision originally represented a departure from the norm.

"At the time I think that only Patagonia, Clif Bar, and other notoriously environmentally conscious companies were doing it," said Sugar Bowl spokesperson Kris York.

But Sugar Bowl's decision "really has to do with our ownership group," he added.

"Sugar Bowl is privately held by a small group of people who are business leaders and politically active—they believe it's the right thing to do. Preservation of the environment is a number one concern for them."

This will be Sugar Bowl's second full season operating under its greener electric system.

Green Commitment May Boost Business

Green power may lend both philosophical and practical benefits.

Tim and Diane Mueller, for instance, own Mount Sunapee (in New Hampshire), Crested Butte (in Colorado) and Okemo (in Vermont)—all of which rely on wind power for 100 percent of their electricity.

"Every company has core values, and one of our core values is the environment. It affects our business. I mean, we're outside," said Mount Sunapee spokesperson Bruce McCloy.

"Tim and Diane feel that by investing in renewable energy we're investing in the future of our business."

McCloy reports positive feedback from skiers and boarders at Mount Sunapee.

"Our guests here are all outdoor enthusiasts," he said. "Most people that ski also like to hike, golf, bike—they live outside. Our guests are concerned about the environment, so becoming a green resort is what we think our guests would like us to do."

Green profiles may also spawn some profitable partnerships.

"In the ski business you do a lot with partnerships and sponsorships and [wind energy use] has attracted companies like Clif Bar to do business with us," said Sugar Bowl's York. "They want to work with other companies who are environmentally responsible."

Wind power costs more than conventional electricity, but participating resorts describe the financial premium as modest.

Sugar Bowl first considered using only partial wind energy, but discovered that that the premium was so reasonable that they decided to go with 100 percent."

"I think the difference was like $30,000 [U.S.]," York said, "which is not so much. We could have easily spent $30,000 on a radio advertising campaign."

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