At some point, as a skier or rider, it dawns on you that skiing and snowboarding are not necessarily without environmental impact. Although we are outside enjoying the fresh air, the gorgeous scenery and moving downhill under our own power (albeit, with a gravity assist) getting uphill is a different matter. When it comes to energy usage at ski areas, running ski lifts takes a lot power. And, since most of us aren’t about to begin “earning our turns” and skinning or hiking up for each run down, many ski resorts have made mitigating their environmental impacts a top priority.
Ski resorts have, in many instances, led the way toward energy efficiency. Their desire to cut energy expenses and to lighten their carbon footprint has led many, such as Vail Resorts and Aspen/Snowmass, to invest in wind-power credits to help offset their power consumption. Canada’s giant Whistler-Blackcomb Resort took this one step further and completed a hydroelectric plant in 2009 that will generate more energy than the resort currently uses. Grouse Mountain, also in British Columbia, chose a different path and constructed an on-site utility-scale wind Leitwind turbine that offsets 25% of the resort’s energy consumption, and has become a year-round tourist attraction with a 360-degree viewing pod located twenty stories above the ground.
Grouse Mountain is not the only ski resort in North America to install its own wind turbine. Jiminy Peak in Massachusetts led the way with a turbine installation in 2008. But what makes the Grouse Mountain Leitwind turbine unique is that its design was born of innovation in ski lift technology.
A Better Ski Lift or A Better Wind Turbine?
Leitner-Poma of America is a world-wide ski lift manufacturer based in Grand Junction and is one of several companies, including Leitner Lifts of Sterzing, Italy, under the Leitner Technologies umbrella. Looking for a way to develop a more simple, efficient and cost-effective ski lift, Leitner Lifts began experimenting with direct-drive technology.
A standard ski lift utilizes a motor, a gear box and a bullwheel. In order to operate at the correct speed, ski lifts use a gear reducer to slow down the speed of the chairs. A direct drive ski lift eliminates the gear box, utilizing only the bullwheel and an electric motor, with the motor’s generator turning at the correct speed. While working on this technology, Leitner Lifts recognized that the process could be reversed and used to create direct-drive wind turbines. In essence, the direct drive allows the generator to turn at the same speed as the turbine blades, thus eliminating more than one-half of the rotating components in the mechanism and possibly, one-half of the potential headaches. Leitwind was born.
Leitwind has focused on wind turbine installations in Europe and India and is just being launched in North America from Colorado. Highly efficient, but of a relatively small-scale, the Leitwind turbines range in power from 1.5 megawatts to 3.0 megawatts, enough to offset the energy consumption of between 400 and 800 homes. These are not the type of turbines which would be used to populate a big wind farm. Rather the Leitwind turbines are appropriate for use by individual companies and communities looking to supplement their local power supply with green energy. And, of course, they are appropriate for ski areas.
Staying on the Right Side of Climate Change
And why not? The benefits to a ski area of producing on-site wind power are many. An on-site wind turbine can be hooked up to the local power network and provide energy for snowmaking and lift operations. It can lower a resort’s power bills and reduce its carbon footprint. Generating green power is good for a ski resort’s environmental image and supports a resort’s environmental ethos. Even more importantly, for an industry dependent upon cold-weather and snow, a small carbon footprint is insurance against future climate change. Oh, yes, and a turbine can become a tourist attraction. Just ask Grouse Mountain.
According to Patrick Thorne, editor of the Green Ski Resort Guide, of the world’s leading 250 ski resorts, 60% are now using at least some renewable energy from sources such as wind-, solar- or hydro-power. One-third of these resorts have upped that number to 100%. To return to just one example, Vail Resorts is now the second largest purchaser of renewable energy in North America (and given North America’s penchant for using lots of energy, that may mean the world).
Ski resorts don’t have to be net energy consumers. They don’t have to get caught on the wrong side of climate change. And, with ski resorts focusing more on reducing their carbon impact and companies such as Leitwind and Leitner-Poma focusing on the technology necessary for a green-energy future, they won’t be.
When You Go….
Grouse Mountain offers tours of its Leitwind turbine, The Eye of the Wind, by reservation every day from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Tours leave every hour on weekends and every two hours on weekdays. Drop-in tours are available only on weekends. Tours take visitors up 20 stories to the viewing pod by elevator. The viewing pod is directly below the hub of the turbine blades and offers 350 degree views of Vancouver, the harbor and the coastal mountains. On a clear day, visitors can see Mt. Baker, Mt. Rainier and Mt. Garibaldi and The Olympic Peninsula. For more information on The Eye of the Wind Tour, click here.
Grouse Mountain is located only 15 minutes from Vancouver, B.C. A popular and convenient winter sports destination, Grouse Mountain offers skiing, riding, terrain parks, ski school, rentals, snowshoeing and a snow limo (basically, you sit in the bucket of a mono-ski and a guide takes you down a ski run — you get the feeling of skiing, without the effort!). There are also many, many other winter and summer attractions and activities. Please check the Grouse Mountain website for more details on the Skyride, Theatre in the Sky, the Lumberjack Show, Birds in Motion, Eco-Walks and more.
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