On January 21, 2018, World Snow Day, the Aspen Snowmass Ski and Snowboard School featured tours of an on-mountain microhydroelectric plant at Snowmass Resort, with the added bonus of a free lunch — regular and vegan hot dogs.
“We wanted to do something for World Snow Day this year,” explains organizer Kevin Jordan who is also the director of children’s ski and snowboard programs at Snowmass.
“We’ve been talking for years about how to incorporate environmental education into our lessons. So when we saw that one part of the mission of World Snow Day is to preserve snow for future generations, we decided to give tours of the hydroelectric plant and give everyone who stops by free food.”
The Snowmass Microhydroelectric Plant
Auden Schendler, Vice President of Sustainability at Aspen Skiing Company, led tours and answered questions.
The microhydroelectric plant at Snowmass makes sense because it is tied into the mountain’s snowmaking system.
“If we had needed to put in all the pipe and underground infrastructure, it would have been cost-prohibitive,” he explained. “But because of the snowmaking system, we already had the pipe. This allows us to use spring runoff water from the Sheer Bliss snowmaking pond to make electricity.”
Online since 2005, the microhydroelectric plant at Snowmass generates 200,000 – 300,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. This is enough energy to power about 15 homes for one year. An equivalent amount of energy from a coal-fired plant would emit half a million pounds of carbon dioxide, a primary climate change driver.
Once the 5-million gallon snowmaking pond near the Sheer Bliss chairlift fills in the spring, the excess water flows 800 vertical feet downhill, though 4000 linear feet of pipe. Flowing at 623 pounds of pressure, the water goes through a hole about the size of a dime at 100 miles per hour and hits a waterwheel within a generator. This spins a dynamo and creates electricity which transfers to the grid.
The microhydroelectric plant is just one of several unique clean energy projects developed by Aspen Snowmass. Others include a solar photovoltaic farm and a coal mine methane-to-electricity project, the first of its kind west of the Mississippi.
From the Aspen Skiing Company’s perspective, staying in business means being profitable, treating people well, maintaining a viable community, ensuring housing is available and affordable and dealing with issues like climate change.
The ski company works closely with local utility, Holy Cross Energy, to find ways to “green the whole system” at Aspen Snowmass, according to Schendler. However, he believes their most crucial role is that of advocate.
“The most important things we do are around policy, working with the state and federal government to decide how we are going to get energy and how we are going to solve the climate problem. We’re very vocal, using the profile of company to push legislation and to push policymakers.”
World Snow Day organizer Jordan enjoyed sharing this message with skiers and snowboarders of all ages.
“Education and free food — it’s a match made in heaven.”
Holy Cross Energy
Holy Cross Energy, the Aspen Snowmass area’s local utility, sponsored the World Snow Day event.
Craig Tate from Holy Cross Energy answered questions about sustainability and the utility’s commitment to an environment-friendly mix of resources.
Of special interest to kids (and my husband), was Tate’s hands-on demonstration of the comparative energy required to power an incandescent lightbulb versus an LED lightbulb.
World Snow Day 2018
January 21, 2018 was the seventh World Snow Day. An initiative of the International Ski Federation (FIS), and part of their Bring Children to the Snow programming, World Snow Day has a four-part mission:
- Reverse the decline in youth participation in snow sports.
- To teach the children of the world how to care for the environment so as to preserve the snow for future generations.
- To teach the children of the world the health benefits of snow sports participation.
- To show the children of the world how to be safe on and off the snow.
This year, 512 World Snow Day events were held in 44 countries. The Aspen Snowmass event was one of only two in the United States, and the only one sponsored by a ski resort.
Jordan hopes to be able to do this event again, possibly highlighting additional environmental initiatives at Buttermilk and Aspen Highlands.
The next World Snow Day is January 20, 2019.
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