Snowmakers creating buzz in Snowmass
The ski industry’s first micro-hydro power plant, now operating at Snowmass Ski Area, will turn snowmelt into dollars for the Aspen Skiing Co. The plant, which has been in the works for three years, will generate power from May through August by utilizing the resort’s existing underground snowmaking pipes. As snow melts, it will be channeled into the pipes and run through a turbine to generate electricity. The electricity will be sold to Holy Cross Energy for annual revenues of more than $12,000. “This is the coolest project I’ve ever been involved with – it will blow you away,” said Auden Schendler, Skico’s director of environmental affairs. “In terms of return investment, hydro is your best bet.” The facility is a first in the ski industry and crewsovercame some hurdles, including digging up a hillside twice to repair old pipes. Those expenses aside, which Schendler said are “hard to pin down,” the facility itself cost approximately $155,000. “It wasn’t easy – we had to design from scratch, it’s all custom,” Schendler said. “It was an amazing effort.” Holy Cross Energy and several other grouprs donated about $55,000 in grants. “Holy Cross is being a really progressive utility,” Schendler said. It will take about seven years before the Skico starts making money from the project, but the materials used in the construction are state of the art and shouldn’t need any maintenance for at least 20 years, Schendler said. “It could last 100 years. This is serious industrial equipment,” he added. If the project is a success, similar facilities may be installed on all four mountains owned by the Aspen Skiing Co. As for being the first resort in the industry to undertake such an endeavor, Schendler said, “We’re psyched, I think this will put it on the radar.”Any resort with a snowmaking system can replicate this and I think you’ll see more of these.”
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It’s fitting that Eagle County is proceeding through its reopening phases of COVID-19 in an analogy to ski run difficulties — green to blue to black. Monday marks the transition from the green beginner phase to the blue intermediate phase.