Vail scours slopes for energy cutbacks |

Vail scours slopes for energy cutbacks

Daily file photoVail Resorts is replacing some of its older snowmaking equipment in its efforts to conserve energy.

VAIL, Colorado ” New light bulbs, more snowcat-driving lessons and solar panels are all going toward Vail Mountain’s quest to cut energy use over the next two years.

Chief Operating Officer Chris Jarnot said the company is scouring its operations ” from snowmaking to dining to grooming ” and brainstorming ideas to cut consumption. Company CEO Rob Katz issued a mandate to his company’s divisions this spring to cut energy use by 5 percent this year and another 5 percent next year.

“We will absolutely achieve 5 percent this year,” Jarnot said.

Some of the biggest energy-cutting techniques include new lighting fixtures, new light bulbs and timers for lights and heating, Jarnot said.

Vail Mountain also replaced snowmaking equipment so snow guns need less air to blow snow, Jarnot said.

“Snowmaking is one of the most energy-consumptive things we do,” he said.

The mountain is even looking to the way snowcat drivers operate the machines to save energy, scheduling more training so drivers can manage their throttle and tiller better. That adds up to energy savings, Jarnot said.

“More experienced operators become better at using less diesel to groom the same amount of terrain,” he said. “Think about all the acres we groom in the year. If you can improve efficiency just a portion of a percent, that can add up to a huge amount of savings.”

Other measure that are being considered include:

– Continuing to convert to four-stroke snowmobiles, which are more efficient and burn fuel more cleanly.

– Using snowmobiles less.

– Using systems that pump outside winter air into refrigerators and freezers.

– Using infrared photography to see where heat is escaping from buildings, and then fixing the leaks.

Some of the “sexier” techniques, Jarnot said, include using solar panels. Bailey’s at Eagle’s Nest has a new solar installation. Not only does it create electricity, Jarnot said, it also heats its surface, which eliminates the need to shovel roofs.

“In a year like last year, that would have been a huge return on investment,” Jarnot said.

Vail Mountain is also trying out a special tarp designed to insulate snow, Jarnot said.

They could use the tarp to cover big blocks of snow, saving it from year to year, eliminating the need to make lots of snow for large terrain park features, Jarnot said.

“The question is, is it good enough quality and can we move it around with a snowcat, or is it a frozen block of ice?” he said.

Vail Mountain is known for great grooming, and Jarnot said it’s a challenge to cut back energy use but still maintain the level of quality that skiers expect.

“Running lifts, making snow, grooming snow take enormous amounts of energy, and we think that we can do as good a job of those things and have our guests not notice a decrease in quality and quantity but do it in more efficient ways to save energy,” he said.

The companywide measure ” the mandate applies to all five of Vail Resorts’ mountains as well as its hotels ” will save the company $1.5 million in energy costs, Jarnot said. The company said it used 152,000 megawatts of electricity in 2006.

Katz cited the rising cost of oil in his announcement of the mandatory cutbacks in May.

“While an ‘energy layoff’ might seem a little ‘out there,’ I believe it will start becoming the norm for businesses to stay competitive in this new environment ” both for profitability and sustainability,” Katz said then.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or

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