November 17, 2017

Snow guns at the heart of ski-area efficiency

One of Killington Ski Resort's high-efficiency snow cannons blankets the area in 2015. Snowmaking technology such as this has helped Killington to be named the most energy-efficient resort in Vermont that year.
ANTHONY EDWARDS / STAFF FILE PHOTO

One of Killington Ski Resort's high-efficiency snow cannons blankets the area in 2015. Snowmaking technology such as this has helped Killington to be named the most energy-efficient resort in Vermont that year. ANTHONY EDWARDS / STAFF FILE PHOTO

Ski areas throughout the state have invested millions in energy-efficiency measures such as wind, solar and recharging stations for electric cars, according to Chloe Elliott, communications manager at Ski Vermont.

The most critical and expensive cost areas face, however, is snowmaking. A 17-year trend to improve snowmaking efficiency and sustainability has resulted in the use of high-tech snowgun and compressor technologies.

In honor of Bromley Mountain’s continuing innovations, having completed a reported 27 energy-efficiency projects since 2000, Efficiency Vermont recently awarded the area a 2017 Energy Leadership Award for Project of the Year, Innovation.

In presenting the award, Efficiency Vermont Director Karen Glitman praised the area for “an impressive commitment to efficiency improvements.” Citing the installation of 10 new, high-efficiency Sledgehammer snow guns and the fine-tuning of air compressors this summer, she noted Bromley has adopted “nearly every energy-efficiency technology in snowmaking.”

The Sledgehammers are low-energy guns developed by SnowGun Technologies in partnership with LP Snowsystems. SnowGun Technologies is a subsidiary of The Fairbank Group, the father-son team of Brian and Tyler Fairbank, who own and operate Jiminy, Cranmore and Bromley resorts.

Dramatic savings were experienced when Jiminy replaced 450 snow guns with Sledgehammers in 2016-17, because they used less compressed air while doubling snow production. Their products, according to information from SnowGun Technologies, can convert 44 gallons of water per minute into snow at 25 degrees wet bulb (a temperature that takes humidity into consideration).

In addition to adding the Sledgehammers, Bromley replaced the nozzles on 55 of its SV-10 snow guns and changed the air cartridges within the guns to reduce overall air consumption. They were also able to increase efficiency of their air compressors, according to Bromley’s director of Mountain Operations, Rick Goddard.

“The primary goal with this installation is to monitor and control the compressed air system and optimize its operation. With the two compressors working in tandem, energy management is enhanced as we now have the capability to use this minimum amount of energy to meet system air demand,” he said.

Bromley’s energy-efficiency measures extend to a new snow groomer with a diesel-electric drive that reduces fuel consumption and emissions of greenhouse gases by 20 percent, with 99 percent fewer sooty particles released into the environment, according to Goddard.

In commenting on the award, Bromley President Bill Cairns said, “We’ve made the most out of the rebates and incentives that Efficiency Vermont has offered over the last 17 years, with Bromley getting about as much out of the program as we paid into our electric bill. The rebates and incentives also encouraged us to become early adopters of new technology such as SEI.”

He was referring to the snowmaking energy index, a number that allows snowmaking departments to monitor and measure the energy consumption status of the snowmaking system. As they do so, the operators can adjust air, water and number of snow guns working for maximum effective use of available energy. Bromley was one of the first in the nation to adopt this system.

‘Air hogs’ begone

In 2014 Efficiency Vermont teamed up with the state’s ski areas to replace 1,800 old snow guns with 2,300 high-efficiency models. Over $15 million was invested during the “great snow gun roundup,” for incentives, according to Efficiency Vermont.

Chuck Clerici, the organization’s senior account manager, said snowmaking upgrades have continued at almost all areas and the “old air hogs” have been replaced with low-energy guns to bring down the use of expensive compressed air. He noted that sustainable and innovative technologies are being used to power lifts and buildings, as well as to save water and money at resorts, adding that Killington also received a 2017 Leadership Award.

Efficiency Vermont recognized Killington for, “excellent collaboration at all levels of the organization” and 61 efficiency projects since 2000; 2.5 million kilowatts of energy and 20,000 gallons of diesel fuel savings in 2016-17; the first resort to complete an energy Kaizen (a focused energy savings event) and an employee home-energy workshop; and adoption of efficiency technologies at the Grand Resort Hotel.

Killington also plans to install solar trackers and roof panels, along with a contract to purchase power from nearby solar array projects. New solar-generated electricity is expected to eventually cover all energy needs required to pump water to snow guns on ski trails at Killington and Pico.

Wind turbines, lighting fixture replacements, pellet stoves, solar trackers and arrays, timers, charging stations and recycling are among other efficiency projects found at Vermont resorts. Together with snowmaking projects, they put Vermont at the forefront of mountain-resort efficiency and render the state a national leader in energy projects, Elliott said.

 

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