Gondola goes green | AspenTimes.com

Gondola goes green

Now even the slowest skiers on Aspen Mountain can rightfully boast that they fly like the wind.

The Silver Queen gondola will be run entirely by wind-generated electricity this season, thanks to a partnership of businesses, nonprofits and governments.

The Aspen Skiing Co. completed a deal this week to raise an estimated $25,000 to buy wind power necessary to run the gondola for the winter.

The Skico teamed with Holy Cross Energy, the nonprofit Community Office for Resource Efficiency, Aspen Municipal Electric Utility, and ESPN. The renewable energy will be purchased from a wind farm in eastern Colorado.

This latest move means that 6 percent of the Skico’s total electricity usage is coming from the wind, according to Environmental Affairs Director Auden Schendler. While that is still a low figure, it is six times more than any other resort in North America, he said.

The Skico first went renewable in 1997 by purchasing wind-generated electricity to power the Cirque lift on the high terrain of Snowmass Ski Area. Wind-power usage grew steadily through last ski season, when the Skico spent about $4,000 annually on the renewable resource.

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During the off-season, the Skico brass approved increasing its wind power threefold for this ski season, buying a total of $12,000 of the alternative energy.

The Skico is now powering Lift 1A on Aspen Mountain, the Tiehack lift at Buttermilk and the Thunderbowl lift at Aspen Highlands with wind-generated electricity as well as the Cirque lift at Snowmass.

But getting the gondola into the wind-power program was especially significant because the gondola uses so much energy, said Schendler. Enlisting it in the program boosts the Skico’s reliance on wind power from 2 percent to 6 percent.

Adding the gondola to the program will keep 1.6 million pounds of greenhouse gases out of the air this winter, according to Randy Udall, director of the Aspen-based Community Office for Resource Efficiency. CORE contributed $10,000 from its Renewable Energy Mitigation Program to help the effort.

“The 10 warmest years in recorded history have occurred since 1987,” Udall noted. “It has been 206 months since the global average temperature was cooler than normal. The two warmest years in the climate record are 1998 and, based on early evidence, 2002. Every month in 2002 has ranked among the top five hottest ever.”

He said no step is too small to take to address the problem. The average American household puts 43,000 pounds of CO2, the chief greenhouse, into the atmosphere each year, he said.

Holy Cross is assisting the Skico’s green initiative by donating some of the wind-generated electricity. Aspen Municipal Electric is also contributing.

Schendler said the Skico and its partners will tout the benefits of wind power while Aspen’s on the international stage with the World Cup ski races this weekend and – later in the season – with the 24 Hours of Aspen endurance ski race and with the X Games.

“High-profile events like World Cup and X Games are an international megaphone – we want to make some noise and affect public opinion and government policy,” he said.

The Skico is making the claim that the World Cup is a green event, based on the fact that the racers will heavily utilize Lift 1A as well as the gondola. The 24 Hours of Aspen uses the gondola exclusively.

ESPN and the Skico are going to extra lengths to make the X Games a “green event.” All energy used to power the main Buttermilk chairlift for four days will be wind-generated. In addition the Skico uses bio-diesel fuel for its snowcats and backup generators for the ski lifts. Oxygenated fuels will be run in the snowmobiles used at the event.

“This is the first time that X Games or World Cup has been run entirely on wind power,” said Skico Event Marketing Director John Rigney. “Having ESPN as a sponsor ensures that we’ll reach a national audience with this message.”