Skico prepares to use `french fry fuel’ | AspenTimes.com

Skico prepares to use `french fry fuel’

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The smell of french fries will drift down Buttermilk next winter, but that doesn’t mean there’s a new on-mountain restaurant.

Biodiesel fuel, which is made with soybeans and smells like french fries when burned, will be used in the Aspen Skiing Co.’s snowcats over the next two years, starting at Buttermilk. Skico announced the change on Thursday in advance of Earth Day, April 22. The fuel is known as environment-friendly, nontoxic, biodegradable and sulfur-free.

The Environmental Protection Agency has registered biodiesel as the only alternative fuel to have passed the rigorous health-effects-testing requirements of the Clean Air Act.

Auden Schendler, the Skico’s Director of Environmental Affairs, said the switch to the domestic fuel is a first in the industry. The Skico tested the fuel the last week of Buttermilk’s season, burning 1,000 gallons in its snowcats.

“I noticed the engines running smoother, but you’d expect that because there’s more lubricity in this fuel,” Schendler said. “There also seemed to be less black smoke, but that’s what you’d expect, too, from a cleaner fuel.”

Schendler confirmed that snowcat drivers said the fuel smelled like french fries, which he said is “kind of funny, but better than the smell of regular diesel fuel.”

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He gives credit for the idea to use the fuel to Buttermilk Mountain snowmaker Lyle Oliver, who read an article about biodiesel in The Denver Post more than a year ago. The Skico recently decided to ban Chilean sea bass from its restaurants as a way to show support for the fish experts that say the fish is being threatened by extinction from overfishing. But Schendler says this decision is much larger in scope.

“Without bragging, it’s the biggest thing we’ve ever done,” he said. “The Chilean sea bass decision was great, but 50 gallons of diesel is being burned every night in every snowcat on the mountain, and that’s nasty. Here we are finally addressing one of the real impacts of ski resorts on the environment.”

Since the Skico typically burns 260,000 gallons of diesel fuel for snowcats and backup chairlift motors, Schendler said the company will be keeping more than 1 million pounds of pollutants out of the air annually.

Six months worth of research was done on the fuel before it was tested, to ensure the fuel, an 80-to-20 blend of regular to biodiesel, wouldn’t harm snowcat engines. Aspen’s Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE) contributed funds to purchase the fuel.

“It’s cool what they’re doing,” said CORE director Randy Udall. “I’m not a diesel expert, but this is environmentally beneficial, and beneficial to national security to use domestically produced fuel. Skico continues to surprise me with the excellent things they’re doing.”

Biodiesel is produced all over the country, but the Skico will get its supply through Western Petroleum in Denver. The fuel can be made with soybeans or restaurant grease, and Schendler said it is a Skico goal to eventually use Aspen’s own restaurant grease to fuel snowcats.

The price of the fuel can run anywhere between 8 and 15 percent higher than the cost of regular diesel fuel, depending on the price of diesel.

“The price of biodiesel stays the same because it’s not subject to the whims of OPEC or whatever, like Saddam Hussein,” Schendler said.

In the same Earth Day announcement, Skico plans to increase its purchasing of renewable energy for day-to-day mountain operations. In June the company will triple the amount of kilowatt hours of wind energy it purchases from .6 percent to 2 percent of the total supply of its energy needs.

The increase is expected to keep nearly 600,000 pounds of pollutants out of the air every year.