Carriage Way upgrades bolster snowmelt system’s efficiency, safety
Predictive technology saves energy, reduces emissions
“Hey, the road’s not working.”
The call could come from town staff, local police, a bus driver — anyone navigating the steep, winding route of Carriage Way on a wintry day, said Adam Olson, a facilities maintenance superintendent for the town of Snowmass Village.
It usually means that the road’s built-in snowmelt system isn’t properly functioning, leaving sections of the mile-long road that runs parallel to Fanny Hill covered in snow or ice.
And it’s Olson’s job to fix it. Fast.
“Let me tell you, they notice real quick,” he said.
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Those calls used to come any time one of the four massive boilers that heat the road failed. The boiler technology had been in place for decades — some of it since the road was installed in 1967 — and there was only one boiler in each hub powering a section of the system; system malfunctions aside, each boiler ran nonstop all winter long to keep the road clear.
But that’s not the case anymore, thanks to recent and upcoming updates replacing the old boilers with new high-efficiency models that use multiple compact boilers that can be programmed to turn on and off based on the weather forecast. Two of the hubs got the reboot in 2019; one more will be replaced this year and another in 2022 to complete a system-wide upgrade from Base Village to the Top of the Village condos.
Using multiple smaller boilers means the system now has a backup plan in the event that one boiler requires repair or maintenance. On the two sections of the road where the new technology is already in place, that fallback makes for a more reliable snowmelt system.
Plus, the new system uses weather forecasts and historical data to anticipate upcoming weather events and fire up the boilers accordingly.
“There’s logic running behind the scenes telling the boiler how to run,” Olson said.
If there’s a 100% chance of snow at midnight, a “predictive index” knows when to start heating gas to make sure snow won’t pile up, Olson said. And when unusual weather events occur — like snow squalls that can lead to sudden and rapid buildups of snow — the system’s operators on the town maintenance staff can program that information into the system so it can apply the data to future occurrences of the same event.
Together, the predictive index and the multi-boiler setup are keys to ensuring a safe driving experience all season long.
“I cannot emphasize this enough — this is for safety,” Olson said. “That’s our number-one thing.”
But there are plenty of other benefits, too, especially when it comes to the town’s sustainability efforts.
For one, the new boilers burn 95% of the gas that goes into heating the roads; the older system operated at about 80% efficiency. That makes a difference when it comes to carbon emissions: more gas burning to heat the road means less gas going into the atmosphere.
Plus, the new system doesn’t have to run nonstop from November to April. The same predictive index that ensures the boilers turn on at the right times also allows the system to go idle on sunny, dry days when heating the road isn’t necessary.
In terms of efficiency, “the difference is stunning,” Olson said.
The new system saved Snowmass Village nearly $75,000 and reduced the town’s carbon emissions by roughly 1.1 million pounds of carbon dioxide in 2020, according to a news release.
Those savings also will increase as the town replaces the remaining boilers. And because town staff continue to program the predictive index with more data points, the system will get smarter over time, further boosting its energy efficiency.
The latest upgrades go “hand in hand” with the town’s other sustainability efforts, said Assistant Town Manager Travis Elliott.
Once completed, the improvements and upgrades will total nearly $3.5 million; a grant from the Community Office of Resource Efficiency and rebates from Black Hills Energy and Holy Cross Energy helped cover the cost, Elliott wrote in an email.
Replacing the boilers is a “home run” investment in Olson’s book.
“I think the town has been good at taking these savings and reinvesting in efficiency,” Olson said. “There is incentive to do better, to do the right thing. … This could be the future, too.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the name of the nonprofit Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE).
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This weekend we go local. After the bacchanalia that was the Food & Wine Classic last week, we turn to Snowmass for a kinder, gentler wine gathering as the 19th Snowmass Wine Festival gets underway.