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January 2007

Speak-Out :: A Mighty Wind

Felix Kagi, General Manager of Crotched Mountain, talks efficiency in "A Mighty Wind". Chuck Cobb, Chairman of Kirkwood and Durango Mountain Resorts, asks "Tension? What Tension?" And Leslie Wise of Technoalpin reminds SAM that there's "More than One Way to Shoot Snow."

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A Mighty Wind
By Felix Kagi
General Manager, Crotched Mountain

In “Playing Renewable Roulette” (SAM, September 2006), there is mention of wind energy credits and of a first ski area to install a 1.5 megawatt wind turbine at a cost of some $3.9 million(!). I question whether wind power is the panacea for ski areas. Is it more hype than substance?

We are an industry that places huge demands on the power grid, with horsepower upon horsepower of pumps, compressors, fans and such, operated only in sporadic fashion. Fortunately, the need for such power demand is often during the night, a time when many other human endeavors come to a halt. So supply is less of a problem, since the typical power generation plant cannot just shut down on a whim.

The conventional snowmaking plant requires lots of wattage to operate, typically in the range of anywhere from 2,000 to 6,000 KVA, as demand is metered and billed. The window of opportunity is rather narrow for snowmaking, as it requires low temperatures. In addition, it is rare that good wind coincides with these kinds of demand requirements. So wind is not likely a good source of direct power for snowmaking operations.

In “A Problem with Wind Power,” a recent article written by science writer Eric Rosenblum, he points out some interesting research and experience that explains why wind power may not be the answer ( “Throughout Europe wind turbines produce less than 20 percent of their rated capacity,” Rosenblum writes. “This percentage is called the load factor or capacity factor. The rated generating capacity only occurs during 100 percent ideal conditions, typically a sustained wind speed over 30 mph.”

So under typical conditions you will get some 300KW of production out of a 1.5 MW turbine. This would not even operate one single water pump at a small operation like Crotched Mountain. It would barely operate a standard lift at a large resort. Yes, at 1.5 MW x 24 hours a day for a full year, this turbine would produce over 12 million kilowatt hours. But at 20 percent efficiency, production sinks to 2.4 million KWh. Most of that gets sold back to the utility, at a time of day that may not coincide with peak demand.

The reality is that we still need the same infrastructure for all our utility needs, since our demand for power doesn’t change. Snowmaking consumes 50 to 66 percent of the energy used at snowmaking-dependent areas. Lastly, we all know it is the power demand we pay that is expensive—and keeps going up—not so much the kilowatts we use.

For the ski area operator who has seen double digit increases in energy costs, it is time to look at investing in efficiency and different forms of automation, from the single light bulb to the most powerful snowmaking water pump, LED light systems, etc. Just think of how much fuel and electricity is currently wasted at your ski area by idling equipment and lights left on.

But clearly, snowmaking efficiency is where the largest gains can be made. And in snowmaking, it’s all about KWs for each mega gallon of water converted. There is still much inefficiency in the world of snowmaking, and to demonstrate that we (the ski industry) are concerned about the environment and want to do something, we should start with the big things.

As a challenge to the ski industry, I propose a target number of 14 to 18 MW of all energy used per million gallons of water converted into snow, or to be more generous with the larger ski areas, 4 to 6 MW per acre foot of snow. That would demonstrate a real commitment to cutting our energy use.

Tension? What Tension?
“A Question of Balance” (SAM, November 2006) is an excellent discussion of the balancing act resort developers must employ between on-mountain and real estate investments, but I do not believe there is as much “tension” (your word) between these two considerations as you suggest. There is widespread agreement among most resort professionals on how to build an attractive, exciting, efficient resort that maximizes guest experience and long-term return on investment for its owners. And there is general agreement that there must be appropriate revenues from resort operations and real estate to pay for these amenities. This is what we’re attempting to do at Kirkwood Mountain Resort and Durango Mountain Resort, and that’s what I see most of our competitors doing also.

True, there is tension between the comments of Ted Farwell and my own beliefs regarding the best way to build an exciting, entertaining, efficient, and profitable mountain resort community. Like Mr. Farwell, of course, I appreciate the desirability of “hot beds,” but I completely disagree with Mr. Farwell’s suggestion that resort developers should not provide housing for resort guests who want to purchase a home that will be used only 20 percent of the time. Instead we should be focused on providing a variety of housing alternatives that will meet the needs of a variety of customers with differing wants and needs.

I suspect most professionals in the resort development industry will agree with Bill Jensen’s position in the article, in which he explains that today’s resort guests are looking for a total entertainment experience. That includes top-notch customer service, superb grooming, excellent food and beverage, clean restrooms, no waiting in lift lines, and sometimes such related things as inexpensive electricity.

The mountain resort industry is in a fierce competition with other resort offerings, including beach resorts, golf resorts, Disney, Las Vegas, and the cruise industry. Customers are not just looking for the best beach, or the best golf course, or the best roller coaster, or the best slot machine, or a boat ride, or a steep mountain. They are looking for a great and memorable 24-hour resort experience at a competitive price. There is a lot of romance and mystique in the ski experience at Silverton and Alta, but their economic model does not work for the majority of today’s resort guests.

Again, I very much enjoyed the discussion on “Balance.” I just do not believe professional resort developers sense any real tension between on-mountain and real-estate development.

Chuck Cobb
Chairman, Kirkwood and Durango Mountain Resorts

More than One Way to Shoot Snow
Your article, “Fan Guns—In the East?” (SAM, November 2006) presents a case biased toward one particular fan gun manufacturer and the theory that they prescribe to. This is not representative of the snowmaking industry as a whole. There are other theories and solutions available, and the article does not address these.

For example, the article says at one point that fan guns are more efficient, but then goes on to say that fan guns can produce snow at higher temperatures than air-water systems because “with more horsepower to the fan, the snow has more time to dry out.” Later, the article repeats this theme, saying that fan guns with fewer nozzles “make a bigger droplet, but you overcome that with more horsepower.” Yes, you do need greater cooling time with a larger diameter water droplet, but there are other solutions to the problem instead of simply throwing horsepower at it.

I would think that in today’s age of energy conservation and reduction, SAM would want to highlight the merits of different gun manufacturers and what they are attempting to do to provide good snow quality with greater efficiency.

Leslie Wise, P.Eng
TechnoAlpin Canada

SAM replies:
Thanks for your comments. Yes, we are aware that there are several ways to solve the many issues in snowmaking, and we share your dedication to energy efficiency. (So does Crotched’s GM, Felix Kagi—see his comments on the previous page) We felt that this particular case was worth writing about, given Crotched’s enviable record for making snow and its rare (for the East) reliance on fan technology. In the interest of snowmaking efficiency, not to mention fairness to all, SAM will report on solutions offered by other areas and other equipment suppliers in future issues.