Snow Gun Exchange Expected To Save Vermont Ski Resorts Millions

Aug 19, 2014

This summer Vermont ski resorts are investing millions to upgrade their snowmaking equipment, thanks in part to an innovative rebate offer from Efficiency Vermont. The snow gun exchange program is expected to help the state’s ski industry reduce carbon emissions and save $2 million a year in energy costs.

Killington is one of about 15 participating resorts. 

On a recent visit, the resort's snow making control center was quiet. But in a few months, foreman Steve Reynolds pointed to a bank of computer screens he said would be humming.

“This is basically our summary screen that shows all the different weather stations we have in different locations around the mountain,” said Reynolds. “We keep track of what snow guns we have running and how many, how many gallons a minute we’re pushing, and our air and water ratios.”

Killington's Steve Reynolds uses computers to monitor minute by minute weather conditions and snowmaking operations at the resort which he says helps improve efficiency during the ski season.
Credit Nina Keck / VPR

For ski resorts it’s all about efficiency, since their utility bills are enormous. 

Killington officials wouldn’t say how much they spend on power. But for comparison's sake, Steve Reynolds pointed out that his small house uses between 200 and 300 kilowatt hours of electricity a month. By contrast, he says,On a busy Sunday when all the lifts are running and snowmaking is running at 100% we use about 14,000 an hour.”

To help Vermont ski resorts cut their power consumption and reduce emissions, Efficiency Vermont has given them an early Christmas present - up to $5 million worth of rebates on nearly 2,400 energy efficient snow guns.

Dave Lacombe, head of snowmaking at Killington, said the deal pushed the resort to significantly increase its planned investment in snowmaking equipment. “We’re purchasing about $2 million worth of snow guns this year, which is a huge, huge deal to us.” And, he said, “They’re all the lowest energy guns that we can find on the market.”

The rebates per snow gun vary from $500 up to $4,000.

Mount Snow’s Dave Meeker says to qualify, resorts have to trade in four older, less efficient snow guns for every five new ones they purchase.

“Our total delivery is going to be 645 new low energy snow guns,” said Meeker. “But the great thing is our entire fleet of nearly 1,000 guns - after this exchange - is gong to be entirely low energy.”

"Our total delivery is going to be 645 new, low energy snow guns, but the great thing is our entire fleet of nearly 1000 guns, after this exchange, is gong to be entirely low energy." - Dave Meeker, Mt Snow

Jim Merriam, executive director of Efficiency Vermont, said nearly every ski resort in the state is taking part in what he believes is the first of its kind program. He said they hope to replace between 2,000 and 3,000 older snow guns with ones that are 85% to 90% more efficient. “And by trying to do it in one fell swoop," Merriam said, “we thought we could get the manufactures' attention and have them lower the costs and make sure that if there were some special things that Vermont wanted that we could actually get that from the manufacturers.”

Funding for the program comes from the surcharge utility customers in the state pay to support Efficiency Vermont. While some may balk at having to subsidize snowmaking upgrades for private ski resorts, Jim Merriam said the energy savings will benefit everyone, since we all share the same power grid. “So, at any point in time that we can bring down the overall system load, everyone benefits because we don’t need to build infrastructure either in the form of generating new electricity or more electricity or we don’t have to upgrade the equipment that’s there,” he said.

As to what happens to all those obsolete snow guns, Merriam says they’ll be collected and scrapped by Casella Waste Management and the proceeds donated to the Vermont Ski Areas Association’s Learn to Ski and Ride programs.