By ANGIE JACKSON
Capital News Service
LANSING – Amid hopes for a white winter, ski resort owners are thinking green.
Mickey MacWilliams, executive director of the Michigan Snowsports Industries Association in Clarkston, said some Michigan ski areas are making environmental choices inspired by a global trend in eco-tourism.
“More people are looking to see the world in its natural state,” MacWilliams said. “It’s our responsibility to be good stewards of the environment. It just makes sense.”
MacWilliams said that ski areas are major energy users when keeping buildings warm, making snow and operating lifts.
Thus, going green is a challenge, but it’s not insurmountable, she said.
Resorts such as Pine Knob in Clarkston, Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville, Boyne Highlands in Harbor Springs and Boyne Mountain in Boyne Falls have already made changes to conserve energy and reduce waste.
Hugh McDiarmid, communications director for the Michigan Environmental Council, said investments in energy efficiency can provide substantial paybacks for resource-intensive businesses like resorts.
“They can make changes to save money and lower utility bills permanently by doing things such as replacing windows to save on heat costs,” McDiarmid said. “They’re helping themselves.”
Making changes such a purchasing wind energy credits to operate a chair lift at Crystal Mountain was an additional expense, said Brian Lawson, the resort’s director of public relations.
Crystal Mountain purchases the wind energy credit equivalent to the amount of kilowatt-hours of energy it would take in regular energy to operate the chairlift. A company in Boulder, Colo., provides the credits.
However, the lodge will save in other ways, said Lawson, who noted that it began energy-saving efforts in 2007.
For example, the resort can save an estimated half-million dollars by using compact fluorescent light bulbs in its lodging units, he said.
Rob Shick, the general manager of Pine Knob, also had saving costs in mind this year.
According to Shick, Pine Knob installed energy-efficient glass, put in vapor barriers near doors and is replacing all lights in the lodge with low-energy bulbs.
But the real money-saver was reducing the energy used for making snow this year, Shick said.
“Saving energy on snowmaking has been the thrust of what we’ve been doing,” Shick said, noting that this is the first year that the ski area will operate with an entire set of guns that use 10-horsepower motors instead of 20-horsepower ones.
Pine Knob makes its own snow guns, and it took five years to replace the motors, he said.
“Snowmaking is only 20 to 25 days out of the season but we can tell we’re pulling less energy. Every little bit helps,” Shick said.
McDiarmid said a resort’s decision to save energy can also draw customers.
“People want to patronize places they know make efforts to help the environment,” he said. “Plus, with lower costs in the long run, businesses can pass along the savings to customers.
But Crystal Mountain hasn’t lowered costs for its customers yet, Lawson said.
“We hope to get to a point someday where clean energy is more broadly used and inexpensive,” Lawson said.
However, he said the resort’s clientele appreciates efforts to go green, such as using wind energy credits to operate a chairlift and having a LEED-certified spa, meaning that the building was built and is operated using energy saving strategies and environmentally-friendly products.
“It’s certainly appreciated by customers who come stay and feel very good about how responsible our resort is and the proactive approach were taking to environmental practices,” Lawson said. “They want to support it.”
McDiarmid said scenic settings are also drawing cards for tourism-related businesses.
“It’s not just the skiing itself but the clean air, trees and snow that people go for,” he said.
Shick said he’s looking into the future, hoping that one day there will be a more sustainable way to provide outdoor stadium lighting.
“Energy-efficient solutions for outdoor lighting are still lagging behind,” he said. “Nobody likes to be viewed as an energy pig.”
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.