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Fighting Fire with Fire

As noted in the attached New York Times article, Ski areas in the western U.S. are increasingly having to contend with wildfires. "I always thought climate was going to take the industry out, for sure, but due to warming, shorter seasons and spring meltdown," said Auden Schendler, Aspen Skiing Company’s senior vice president for sustainability. "I now believe the way we’re going down is through fire.

"In late August [2021], the Caldor Fire raged around the Sierra at Tahoe ski resort in California. With an estimated 15 million people going to the Tahoe region annually, the conflagrations last summer are a stark reminder of the kinds of environmental threats facing the ski industry." Noah Berger/Associated Press

In Oregon's Mont Bachelor, workers thin out the forest's overgrowth to prevent flames from climbing these "ladder fuels" into the tops of trees. They then burn these clippings in a furnace. "The furnace is designed to burn chips made from this material to heat buildings, replacing about 150,000 gallons of propane the resort uses a year and reducing overall emissions by nearly a fifth. Other ski areas like Bridger Bowl and Red Lodge in Montana, and Mount Abram in Maine, have similar projects underway."

Unfortunately, burning the trimmings in a furnace generates 1,800 tons of CO2, or nearly twice as much as the propane it is replacing.

Controlling the fire risk is important, and we understand the need to cut cost. For most ski-areas, the largest single operating expense is electricity (or diesel) to pump water from distant rivers and lakes up the mountain. Tapping high elevation water can eliminate, or dramatically reduce, the need to pump the water. This would lower operating costs by 30% and virtually eliminate the associated emissions. It's a win for the resort and a win for the environment.

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