Sanctuaries in the Snow

The MicroHydroElectric Plant (Snowmass)

The End of Snow in Aspen? Have you ever stopped to look at the Snowmass MicroHydroElectric Plant on Fanny Hill on Snowmass? It is located under the Village Express Lift, next to a small water pond. See this article in the February 2014 issue of Men's Journal, by Nathaniel Rich, "Aspen and the End of Snow" quoting Aspen Skiing Company's Auden Schendler, and mentioning this plant. Here is a quote from this article:

"We are halfway up Fanny Hill, the beginner ski slope at the base of Snowmass Mountain. At the side of the trail, a small shack is loudly humming. Behind the shack lies a pool of turquoise water, a retention pond for snowmelt; it is filled by a pipe that drains water from West Brush Creek some 800 feet farther up the mountain. During the winter this water is used to make snow. About 10 years ago, Schendler realized that the snow-making system, one of Skico's largest energy consumers, could itself be used to generate electricity. For $200,000, Skico built the powerhouse and installed within it a 115-kilowatt turbine. This micro-hydroelectric plant now generates approximately $15,000 worth of energy each year, enough to power 15 homes year-round. But the plant's long-term financial benefits mean little to Schendler. Nor do the energy savings, which, in the broader scheme of things, are infinitesimal.

'None of that matters,' says Schendler. 'But this matters.' He points to a sign on the side of the powerhouse. It explains what the Fanny Hill plant does and promotes its environmental benefits. A diagram shows how the turbine, with the help of a Pelton wheel, a waterwheel invented by a gold miner, turns water into energy.

"Seven hundred thousand people ski down this hill each winter," says Schendler. Some of them, he figures, will take a break at this point on the slope, or fall down, and read the sign. Some of those people, just maybe, will be encouraged to finance hydroelectric plants of their own – or more ambitious projects.

But nobody was looking at the informational sign now, because it was summer and there was no snow on the ground, only grass and rocks. In the stillness of the afternoon, it was difficult to imagine what the slope looked like when it was covered with snow and thousands of young skiers practicing their snowplows and J turns. But it was easy to remember that before long, the slope will be snowless year-round. Then nobody will have the chance to read the sign except, perhaps, the occasional hiker, trying to escape the heat of the valley."

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