With Colorado annually averaging 300 days of sunshine, why all 26 ski resorts in the state aren’t fully or partially powered by solar energy asks a good question. This might be something we could see more of in the future, both in and out of Colorado (for example, Vail Resorts announced their Epic Promise program in July 2017, a goal which includes zero net emissions by 2030, and Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows expects to run fully off of renewables by the end of this year), but as of November of 2017, the idea of a solar powered ski resort is officially a reality for Southern Colorado's Wolf Creek Ski Area.
Known for powder and affordable lift tickets (read more about skiing Wolf Creek here), family-owned Wolf Creek, located about 85 miles from Durango, began running the entire area via solar last November, becoming the first ski area in the nation to do so.
"For the last 12 years, we have been [operating] 100 percent on sustainable power. We feel like it's our responsibility as a business and is something that we should all be doing," says Rosanne Pitcher, VP of Marketing and Sales for Wolf Creek. "When we went solar, we were really excited. It's something we have really been working on."
Since 2006, Wolf Creek has been offsetting 100 percent of both their winter and summer power usage by purchasing wind energy from the San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative. Working closely with the San Luis Valley Co-Op, Davey Pitcher, owner and CEO of Wolf Creek, was able to help make the switch from wind to solar for the resort, strategizing for years about how the San Luis Valley could build a solar farm that could supply both Wolf Creek and the surrounding area with sustainable power.
In November 2017, construction crews completed the Penitente Solar Project, which is the 25-acre solar farm that keeps Wolf Creek running and its nine chairs spinning. Located about 50 miles away from Wolf Creek, which typically sees over 400 inches of snow per year, Penitente's sunny and arid location has been ideal for solar productivity.
"Solar has been great so far," says Rosanne Pitcher. "We've had no hiccups and have had very consistent power. We hope other ski areas are excited as we are about this potential."
Aside from Wolf Creek's solar efforts, the mountain also boasts other sustainable and environmentally friendly practices, which contribute to Wolf Creek's progressive and eco-minded reputation. For instance, all of Wolf Creek's snowcats run off of biodegradable grape seed oil and the mountain also features three water-free restrooms, which produce zero discharge.
For Wolf Creek, the love of the mountains is at the heart of their business, which is what fuels the ski area’s desire to serve as a sustainable model that other resorts and businesses can follow.
"There are small things everyday that we do at the mountain,” continues Rosanne Pitcher. "We have always been looking to be better, whether that be through recycling, E-cycling, wind power, solar power, etc. There is so much energy consumption at all ski resorts and there is no way of getting around that. Snowmaking is such a large consumer of power and so are the lifts. I think that as a recreational area and probably the largest employer in the San Luis Valley, it's another way for us to be responsible to our community and our planet. We have to keep our mountain environments as pure as they can be."