Sun Valley Goes Green
Sun Valley is arguably one of the greatest ski resorts in North America. People rave about the terrain. It is fall line skiing that starts one turn off the lift and never lets up until you’re in the maze. It’s not just a great mountain discovered in 1936 by Austrian count, Felix Schaffgotsch looking for the best mountain served by the Union Pacific, every aspect of its operation defines “first class” and highest quality experience for its guest: The lodges whether top or bottom have a level of finish that is beyond any other ski resort in America. Sun Valley has tremendous food too. The grooming is meticulous. Sun Valley is also known for season-long quality snow conditions, even in the absence of natural snow, created by their 550 gun automated TechnoAlpin snowmaking system. Like most of the ski resorts they start with “good base” snow, but then Sun Valley switches their automatic system to resurface all season long with a brand of dry, ultra-high quality snow their Snowmaking Manager, Dennis Harper calls; “Gun Powder”.
TechnoAlpin has tremendous pride in its involvement with Sun Valley which goes back to 1990 when then Sun Valley’s owner, Earl Holding built one of the first automated systems in the US in response to the snowless winter of 1988-89. Director of Mt Operations Peter Stearns once remarked; “They named it Sun Valley, not Snow Valley for a reason”.
In 2012, TechnoAlpin did an intensive analysis of every aspect of Sun Valley’s snowmaking operation and then benchmarked it against almost 20 other resorts for which there are similar, detailed operational studies. Labor and maintenance were as low as you’d expect, but perhaps not surprisingly, “legendary quality” with first generation automated guns was not cheap in terms of energy. TechnoAlpin’s analysis also showed there was a huge opportunity to increase water flow and therefore speed and not compromise Sun Valley quality. TechnoAlpin was offering, more production in less time, at a 10th the energy. But when you have the reputation as the best snowmakers in North America, why take the risk? Snowmaking Manager, Dennis Harper and Mountain Operations Director, Peter Stearns were intrigued, but cautious.
Eventually Dennis campaigned for a “test trail”. Sun Valley would take a top to bottom race training trail that required very early opening, November 20th, and replace their tried and true Borax guns with the latest generation of Rubis EVO. Dennis also took the opportunity to replace his automated “YA” hydrants some of which had been in service for 25 years, with newest generation “YB’s”. EVO’s can match or exceed the water flow of Borax but at 10th of the energy.
The test trail was a home run. A top to bottom trail in very early season can take two weeks of snowmaking. Sun Valley, using 47 Rubis EVO’s opened the trail in a record 4 days. The EVO’s were flowing 1800 gpm. The guns they replaced, only 600 gpm. 200% more water! The real shocker was that using the Rubis EVO’s cut 270,000 kWh off the electric bill. 5,700 kWh per gun! This was such a great success story Sun Valley and Idaho Power, who supplied substantial rebates for the expansion, made a video to showcase it. You can see it for yourself at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jsKlolEPu-k
As a result of the success of this test, Sun Valley has a plan to roll out 50 ultra-low energy Rubis EVO each year until they replace a large percentage of their 555 automated guns, the largest auto fleet in North America.
Sun Valley had a fire last year in a compressor building in which they lost 4 air compressors. TechnoAlpin Jean petit did a study that showed that with 75 Rubis EVO replacing Borax guns, Sun Valley would not need to replace the compressors. Dennis Harper got a budget for 50, but with good early season temperatures, he made it work without the compressors!
Sun Valley was one of the early adopters of automated snowmaking, but how they used it, made their snowmaking fabled. It is great to see this same visionary resort now see how to make it 90% more energy efficient. The legend will continue, and TechnoAlpin is very proud to bring its contribution to this success story.