Friday, July 18, 2014

Adirondack ski areas by the numbers: Gore energy efficiency

Some readers know that while I'm a skier in "real" life, I'm an accountant in my "other" life. I guess that makes me something of a numbers nerd, and explains why the page below, from ORDA's recently released 2013-14 annual report, caught my eye.

Gore energy efficiency, from the 2013-14 ORDA annual report.
(click the picture to enlarge)

If the image is too small to read easily, here's the data from the chart:

Lift days*
Gallons of water pumped
270 million
305 million
KWH consumed
Total revenue
*One lift day is the equivalent of running one lift for one day. For example,one ski day with 10 lifts in operation is equal to 10 lift days.

If skiers thought they were getting More Gore last winter, they were right. Lift days increased 13%, from 1071 to 1209. Mike Pratt, Gore’s general manager, explained that the increased lift days came not only on weekends and holidays, but mid-week as well, in an attempt to maximize terrain available to all skiers and expand revenue during the mountain’s soft (i.e. mid-week) periods.

More snow was made as well. Total gallons pumped increased 13%, from 270 million to 305 million, as snowmaking crews capitalized on last winter’s colder than average temperatures to expand terrain and build base depths that lasted deep into April.

While the increases in lift days and gallons pumped are significant, they are even more noteworthy in light of the energy savings achieved. Snowmaking and lift operations use huge amounts of electricity, yet electric consumption actually went down even though lift days and snowmaking volumes each went up by 13%. The biggest driver of those energy savings is the purchase of 260 high-efficiency snowmaking guns over the past 3 years. 160 of those guns were purchased for the 2011-12 season, and 100 more were purchased last year. The new guns consume only 20% to 25% of the energy consumed by the guns they replace (for more on snowmaking and energy consumption click here and here).

While snowmaking efficiency had the biggest impact on energy savings, Pratt pointed out that Gore has been modernizing lift drive systems as well. The new Adirondack Express II high-speed quad lift is expected to be approximately 10% more efficient than the lift it will replace, however the increased capacity of the new lift will essentially cancel out the energy savings.

I asked Pratt about opportunities for additional energy savings for 2014-15 and the years ahead: “We have been systematically prioritizing our upgrades to target the areas with the best return on investment. So, locations that we open early and make snow on often have been prioritized, as well as areas that require more time and labor to set up. We’ve hit many of those areas over the past 3 years, but we still have a lot of snowmaking improvements to make. For example, this year 22 new guns on Topridge will allow us to open that trail earlier and with less energy. Chatiemac may be targeted for new equipment next.”

The upgrades seem to be paying off. Skier visits were up by more than 3% and revenue was up by almost 8% (click here for comparative results). Pratt summed it up: “The bottom line is we are growing our business by providing a great product and doing so in an efficient manner: More snow, faster snow, good grooming, more lifts, great mountain adventure programs, nice restaurants…cruisers, steeps, glades… good people (employees, regional businesses, guests)…MORE GORE.”

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