It's not as if Mike Wiltse didn't like fried foods before. But now, says the 29-year-old seventh-year patroller at Sugarloaf, he's eating more than ever.
Wiltse wants to make sure there's enough grease for his biodiesel operation at the base of Sugarloaf's West Mountain chairlift. Local eateries donate waste vegetable oil, and Sugarloaf, under an agreement with Wiltse, buys every last drop of biodiesel he can produce, enough to power a shuttle bus exclusively on the renewable fuel. "It's something you think about when you're deciding whether to get your haddock baked or fried," he chuckles.
One french-fry shuttle bus does not an environmental revolution make, but there's little doubt that New England's ski industry is seeing green. From Hunter Mountain, New York, to Killington, Vermont, to Sunday River, Maine, low-energy snow guns, carbon offsets, and resort-wide recycling programs are in vogue. "Over the last season or two, awareness has really picked up," says Kevin Hackett, who handles marketing for NativeEnergy, a Vermont-based purveyor of carbon offsets that works with ski resorts, like Vermont's Mad River Glen. "Some resorts are even buying offsets for skier travel to and from the mountain."
In northern Vermont, Smugglers' Notch is installing solar hot-water collectors on its new luxury Tamaracks condos, enough to save approximately 1,000 gallons of propane annually. And last summer, Jiminy Peak in Massachusetts installed a 1.5-megawatt wind turbine near the summit. With its 123-foot blades spinning atop a 260-foot tower, the Zephyr turbine generates nearly one-third of the resort's electricity, and is expected to pay for itself in seven years. "Honestly, the decision to go with wind was based on economics," says Jiminy spokeswoman Betsy Strickler. "In the long haul, it is going to save us money. And it's going to mean we're burning a lot less fossil fuels. It's hard to see the downside."
True, most resorts aren't in a position to install a $3.9 million windmill, or provide a grease-eating ski bum with a facility to turn fryer oil into shuttle fuel. But more than a few mountains have committed substantial resources to reducing, or even eliminating, their carbon footprints, even as they acknowledge that their actions could be viewed as "greenwashing" – environmental efforts for the sake of publicity. "I really want to do the right thing and feel like it's not just greenwashing bullshit," says Mad River Glen marketing director Eric Friedman. "But I can't control what people are going to think. For us, this is the best we can do with the resources we have. At some point, skiers need to accept that they're going to have an impact, and take responsibility for that."