From running lifts to making hot chocolate, energy is a vital resource for Big Sky Resort. We're pushing to be more efficient in our energy usage from the smallest to largest implementations
Clean Energy Chairlifts
In Winter 2020 Big Sky Resort began operating all its chairlifts with electricity generated from carbon-free sources through the purchase of Renewable Energy Credits. REC purchases create demand for renewable electricity to be added to our power grid, even if there is not a direct connection from a renewable power source to where the power is being utilized.
Big Sky Resort also continues to invest in improving our lift infrastructure, with new, higher-efficiency lifts, as well as ongoing maintenance to reduce our electricity usage.
Clean Energy Operations
100% of Big Sky Resort's electricity use is carbon-free as of January 2021 via Boyne Resorts’ corporate purchase of renewable energy credits (RECs). We are committed to continuing to operate with 100% clean electricity and advocate locally, regionally, and nationally to ensure that our electric grid operates on more renewable and carbon-free energy sources.
In Summer 2023, Big Sky Resort made the switch to renewable diesel for all our diesel engines. Renewable diesel, also known as hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), serves as a drop-in replacement for conventional petroleum diesel without requiring any engine modifications. Renewable diesel is derived from agricultural byproducts, such as animal fats and cooking oils, making it a responsible and renewable alternative to fossil fuels. Through this transition, we anticipate a substantial 60% reduction in emissions in the first year. Renewable diesel offers a substantial solution since there are currently no viable alternatives for fully electric snowcats or construction equipment.
In addition to the resort’s efforts, R50 renewable diesel is now available to the public in Belgrade at the Commercial Fueling Network, enabling the community to adopt cleaner fuel sources. In partnership with Big Sky Resort and Yellowstone Teton Clean Cities Coalition, Parkland USA will be the first to provide renewable diesel in the Gallatin Valley and Montana, marking a significant stride towards sustainability.
Big Sky Resort's mountain operation teams utilize advanced GPS systems to optimize grooming routes, limit idle times, and make the most effective use of fuel possible. These systems help operators follow the most ideal slope path for the trails they are on and prevent grooming areas that have already been covered. Further, the Snow How system provides assistance to maximize the efficacy of tilling the snow and deliver the cleanest tracks in the most efficient way.
Building Heating & Cooling
The temperature control of our lodges is a significant contributor to our energy consumption. By eliminating unnecessary heating and cooling and improving our heating systems, we are able to reduce electricity and propane demands and diminish greenhouse gas emissions from our hotels.
In the summer of 2014, the Summit Hotel and Shoshone Condominium Hotel rooms were equipped with key card systems to optimize thermostat activity. These efficiency thermostats allow guests to set temperature settings when in the room by inserting their key card into a wall compartment. Removing the key card alerts the system that the room is unoccupied and the heating and cooling return to its default settings.
In 2016 and 2017, the Village Center and Huntley Lodge HVAC systems were upgraded to use infrared occupancy sensors to determine whether or not a room is occupied, regulating the temperature settings accordingly.
In 2019, the Summit Hotel HVAC system was upgraded to a state-of-the-art web-based control system. In addition to infrared occupancy sensors on thermostats and economy-mode settings, lodging staff are able to monitor and control thermostats from a central computerized system and manage alerts for rooms that are too hot or cold. This new system is anticipated to reduce energy usage by around 15%.
Beyond upgrading HVAC systems, Big Sky Resort installed vestibule entries on all major entrance/exit points in the Exchange and hotels, installed free-cooling systems to chill water in The Village Center and Summit Hotel (which uses a large fan and water evaporation rather than electricity), and replaced Shoshone Hotel deck windows with new, energy-efficient models, all to minimize energy usage for heating and cooling.
Changing incandescent and fluorescent lightbulbs to LEDs has resulted in significant energy savings for the resort. As buildings have undergone remodels and lights go out, old incandescent and fluorescent lightbulbs have been phased out in favor of LED lightbulbs, which use significantly less energy and are more durable.
In 2011, the Summit Hotel's parking garage was retrofitted with LED bulbs and motion sensor lighting control. In only 10 months, the project paid for itself, with the energy savings making up for the cost of the retrofit and sensors.
In 2019, all the interior and exterior bulbs in the Exchange (previously the Mountain Mall) were replaced. The Huntley Lodge and Summit Hotel followed during their remodels in 2021, and the Snowcrest Building in 2022. In hotel rooms, the retrofit is expected to reduce power requirements by 50 -80%, depending on the room type.
Despite generally being the most durable kind of bulb, LEDs used outdoors are needing to be replaced in the winter months more frequently than they should. As the transition to LEDs continues throughout our buildings, there has been a challenge with finding the right LEDs for outdoor use.
Fall and spring in Big Sky are times of both calm and activity, as our teams prepare for the upcoming seasons. To reduce energy consumption during the off-seasons, electrical breaker panels are marked for team members to shut down all unnecessary power. Additionally, we can take advantage of our upgraded HVAC systems in our lodges to standardize efficient temperature settings in empty guest rooms.
Variable Frequency Drives
Variable Frequency Drives (VFD) optimize motors that operate a variety of maintenance equipment. Over the years, we have installed 16 VFDs to control the ramp-up and ramp-down of boilers, chillers, and kitchen hood motors during start and stop to decrease energy usage.
Snow Melting on Walkways
While walking on snow is a part of living in the mountains, it is important that certain walkways stay dry for accessibility and the safety of our guests. In 2021, we added Tekmar snowmelt sensors that automate when heated snowmelt areas are turned on. Moisture and ice detectors control when the system is active. In 2022, we connected the system to web-based controls, allowing us to more accurately control the system over the entire Village area.
Solar-Powered Beacon Checkers in the High Alpine
Our beacon checkers, used for guests to check their safety equipment before skiing high-consequence terrain off Lone Peak, are powered by localized solar arrays. This not only allows our beacon checkers to run sustainably but also prevents us from having to track wires out to their locations from centralized power sources. Our solar-powered beacons are a great example of how ski areas face unique challenges in practicing sustainable operations, but with that comes opportunities for innovative solutions.
A non-consumptive use of water, snowmaking is a climate adaptation strategy that Big Sky Resort is investing in to expand early season terrain access, and to improve efficiency of water and energy usage. Our recent 2021 snowmaking expansion covers 33 acres and features new snowmaking technology that saves water and energy.
Recycling Engine and Hydraulic Oils
In our maintenance shop, we take extra care to make sure fuels are used to their full potential. Used engine oils and hydraulic fluids are recycled in a specialized furnace that burns these liquids to create a heat source once their traditional use is exhausted.
Recycling these used oils helps lower our propane consumption, extends the lifetime of the oils we use, and improves our environmental impact.
On-Site Renewable Energy Generation
In April 2023, Big Sky Resort installed our first rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) system on the new Levinski Lodge, the first building in our new team member housing complex. The 32 kW array will produce 39,000 kWh of clean electricity annually.