I found this article interesting. There’s this little town in Switzerland that has created the first lift in the world, completely powered by solar power. The lift, a T-Bar, creates over 90,000 kilowatt hours of clean electricity a year. The lift consumes about a third of the total electricity produced. This seems like a smart invest at $1.5 million (US). The town is fairly isolated. Creating energy year round that has already been paid for seems like a great way to reduce the towns dependence on costly fossil fuels that must be sent through electrical lines.
Granted this lift uses only a fraction of a high speed four person chairlift (quad), this is a great way to create energy that is basically free after the initial cost is depreciated. Implementing similar projects in the United States may not be feasible. Part of the overall tourism experience at a ski area is directly related to the aesthetic appeal of the area. I can guarantee you that someone paying thousands of dollars for the mountain experience won’t want to look at solar panels the entire ride up. It’s boils down to simple marketing. Ski areas in Colorado generally attract two major demographics. Locals who spend very little money at the resort and who generally own a season pass, and vacationers who spend thousands of dollars of lodging, restaurants, lift tickets, airfare, and other amenities. No ski resort is going to knowingly alienate their out of state customers. It would be economic suicide.
I love the idea though. People are realizing that dependency of a finite energy source will continually be financially taxing, as well as environmentally degrading. Some form or utilization of renewable energy sources for the ski industry is a necessity. The first ski areas to implement widespread clean energy initiatives will have an incredible marketing advantage. One of the main reasons is the cost savings, which is almost as good as making more money. The more money you don’t spend on energy consumption, the more money you can allocate towards amenities, guest relations and other experiential aspects. Another important aspect of this would be the brand imaging. Due to local zoning issues, lack of subsidies similar to the oil industry, and overall expense of renewable energy, these sources are still very much associated with affluent consumers. Ski areas can use this as an edge. Buyer behavior studies have found that affluent people are willing to spend slightly more, or will choose an option based on its carbon footprint, or lack thereof. Implementing widespread renewable energy sources at ski areas across the world is a great way to create sustainable tourism opportunities cheaply.