North America's biggest ski resort is also its greenest.
Whistler Blackcomb earned its third Golden Eagle Award for Overall Environmental Excellence at the 2010 National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) convention and tradeshow last week, this time in recognition of the company's work to facilitate a run-of-river hydro project on Fitzsimmons Creek and the Food and Beverage Department's waste reduction efforts over the past few years.
According to Arthur DeJong, manager of mountain planning and environmental resources, the award recognized all of Whistler Blackcomb's green initiatives, but those two projects "took us to the podium."
The Fitzsimmons Creek run-of-river hydro project started to produce power in February, although the plant was shut down temporarily during the Olympic Games for security reasons. At capacity it will produce roughly 7.5 megawatts per hour, with an annual output estimated at 33,000 MW hours - roughly equal to Whistler Blackcomb's annual electricity consumption, or enough to power roughly 10,000 homes.
Whistler Blackcomb spent seven years on the project, eventually enlisting partners at Innergex and Ledcor Power Group to build the system. Innergex owns two-thirds of the project and Ledcor one third, while Whistler Blackcomb has provided space within its tenure area, access to infrastructure and a lot of the initial planning and mapping for the project.
DeJong says the recognition given to the food and beverage department for waste reduction should be shared with the community.
"About 80 per cent of our (total) waste is generated through food and beverage and that department has made an amazing commitment and embraced the changes culturally in an unprecedented way," said DeJong. "Our food and beverage team reduced waste by 50 per cent over last year and the '09 season. Most of that comes through composting, so we're very careful to credit the Resort Municipality of Whistler and Whistler 2020 for the compost facility and all the supporting mechanisms for what we do."
The Golden Eagle award also recognized other initiatives like the Habitat Improvement Team and Whistler Blackcomb's carbon reduction strategies.
"It's a very meaningful award for us, we call it the Stanley Cup of the North American ski industry, and certainly it's an indicator that we are making real steps in reaching our goal, our vision of having zero operating footprint. It means a lot that the NSAA is watching what we do and has seen us making real steps towards that goal."
Whistler Blackcomb was also nominated in four out of seven Silver Eagle categories for energy conservation and clean energy, environmental education and stakeholder relations, but was ineligible to win those because of the Golden Eagle Award.
Previous to the Golden Eagle recognition, Whistler Blackcomb's last recognition from the NSAA was the 2007 Silver Eagle for Excellence in Fish and Wildlife Habitat Protection, related to their work during the development of the Symphony Amphitheatre area and express chair.
Moving forward, Whistler Blackcomb is still seeking partners to develop a wind turbine on Whistler Mountain to test the viability of wind power as well as to educate the public on green technologies. DeJong is confident that it will happen in the future.
"It took us seven years to get the run-of-river project on the Fitz, and we won't give up until we actually can make something happen on the ground," he said. "We don't know if commercial wind power would ever be viable, but we'll never have the answer until we take steps towards it. So we clearly need a demonstration project that can act as a data bank for us going forward."
A complete list of Whistler Blackcomb's environmental initiatives is posted at www.whistlerblackcomb.com/mountain/environment/.