Volvo-Powered Ecogroomer could make the perfect ski slope a little greener

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Ecogroomer greatly increases the surface area covered by the average groomer

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The Ecogroomer is a new grooming solution for ski slopes that aims to cut fuel consumption and costs. The system consists of augmentative grooming units that make standard groomers more efficient than ever before.

While going green is a cost-saving measure or nice PR move for many businesses, it's a necessity for the ski industry. Without delving further into the hot topic of global warming than we need to, suffice it to say that even the smallest hint that the earth could warm to the point that snow becomes a memory is enough to get every ski resort executive in the country shutting off his lights and recycling his beer cans.

We've already seen a solar powered ski lift, and now a company called Ecogroomer is rethinking ski grooming equipment in order to make it cleaner, more efficient and less expensive. Instead of reinventing the large, tracked grooming machines that currently smooth snow out into its soft-skiing form, Ecogroomer builds upon those existing machines. Its system consists of self-powered augmentative grooming units that attach to each side of a traditional grooming machine. Each one has its own small engine and grooming equipment, allowing the machine to cover 200 percent more surface area on each pass-through.

According to the company, its machines increase fuel efficiency by 30 to 35 percent over current market offerings. Company numbers indicate that if major resorts used Ecogroomers in place of part of their grooming fleets, they would collectively save 20 million gallons (75.7 million liters) of diesel fuel and US$150 million by 2020. It's not entirely clear what percentage of resorts and groomers those figures are derived from, and the company did not respond to an email requesting elaboration.

Ecogroomer even suggests that the cost savings could be passed on to the consumer in terms of lower lift ticket prices. Unfortunately, given that grooming is just one of many costs to operate a ski resort, there's no guarantee that the adoption of Ecogroomers would lower or steady ticket window prices. That claim reads like wishful public relations speak, at this point.

In order to help pry its way through the door of a rather small, tight-knit industry, Ecogroomer plans to essentially lease its equipment for the first few years. Instead of selling machines directly to resorts, Ecogroomer will charge the resorts a usage fee based upon the number of hours the resort actually uses the equipment. That fee will cover any necessary maintenance and will save resorts the expense of buying equipment up front. It will also give resorts a relatively risk-free way of trying the Ecogroomer equipment out.

Now you might be wondering: why not just cut out grooming equipment entirely and save money on equipment and fuel while cutting out all emissions? That's a fair point, and some resorts do indeed groom little to no terrain. However, ungroomed terrain only appeals to some skiers and can become quite hard, icy and dangerous if it hasn't snowed in a while. So yes, ski resorts could eliminate grooming, but for most, that would also eliminate a lot of business.

Ecogroomer announced recently that Volvo will supply the engines for its equipment. It plans to work with several other US and Canadian companies in manufacturing its units, and will get its first units to resorts around the Rocky Mountains by the 2012-13 ski season. It will then increase availability across North America and onward to Europe.

We'll leave you with a piece of random trivia. The two illustrations shown above were done by James Niehues, an aerial topographic artist who has rendered trail maps for ski resorts across the United States and the world.

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