Snowmass deals with its own biodiesel problem |

Snowmass deals with its own biodiesel problem

SNOWMASS – Snowmass has averted a potential disaster that could have left hundreds stranded on ski lifts after the ski area’s biodiesel fuel source was improperly blended early in the season. Breckenridge has discontinued using its winter blend of biodiesel in its fleet vehicles after the fuel began gelling at cold temperatures, bringing diesel-operated vehicles to lurching halts.The mixture is everything. The Snowmass problem went unnoticed until the cold snap earlier this month, when several snowcats, which run on biodiesel, started breaking down.”We lost four in one night,” said Doug Mackenzie, Snowmass Ski Area manager. The frigid temperatures caused the unbalanced fuel to clog the machines’ filters, rendering them temporarily useless.”No damage was done to the machines, they were just out of commission for a few hours,” Mackenzie said. “We’d change the filters and get them started. It became routine once they found out what the problem was.” But there was an even bigger problem looming. The mountain’s lift system, which runs on electricity, is backed up with biodiesel-fueled generators that kick in if the power goes out. On a cold day, the biodiesel could have clogged the generators. “Here’s the problem: We had filled all the (lifts’) diesel tanks on the mountain with this fuel,” Mackenzie said. “We didn’t want to have several hundred people hanging in the sky. Something like that could be life-threatening.”Once the problem was discovered, crews immediately began draining the tanks of the biodiesel. By Wednesday, they had replaced all but one of the lift’s tanks with regular diesel and are on track to have the situation entirely resolved by the weekend, Mackenzie said. The headache began when the fuel supplier, which Mackenzie didn’t identify, mixed the solution by hand in the field rather than at the plant, where it’s metered. A full 30,000-gallon tank was affected. He said the company has worked to remedy the problem. “Our supplier did give us additives that are supposed to cure the problem,” Mackenzie said. “But we don’t know if it will work until it gets real cold.”

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