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How green is your snow dome?

1/9/2012
For kids with pro dreams but no access to mountains, indoor parks open up a whole new world. Courtesy of SnowWorld Landgraaf

Snow domes, or at least the plans for them, seem to be popping up all over the place. The news isn't the proposal for an indoor sports center in balmy Barcelona, Spain -- other projects have already been heralded for equally sun-naked locations, including Florida. The hook this time around is that developers in Barcelona hope to keep their snow cold with waste-cooling energy that would otherwise, literally, drift out to sea.

As you can imagine, the costs of maintaining freezing temperatures can be high, especially in hot locales, and operators are always seeking ways to cut down on the expense, and impact, of their facilities. Ski Dubai, located in the arid desert, employs 16.4-foot-thick walls to help insulate their climate, along with reusing snow and meltwater for their air-conditioning. SnowWorld, a Dutch company that constructs indoor ski facilities, recycles heat from snowmaking equipment for hot water and radiators.

"As we all do, SnowWorld has a responsibility to move to a more sustainable world," says SnowWorld Chief Financical Officer Wim Moerman. "So we are constantly looking for measures to save energy."

The Barcelona project aims to altogether eliminate the energy needs of operating a ski dome by tapping the negative 238-Fahrenheit temperature of liquefied natural gas (L.N.G.) that is shipped to the city's ports. Seawater is used to warm up the L.N.G. and return it to its gaseous state, with the cooled seawater dispersing into the harbor. There is already a municipal plan under way to capture this excess cool energy to create ice that would then be used for air conditioning, a process that the Swiss have explored already with stored snow.

"Until now the cold that comes free during this process is absorbed by the seawater," says Moerman. "Thus something that until now has been a waste product will be used to avoid any CO2 emissions for 75 percent of our energy needs. The other 25 percent will be generated by the Photo-Voltaic solar panels on the 20,000 square meter (215,000 square feet) roof of the building."

B01 Arquitectes saw the potential for this new technology when SnowWorld, announced that they were searching for a site in Barcelona. Paired with solar panels to power lighting and run the equipment, this ski dome aims to be carbon neutral.

At around 55 million, it's no drop in the bucket, but the price tag is on par with other snow domes, and the comparative energy savings are huge. Spaniards hoping to shred in the near future might want to save their breath -- construction is still years off, and will depend largely on an municipal and private engineering partnership, according to The New York Times.

"The status of the project is that we are pretty far in negotiating different conditions of our installation at this moment (December 2011)," says Moerman. "If we agree on these, it will take about two years to the opening date."

Hopefully in this instance, the wait will be worth it. Snowboard's latest crop of contest killers seem to be appearing with pedigrees outside the mountain-town norm. Mark McMorris honed his skills in the flatlands of Saskatchewan, Canada, and Seppe Smits came up riding indoor some domes in Holland and Belgium. Where will the next triple cork wizard hail from? Give it a few years, and Barcelona could be a good guess.