MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Northeast ski resorts continue to invest millions in leaner and meaner snowmaking guns, with Vermont making big inroads this year, thanks to an energy-efficiency program that helped resorts swap older model snow guns for nearly 2,300 new energy-efficient ones.

The new low-energy snow guns, which use about 90 percent less electricity than the older models, are expected to save the equivalent of enough electricity to power 1,500 Vermont homes for a year.

“This is an opportunity to kind of in one swoop take advantage of the fact that if all of those ski areas in Vermont banded together, we can actually drive even better deals with manufacturers,” said Kelly Lucci, spokeswoman for Efficiency Vermont, an energy-efficiency utility which chipped in $5 million to resorts statewide, while resorts spent about $10 million.

The utility’s engineers did side-by-side testing on the various new snow guns and reported back to the resorts with the outcomes so they could decide which model worked best for their needs.

Sugarbush in Warren added 351 new snow guns this season through the program, allowing it to put out more and better quality snow at lower costs and energy use. The resort opened on Saturday.

“It’s great to have natural snow and we love that, but when we don’t have that, we depend on putting out a good snow product for our guests so that they’ll come,” said Sugarbush spokeswoman Candice White, adding: “It’s great to be able to make the quantity of snow that we can make and also the quality. The quality’s gotten a lot better with these efficient guns.”

In Maine, nearly every resort is moving to the low-energy snow guns so that they can be up and running for the December holiday week, if not much sooner. Sunday River in Newry, Maine, with its arsenal of snowmaking, opened Nov. 3. Sugarloaf Mountain Resort began making snow back in late September and opened Nov. 9.

In nearby New Hampshire, Loon Mountain Resort in Lincoln is installing 50 snowmaking hydrants on top of the 100 it installed last year, which it says will allow the resort to open more terrain earlier in the season and provide better snow throughout the winter. Bretton Woods is replacing old pipe with 35 new, high efficiency snow towers for more than $300,000.

“Snowmaking technology has taken a huge leap forward in the past few years and the result shows in the short amount of time this ski area goes from a grass- covered trail, to a total winter scene,” said Greg Sweetser, executive director of the Ski Maine Association.

Aside from snowmaking, resorts pumped money into lift improvements, terrain parks and trails. New Hampshire’s Loon Mountain is expanding its terrain park for kids and Okemo Mountain Resort will give skiers and riders a more comfortable trip up the mountain on chilly days with its new six-person bubble chair lift with heated seats, which it says is the first of its kind in North America.

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