Middlebury

Subscribe via RSS

Middlebury Nordic ski team looks to veggie oil for a greener ride [video]

March 2, 2009

Middlebury, Vt. - Next week, the Middlebury Nordic ski team will head to Maine for the NCAA Championships, hosted by Bates College. Before they leave, they're likely to stop at the dining hall, but not necessarily for food. This stop is to pump 40 gallons of leftover fryer oil into their team truck.

Middlebury's green-minded Nordic team believes it is the first Division I ski team to power its transportation with vegetable oil. It's one of several initiatives Middlebury athletes are taking to lighten their environmental footprint as they travel to competitions throughout the Northeast.

Video: Brief tour of the team's biodiesel truck with Coach Andrew Gardner

Coach Andrew Gardner says the Nordic team inherited the college-owned truck - a muscular Dodge diesel crew cab - this year from the crew team, which does not use it during the winter months. The five-passenger truck means they can take one less vehicle on road trips. It has also enabled the team to pull an 18-foot dual axle trailer outfitted with baseboard heat, power outlets, waxing benches and plenty of space for equipment and a couple of stationery bikes for post-race cool down. Previously the skiers shoehorned their gear into minivans and did their best to wax skis in a tight space. "Now there are no holes in our preparation," says Gardner.

Middlebury first-year student Chase Marston says the new set-up makes a big difference in the team's ability to compete and he is glad the team can do it in an environmentally responsible way. "We've got the best waxing set-up in the eastern circuit," says Marston. "It gives us plenty of space to store equipment and a warm place to wax. It's really handy."

Gardner, who serves as sustainability coordinator for the athletics department, is mindful of the environmental price tag that comes with all that all that driving and hauling during the ski season. That's why he applied for a grant from the Colorado-based Brown Foundation to have the team truck converted to burn waste vegetable oil. The conversion was done by Full Circle Automotive in Waitsfield, Vermont, and is nearly invisible except for a small computer screen on the dashboard and a 40-gallon tank for vegetable oil enclosed in the back of the truck. The team can travel up to 400 miles on a tank, which has been more than enough to get them to and from their competitions.

Because of extremely cold winter temperatures, the truck starts and stops on regular diesel, but automatically switches over to vegetable oil as soon as the engine warms up - usually about 15 minutes, Gardner says. The computer screen tells the driver when the switch occurs. Gardner says they've been getting their oil from Full Circle Automotive, but with help from the college's Sunday Night Group, a campus coalition of student environmental groups, the team will soon switch to oil from the college dining halls.

Gardner believes most sports by definition are energy-consuming activities and that athletes need to be aware of how they can reduce their environmental impact. "Issues around global warming and climate change I think feed into skiers concerns more significantly than, say, if you're on a basketball court," he says. "The glaciers I've been to when I was training as an athlete are different now and that's unnerving. Working in athletics you find a lot of winter-sport athletes willing to adopt sustainability issues more quickly than traditional athletes, but I hope that what we're doing will bleed into other sports as well."