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Dec 3, 2012 4:00 PM by NBC News

New ski gondola is powered by cow manure

(NECN) Skiers and riders were loving the early-season conditions at Vermont's largest resort Thursday.

"Everything's groomed really well," beamed skier Nate Mastroeni, who vowed to ski at least 100 days this season.

What some of those guests at Killington Resort may not have known is that they were getting up the mountain thanks to a new power source: cow manure.

"It's a very innovative program and we're thrilled to be a part of it," said Killington spokeswoman Sarah Thorson.

Killington is now running its busy K1 Gondola using what the utility Green Mountain Power markets as "Cow Power." A few of the cabins on the gondola are now even sporting cow spots.

Here's how the program works: Farmers invest in equipment for their property that harnesses gases from manure, including methane. Those gases power generators that create electricity. Green Mountain Power then sells the energy to its customers who sign up to pay a premium price, and the farmers get money. It could take several years of payments for farmers to pay off their investments, Green Mountain Power said.

Green Mountain Power noted Thursday it believes Killington is the first ski resort in the country, perhaps the world, to run a gondola essentially off poop. Asked if the concept has him looking at cow manure in a new way, skier Dan Villaire chuckled, "A little bit, a little bit! I never thought they could use cow crap for that, you know? But I guess it's working out and it doesn't smell down here, so that's a good thing!"

Right now, there are 13 Vermont farms producing cow power for Green Mountain Power. In total, their cows produce about 300,000 gallons of manure a day. The utility said the endorsement from Killington may help it expand the program.

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