Wind, sun power hostel on wheels
January 7, 2009
It’s the magic school bus for skiers: a solar and wind powered hostel on wheels built with 90 percent recycled materials to carry racers to competitions in the Mountain West.
The Shred Wagen, winged with used solar panels and a wind generator, sleeps eight people in bunk beds. The Dodge Ram that pulls the trailer runs on biodiesel and natural gas. It offers guests a full shower, bathroom and, most alluringly, hot water.
The project took Jesse Swing and his friends more than three months to construct and cost $10,000. But after a successful tour last year, the mobile hostel has stayed off the road so far this year because of the bad economy.
Accommodations on the Wagen are modest, but not without charm. Swing, who graduated from Park City High School in 1997, lacquered a salad bowl and turned it into a bathroom sink. He pilfered a stove out of a motor home in a junkyard and installed it in the kitchen. He bought batteries, solar panels and a wind generator used and scavenged Craig’s List for mattresses and furniture. He stripped the bark from dead trees and milled his own wood. The hodge-podge of renewable energy sources surprises onlookers, Swing said, and the interior is more hospitable than expected.
Swing’s sister, Jannicke, sewed curtains and mattress covers out of fabric she purchased at thrift stores and papered the walls with pages from her dad’s Encyclopedia Britannica from the late 1960s. "We wanted to use all our resources to educate and inspire people," said Swing, who co-founded the nonprofit organization Heal the Snow in the summer of 2006.
The Swing siblings and racing buddy Nate Johansing spent some of the winter months following the U.S. Freestyle circuit in Telluride, Squaw Valley, Jackson Hole and Crested Butte. The Shred Wagen appeared in the Jeep 48 Straight event at The Canyons this summer as part of the "eco alley." In total, the team traveled 7,000 miles in three months. "We’re really welcome everywhere we go," Jesse Swing said.
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While the vehicle’s primary purpose is to educate people about clean fuels and energy independence, housing for competitors soon emerged as an offshoot. At $20 a night, the Shred Wagen is one of the most affordable deals in any town. "We wanted to go around to different ski resorts," Swing explained. "Ski bums are cheap and sometimes they can’t afford a place to stay."
More than a year after it was completed, the Shred Wagen remains largely unused this winter. Heal the Snow has hit hard times with the tight economy and had to cancel early appearances.
The organization needs $20,000 in donations to get on the road again for the Freestyle tour. People can support the Shred Wagen with cash donations, or by joining organizers on road trips.
Heal the Snow started with the desire to preserve natural winters and the pristine conditions necessary for world-class skiing and snowboarding. Johansing plans to start a clean fuel cooperative in Steamboat, Colo., and said in the future he would like to see sister organization for other sports, such as Heal the Surf. He even envisions a whole fleet of eco-friendly vans, trucks and mobile homes cruising the freeways and byways in the future. "Wherever you are, wherever your sport is, that’s what you have to work to preserve," he said.
Besides the mobile cabin, Heal the Snow works to solve the clean fuel quagmire, Johansing said. The organization has partnered with American Fuel Vehicles to educate people about cleaner fuels.
Jannicke Swing already has the mindset to reduce, reuse and recycle. She designed and decorated the interior of the Shred Wagen. Heal the Snow has helped her spread the word about alternative fuels. "I definitely believe our younger generation is the change we want to see," said Swing, who graduated from the University of Utah in May with an art degree. "We’re putting back in what we take out of the earth. We want everyone to be in touch with what’s going on."
Swing’s mission is to foster a community where people rely on each other. "It’s all about the little things," she said, like keeping a compost heap and switching to fluorescent bulbs. "At first, it seems like a ritual. Then it becomes a habit."
For more information, or to donate, visit http://www.healthesnow.org .