From Trash to Ash to Stash: Copenhagen’s New Waste-to-Energy Ski Slope

MANY A DETROITER’s first ski turns were on a mounded landfill in southeastern Michigan called Mt. Holly, which provided vertically deprived midwesterners with just enough of a pitch for some glide. Holly was indeed the pariah of the local ski hills; it was unattractive, lacked vertical drop (350 feet) and its former incarnation as a trash heap didn’t exactly burnish its brand.

But the notion of transmogrifying table scraps into sustainable slopes is playing out big time in Copenhagen, where that which rots in the state of Denmark is routinely transformed into energy by huge incinerators that sit just outside of the city limits. By 2017 the incinerator stacks themselves will be morphed into a ski area fed and fueled by Europe’s waste.

The so-called Amager Hill (Amager Bakke in Dutch) will be constructed on the ramparts of a new waste-to-energy (WTE) incinerator located on the island upon which the city of Copenhagen sits. WTE is the preferred method for disposing of waste in Europe, even though its not insignificant CO2 emissions are far less than that which gasses out of landfills.

The 400-foot high facility, which was designed by visionary Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, was announced in 2011, but the engineering company, Ramboll, only recently broke ground on the project. Copenhagen’s winters are mild due to the city’s proximity to the ocean and prevailing westerlies. The energy to drive water pumps and snow cannons will come from the facility, of course, but it’s not yet clear where the water will come from (perhaps the North Sea?).

A ski area perched on the side of an incinerator might provide a certain degree of cognitive dissonance, but it shouldn’t dissuade an active population accustomed to year-round cycling from jumping on-piste.

Ingels explains his notion of hedonistic sustainability in the clip below. His description of Amager Bakke kicks in at 14:25, but the entire 22 minutes is worth watching to fully appreciate his approach to sustainable architecture.