Denmark's Ski Slope (On Top of a Power Plant) Welcomes First Guests

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A skier takes in the views at Amager Bakke, a waste-to-energy power plant in Copenhagen featuring ski slopes and recreational trails. (Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/AFP/Getty Images)

After considerable delay, the world's most unlikely place to strap on a pair of skis and sail down a steep incline is, at long last, open for business. Well, mostly.

Rising 279 feet above the pancake-flat outskirts of Copenhagen, Amager Bakke — or Copenhill — is the only (one would think) garbage-burning waste-to-energy power plant to also feature a recreational downhill skiing area on its roof. The lower section of the1,968-foot slope opened to the public earlier this week for a two-day test run.

Per The Guardian, Copenhill will be fully completed in May at which point additional ski runs, hiking trails that wind up the roof at various inclines and a 264-foot-tall climbing wall will be accessible. Come spring, sections of the steeply pitched roof will be landscaped with plants and trees including small pines for that all-important faux-alpine atmosphere.

There's also be a lodge of sorts at the base of the wedge-shaped structure where skiers can rent gear, buy passes and "sit and rest after an exciting day on the hill." And because no proper ski resort would be complete without one, a chair lift system will ferry skiers to the tippity-top of the mountainous edifice with a trash-burning kiln in its belly. (The lower runs are serviced by a conveyor belt-esque carpet lifts.) From the top, skiers can take in stunning views of central Copenhagen and beyond.

As Copenhill chief executive Christian Ingels tells the Guardian, the year-round resort will offer thrill-seeking winter sports enthusiasts "the full package, skiing, apres ski, everything, boiled down into a three- or four-hour experience." Just don't expect any white stuff. (Average wintertime temps in Copenhagen hover just above the freezing mark and the city, like the rest of Denmark, experiences minimal snowfall.)

A truly multitasking landmark building

The Amager Bakke waste-to-energy power plant in Copenhagen
The Amager Bakke waste-to-energy power plant in Copenhagen. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), the ambitious project broke ground in 2013 and, at the time, was slated for completion in 2016 with an estimated price tag of $650 million. (At the time, I wrote: "I'd give it a couple more years and a few more bucks.") Although dogged by delays, Amager Bakke ultimately didn't go too over budget with its total estimated total cost now being reported as $670 million.

The municipal power plant, dubbed the Amager Resource Center, went online in 2017 and currently processes the non-recyclable waste of 550,000 Danish households and 45,000 businesses according to the Associated Press.

Outfitted with twin furnaces capable of burning 25 to 35 tons of waste per hour, the incinerator produces enough energy to power and heat roughly 150,000 homes. Viewed as the very conspicuous crowning element of Copenhagen's goal to become the world's first carbon-neutral capital by 2025, the combined heat and power (CHP) facility is one of the largest waste-to-energy facilities in northern Europe and one of the cleanest and most technologically advanced plants of its kind in the world.

However, one signature element of Copenhagen's newest and most bonkers architectural landmark — BIG describes it as a "new breed of waste-to-energy plant, one that is economically, environmentally and socially profitable" — is not yet realized: a steam ring generator that emits massive puffs of vapor from a chimney for every metric ton of carbon dioxide generated. (Actual smoke generated by the incineration process and emitted from the plant is scrubbed clean of pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide, while passing through an advanced flue cleaning system.)

Skiers testing out Copenhill, outside of Copenhagen
Recently opened to ski-loving locals for trial runs, Copenhill will officially debut in May. (Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/AFP/Getty Images)

BIG partner Jakob Lange described the symbolic purpose of the steam rings to Fast Company in 2015: "Right now pollution is intangible. People don't really know how to measure pollution, and if people do not know, then they cannot change or act. The idea of putting out a ring for every ton of CO2 is so that people in Copenhagen can look in the sky and count the rings. If citizens recycle more, there are fewer rings."

Although Copenhagen's tourism bureau (the city is banking on Copenhill being a top draw for out-of-towers) makes mention of the steam ring generator, that feature has been put on hold according to the Guardian. This is in part because Peter Madsen, a Danish inventor and entrepreneur who worked alongside BIG to develop a prototype for the first-of-its kind technology, was sentenced to life in prison in April 2018 for the murder of a Swedish journalist aboard his self-built submarine.

In Denmark, a piste like no other

Tragic crimes and artfully represented carbon emissions aside, Copenhagen residents seem thrilled about having an urban ski slope in their own backyard no matter how unlikely the venue.

"You need to get used to it. But after a couple of runs, it's really fun and I can imagine that once the whole thing is finished, it will be even better," Ricardo Karam, a Brazilian snowboarding enthusiast living in the city relays to the Guardian. "The idea, it's fantastic. I've been looking at this building and just waiting for years."

View from Copenhill, Denmark
The views from Copenhagen's most unusually sited recreational facility are stunning. (Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/AFP/Getty Images)

"It's a fantastic experience in the middle of a city to be able to do what you do like the most," Pelle Hansen, another visiting skier testing out the just-opened slope, tells Reuters. "Instead of having to go six, seven, eight or ten hours to a ski destination, you can be here in ten minutes."

Although Denmark's ultra-horizontal topography doesn't exactly allow for careening down mountainsides, downhill skiing is a — kind of weirdly — popular pastime in the country, which is home to a smattering of ski resorts and indoor ski facilities featuring manmade slopes. With "530,000 active practitioners nationwide" the Amager Bakke website describes skiing "as a major sport despite the fact that the conditions for exercising the sport in the country are extremely modest." (Scandinavia's real-deal ski destinations can be found in Norway and parts of Sweden.)

As for the "getting used to" part mentioned by Karam, in the absence of packed snow Copenhill employs a green synthetic sliding material called Neveplast that simulates the surface of a freshly groomed piste. Developed in Italy, Neveplast can also be found closer to home at Buck Hill, a ski facility located outside of Minneapolis.

"After one or two runs, your mind is automatically adjusting so you feel exactly like skiing," Christian Ingels (cousin of architect Bjarke, by the way) tells Reuters.

Happy skier at Copenhill, Denmark
Copenhill's dizzying manmade slopes are surfaced with a synthetic material called Neveplast. (Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/AFP/Getty Images)

Convention-shattering Danish architect and troublemaker Bjarke Ingels is no stranger to turning heads with bold, pipe dream-y projects that seem to defy feasibility while also promoting the idea of "hedonistic sustainability" (planet-sensitive built environments that also fun, basically). And while Amager Bakke is BIG's maiden foray into winter sports and garbage incineration, this isn't the first time the firm has incorporated recreational opportunities into the most unusual of places.

For example, BIG's conceptual design for a new stadium for Washington D.C.'s NFL franchise is encircled by a surf-able — yes, surf-able — moat. Also on the pro sports stadium front, BIG recently revealed plans for the Oakland A's new stadium, which features honest-to-goodness public green space — a ballpark within a grassy, tree-studded park, essentially — and a gondola system that links to nearby public transit.

Back home in Denmark, BIG was an obvious pick to oversee the design of Lego House, a 130,000-square-foot museum-cum-shrine dedicated to the beloved Danish brand of plastic construction bricks that opened in 2017.

Inset image: Wikimedia Commons