An all-electric Nissan LEAF charges up at the first charging stations to be installed over a mountain pass in the United States

As the initial piece of the puzzle in what will eventually be the nation’s first ‘EV-friendly’ scenic tourism corridor along U.S. Route 2 from Seattle to Wenatchee, Wash., the two electric car charging stations opened at Stevens Pass ski resort on June 2, 2011, are not only the first modern universal electric car charging stations over any mountain pass in the U.S., they represent a gigantic milestone in the quest to make all of North Central Washington a place where electric vehicles can flourish.

The two stations, supplied by Coulomb Technologies as part of their ChargePoint Network, are each able to simultaneously charge at 240 Volts (known as Level 2 charging) and 120 Volts (known as Level 1, or ‘trickle’ charging)—allowing up to four vehicles to charge at the same time. Using the Level 2 ports, fully electric cars can add between 15 and 30 miles of driving range for every hour of charging. The Level 1 ports can add around 4-5 miles of driving range for every hour of charging—making them better suited to charging plug-in hybrids such as the Chevy Volt or upcoming Prius Plug-in.

As Stevens Pass sees it, the stations will allow EV drivers from both Seattle and Wenatchee—as well as points as far away as Portland and Vancouver, B.C.—to use their zero tailpipe emissions vehicles while they are skiing, hiking, camping, mountain biking, fishing, hunting, and doing any of the other myriad of recreational activities that the Cascades and North Central Washington offer. Not only that, given that Stevens Pass uses the bountiful supply of hydroelectricity and wind power generated in the Northwest, EV drivers who fill up there will be filling up with emissions-free electricity as well, making the trek entirely emissions free.

Video of the Event:

The stations are the first in what will eventually be an extensive network of charging solutions from Seattle to Wenatchee. The State of Washington has already committed to installing two DC Fast Charging stations on each side of the mountain pass. Along with the Level 2 stations at Stevens Pass Ski Area—as well as several other Level 2 stations that area businesses plan on installing in the coming year—the DC Fast Charging stations will complete the EV-friendly scenic tourism corridor. DC Fast Charging stations can add about 80 miles of driving range to a properly-equipped electric car in about 30 minutes of charging.

“These stations are going to be everywhere—the future is clearly electric,” said Washington State Representative Mike Armstrong at the event. He is the ranking minority member of the House Transportation Committee, and his 12th district includes most of North Central Washington. “The great part about electrification is that it will allow us to wean ourselves from the oil dependency we currently have,” he added.

Washington 12th District Representative Mike Armstrong (L) shakes hands with Ross Freeman (R), Stevens Pass Environmental and Sustainability Manager, as Ron Johnston-Rodriguez, Economic Development Director for the Port of Chelan County looks on during the opening of two electric car charging stations at the ski resort.

Stevens Pass is already well-known for its green efforts, including on-site composting of most of the resort’s food waste, extensive use of wind power and the purchase of carbon offsets to make up for the environmental effects of operating a ski resort in the middle of the forest on the top of a mountain. At the event John Gifford, Stevens Pass Ski Area General Manager, said that the addition of the charging stations was a clear extension of the resort’s efforts to date. “Frankly it’s just being a good steward,” he said. “Yes, hopefully long term it will have a positive impact for our business, but we mostly look at it as a way to offset our environmental impact in this pristine area.”

According to Stevens Pass Environmental and Sustainability Manager, Ross Freeman, the stations will be free for use for an initial period of several months, but eventually a full charge will cost somewhere in the realm of five dollars. According to Freeman, the stations were mostly paid under a federal grant administered by Coulomb’s Chargepoint network, but Stevens Pass covered some of the costs for the stations as well as for installation, electrical work and fabrication of the special ski lift theme station mount (which also serves a dual purpose in allowing the stations to swing out of the way for snow removal).

A posse of electric cars including two Nissan LEAFs (blue), two Tesla Roadsters (one not pictured) and a converted plug-in Prius gather around the charging stations to fill up.

To celebrate the occasion, electric car drivers from both Wenatchee and Seattle made the trek up the hill to be the first to charge up at the groundbreaking installations. North Central Washington’s first Nissan LEAF owner, John Sweeney, drove his LEAF 55.8 miles from East Wenatchee to Stevens Pass, with only a short 45 minute stop for a 120 Volt Level 1 trickle charge in Leavenworth while eating breakfast. While others were worried he may not have enough juice to make the entire trek, Mr. Sweeney was completely confident he would make it. With springtime temperatures outside dropping down to around 40 degrees F and an elevation gain of around 3,200 feet, it certainly was a great test of the LEAF’s capabilities at the extreme—but the vehicle made the drive with about 5 miles of range to spare. To squeeze as much range as possible out of the vehicle, Mr. Sweeney drove at a steady 55 mph most of the way.

Other electric vehicles in attendance included another Nissan LEAF from Seattle’s Stadium Nissan—the first Nissan dealer in downtown Seattle to make the focus of their dealership green vehicles—as well as two Tesla Roadsters from Seattle, driven by prominent EV advocates Tom Saxton and Chad Schwitters, both on the board of Plug In America. Plugin Center’s Director Ron Johnston-Rodriguez, also brought the Port of Chelan County’s converted plug-in Toyota Prius along for the ride.