June 05, 2020
Powderhound London started as a love affair with the Alps: the beauty, the pure air, the vibrancy you feel on the blistering white slopes and the good times when you come off them.
However, we know when it comes to skiing, there is an environmental price to pay and if we are going to be able to ski in the future then we need to make sure we are making the most sustainable choice possible now.
There has been increasing awareness about this in the past few years and charities such as Mountain Riders and Save Our Snow are great examples of initiatives that are trying to preserve both skiing and the mountains. Mountain Riders is French group that campaigns for a more sustainable winter sports industry, notable for its flocon vert certification. The flocon vert is awarded to resorts with cutting-edge sustainable development policies, with 42 different environmental and social criteria, it is one of the most rigorous labelling schemes and applies to the whole operation of a ski resort, from its transport infrastructure to its use of renewable energy. Save Our Snow is an impartial compiler and publisher of data on what the ski industry and ski resorts are doing to combat climate change. Both sites are great for checking out your resort destination to see if you’re making the most sustainable choice possible.
Lech-Zurs built a renewable energy biomass plant around 20 years ago that covers 80% of their energy needs and supplies 100 hotels, and over 200 homes. This saves 22,000 tons of CO2 that would have been emitted into the air. The plant also generates 65 million kilowatt-hours of clean energy to the resort. This saves 8 million litres of heating oil annually.
The resort has many other initiatives including electric vehicle hire and charging points. It also has solar panels on chairlifts to generate energy.
Austria is a popular ski destination due to the lack of purpose built ski areas and Kaprun resort has been carefully developed to benefit the environment. One of the largest energy uses in a ski resort is operating gondolas and chairlifts. Kaprun has led the way in Austria, by using renewable energy (solar power) to power all of the resorts’ lift systems. There is also a comprehensive free bus network that operates across the resort and to Zell am See to reduce use of cars across the region.
Chamonix was one of the first alpine resorts to launch its own climate and energy action plan, back in 2010, with an aim to reduce carbon emissions by 20% by 2020. Having identified that housing produced a lot of greenhouses gases, local funding is available for people who want to make their homes more efficient. Its ambitious programme of energy savers includes developing an extensive public transport system, the bus network is subsidised with 5 million euros every year in order to offer free public transport for locals and tourists. Furthermore 100 million euros have been earmarked for ongoing improvements to the train line. Chamonix has also invested in its “energy renovation” of heating systems in certain buildings and investing in electric mobility. Due to all of these efforts, Chamonix is one of the few resorts to be awarded the Flocon Vert.
Located in the heart of a territory committed to the protection of the night environment and the starry sky, Valberg has made the fight against light pollution a priority. Through a number of impressive measures the resort has saved 85,000 kWh a year (30% of consumption and 20% of the electric bill).
Transporting people around these mountain ski resorts contributes 57% of their greenhouse gas emissions. With lots of narrow, winding roads, congestion can also become a big problem in peak seasons. Free buses, shuttles and a fleet of electric cars have helped drastically reduce this problem, alongside the pedestrianisation of the entire centre of the resort.
The Valberg resort has also taken measures to protect the local wildlife - in particular the black grouse, an emblematic species of the Alps. It has equipped the most dangerous ski lift cables with coloured beacons to reduce the risk of collision. Since 2016, a quiet zone in the Deccia sector aims to protect the 25 hectares on the edge of the ski slopes where the grouse is known to be present.
Avoriaz won the Environmental Award for Ecological Developments at the 2012 World Snow Awards in London. When it first opened in 1966, Avoriaz introduced a “zero car” concept and is still continuing to innovate.
Energy saving methods include monitoring of fuel consumption, electric snowmobiles, new buildings have to comply with HQE (high environmental quality) and energy efficient lighting being installed. A sustainable procurement process is in place and preference is given to recycled products. The entire ski area is equipped with recycling bins to reduce waste at the source. The whole resort runs on biofuel, thanks to a dual energy wood heating system backed up by electricity.
Avoriaz preserves its land by carrying out environmental impact studies in consultation with the National Office for Forests, the Hunting Federation and Alpine associations. Wildlife protection zones have prevented the disappearance of lynx, wolves, black grouse and ptarmigan (snow chickens).
Megeve, nestled in the heart of the Mont-Blanc massif, is a village resort in Haute-Savoie that stands out for its actions undertaken for several years on all the themes of sustainable development. Megeve is committed to the energy transition in 2018 by opting for ENALP and its Alpenergie contract: local and 100% renewable energy (hydro-electricity) for Megeve Tourism and Le Palais. The station also conserves mountain pastures and their biodiversity for traditional agriculture. Solar energy installations and other initiatives promote the use of renewable energy to heat public buildings, even the ski patrol huts on the mountain.
In 2017 Vail Resorts announced that the company will aggressively pursue a comprehensive sustainability commitment , called “Epic Promise for a Zero Footprint.” The ambitious campaign commits to zero net emissions by 2030, zero waste to landfill by 2030 and zero net operating impact to forests and habitat. A part of this is to reduce the use of electricity and natural gas by another 15% with a $25 million investment in innovative, energy-saving projects, green construction and more efficient grooming practices and equipment.
Vail Mountain was one of the first ski resorts to implement a recycling programme and has the largest on-mountain recycling programme in the ski industry in North America, recycling more than 70% of the on-mountain waste. However, it aims to achieve its 2030 goal of “zero waste to landfill” by improving its recycling and composting programme, engaging with vendors to reduce packaging and to source recyclable and compostable products and working with local resort communities to increase options for reuse and diversion.
Located in Val di Sole, Trentino, Pejo 3000 has banned all plastic products from its slopes. This rule does not only go for cutlery, flatware, glasses, disposable straws, bottles and mayonnaise and ketchup sachets. Italy is one of the first plastic-free resorts in the world, responding to the publication of studies by scientists at Milan-Biocca University and University of Milan which revealed that Forni, a glacier near Pejo 3000, contained microplastics, including polyester fibers and polythene.
What’s more, three small hydroelectric plants power the valley with renewable energy and water recovery systems are used for new snow production on the slopes. They are also planning to replace their diesel snowcats with hybrid models and lay out further plans to improve waste collection, recycling and energy use.
Ruka has been a carbon-neutral resort since 2018, with hydroelectric and wind energy powering lots of its accommodation. Other buildings are heated with biomass fuels made with wood chips, or geothermal energy using heat formed underground.
On the slopes, the resort has cut down on snow cannons by building fences to collect snow on the fell during the winter. It’s stored under sawdust and felt sheets over the summer and then used to open a handful of runs before the next winter season officially starts - sometimes as early as October. There has also been huge investments into transport throughout the resort. The most remarkable reform on the slopes is the new village-2-Valley, the fastest ski lift in Finland, which November will transport pedestrians and skiers from Ruka village, the west side of the mountain, to the new village center at East Ruka.