Because the Mountains Need Looking After, Too
It's a truth universally acknowledged that we all need to make some big changes to protect the environment, especially when it comes to skiing and snowboarding.
While ski resorts may come with the impression of being healthy, refreshing places full of nature, fresh air and well being, they're actually really bad for the environment. Lifts disturb local wildlife and burn through energy and fossil fuels; maintaining the pistes pollutes the snow; snow making wastes tonnes of water; resorts attract thousands of extra cars every year. The list goes on.
But the good news is that ski resorts have the most to lose from the effects of global warming, so a lot of major resorts have been putting in huge amounts of effort since the early '90s, and in some cases before, to preserve their surrounding habitats and reduce harmful emissions.
Information can often be hard to find when it comes to picking the perfect ski resort, so we've compiled this useful list of resorts doing their bit to save the planet.
Part of being green is utilising local resources and produce, so if you live in the UK what better way to keep it local than to stay in the country for your ski holiday?
CairnGorm is a gold member of Scotland's Green Tourism Business Scheme and as a result is always looking for new ways to help the environment. One of their newest introductions is a Swiss-made funicular railway which runs up the mountain. As well as being super eco-friendly, it actually generates power, which is then fed back into the grid.
CairnGorm also actively encourages car pooling and asks for a small donation from drivers which is put towards ongoing environmental projects. They also run a subsidised bus service to the ski area from Aviemore.
Read more about CairnGorm's environmental policy here.
Grandvalira is the largest ski area in Andorra and is made up of six resorts, Canillo, Pas de la Casa, Soldeu, El Tarter, Encamp and Grau Roig.
Each resort does different things to help the environment and the ski area as a whole works to make sure visitors know how to minimise their environmental impact with their Go Green campaign. Grandvalira also holds an ISO 14001 certification which means it conforms to worldwide preservation and ecological energy standards.
The resort cordons off certain areas of the mountain to allow its natural wildlife to thrive with no disturbance from skiers and snowboarders, especially nesting areas of the native wood grouse, which is in danger of extinction.
Furthermore, all new buildings in the resort are designed to reduce water wastage, along with new eco-bathrooms which regenerate 80% of water used.
Check out what else Grandvalira does to protect the planet here.
Avoriaz is well known as being one of the original green ski resorts. It is ISO certified and claims to have been ecologically developing since before the term existed. While it's a purpose built resort, all the buildings have been designed to blend into the cliff face on which it sits, and they have all been built to provide natural insulation from the snow and are designed to naturally preserve heat.
Avoriaz has also been used as the test resort for many environmental projects, including electric snowmobiles and a water purification system. It has also collaborated with a number of large organisations to put together reforestation campaigns which raise awareness and educate local people, as well as visitors, on how to protect the natural surroundings.
Avoriaz is also one of the first no-car resorts in France which means it misses out on the noise and air pollution of vehicles. It was one of the first resorts to sow grass into the ski runs during the summer, taking into account the fact that it was farmland before it was a ski resort. This allows the animals that graze there in the summer to be well fed, as well as providing a more stable platform for the winter snow.
Check out Avoriaz's environmental plan here.
Kaprun is home to the Kitzsteinhorn ski area, with Zell am See just a few minutes down the road, and together they have a great environmental policy. The area was even the first in Austria to receive an ISO certification.
The Kitzsteinhorn lifts are designed so that excess heat coming from the motors is used to heat other buildings nearby, with many of the restaurants also using solar panels to heat their water (they're much more cost effective than they used to be!).
Austria, as a country, adhere to strict environmental laws in order to preserve their natural environment. Austria has no purpose built ski resorts, and any new lifts or ski areas are subject to rigorous review to make sure they change the surrounding environment as little as possible. Austria also has tightly legislated cable-car rules - every cable-car company, by law, has to use the most ecological methods possible to build and install new lifts and cable-cars.
Check it out in more detail here.
The good people of Laax are really good with their water; the whole area is supplied with green electricity from a hydroelectric power plant. Even cooler is their snow making system: all the water used for snow making comes from a special reservoir, and is fed through a turbine system as it travels to the network of resorts which, in turn, makes electricity. If the project is expanded the entire region could run off locally produced hydroelectric power.
Snow making costs have also been reduced in Laax following a 'snow farming' initiative. This is where certain areas of snow are covered with a membrane at the end of the winter so they can't melt, which preserves the snow base for the next winter and not as much of the fake stuff is needed.
Laax also uses communal heating in the newer Rocks Resort development at the base of the cable car. The whole area gets hot water and heat from a central boiler which runs on climate neutral wood chips. The mountain also takes inspiration from Kitzsteinhorn and uses excess heat from the cable car's motor to heat two of the mountain restaurants.
Find out more about how Laax stays green here.
The entire town of Madesimo shares a heating system, which from what we can gather, is a giant wood chip boiler that gets heat to peoples' homes by pumping water or steam through insulated underground pipes. This is way cheaper and more efficient than traditional heating techniques and is becoming more and more popular throughout Europe.
Madesimo also has a pedestrianised town centre, with a road system that allows cars to bypass the central area without polluting it. During the winter, certain high altitude towns are only accessible by shuttle bus or residents to avoid traffic and air pollution.
The town runs entirely on electric power which comes from three hydroelectric dams further down the valley, and one of the mountain restaurants uses a solar powered generator and solar panels to run self sufficiently. This has sparked off a trend which has seen more Madesimo residents using solar panels, pretty cool, ey?
Madesimo is also one of the snowiest resorts in Europe, and last winter had double the base of Revelstoke, Val Thorens and Tignes, so they must be doing something right! The resort is emerging as a top European freeride resort and as a result, has started running a weekend coach service from Milan Airports, the Madesimo Express, to cut down on weekend traffic.
Check out what else Madesimo does to take care of the environment here.
As well as adhering to the Austrian environmental standards we mentioned earlier, Ischgl has some pretty interesting ways of curbing pollution. Instead of being totally pedestrianised, the town enforces a driving ban between 11pm and 6am, which not only cuts down on air pollution, but late-night noise pollution and drink driving as well.
They also have a no-building policy, so any building that's already there can be refurbished or renovated (as long as it's done economically) but nothing new can be built. This conquers the problem many ski resorts have of ongoing building and development that results in 'cold beds' which are not good for the environment.
Ischgl's hotels, restaurants and lift stations all have a seriously intricate recycling bin system to make sure as much waste is reused as possible.
Discover some more interesting Ischgl environmental facts here.
As part of getting ISO certified in 2008, Chamonix undertook a massive government sponsored campaign to survey which areas of the resort and its surroundings were dishing out the most pollution and harmful emissions, and then looked for ways to make it better.
One of the major changes made to the resort was in public transport (if you've ever had to get the bus in Chamonix you'll know what we're talking about!) as the town swapped out some of its buses for more energy efficient, low emission ones. They also made the buses and trains more regular to encourage people to use them. Chamonix is one of the few French resorts with a train-line which means you can get the train the entire way there from the UK. And, if you're staying in the area, use of the trains and bus service is free.
As well as aiming to educate visitors and residents on issues concerning the environment, Chamonix also offers tax incentives to businesses and individuals who engage in green building projects and renovations, as well as giving planning permission advantages.
Check out what else Chamonix is doing to save the environment here.
Saas Fee has been car-free for over sixty years, which was decided by the residents after a new road was built in 1950. Since then it has gained an ISO certification, has been awarded the status of an 'Energy Town' and has won a 'Winter Sport Diamond'. Today it claims to be the 'most environmentally friendly and sustainable holiday destination in Switzerland'.
And that may well be correct; Saas Fee is involved with several green initiatives and the town has even had a study conducted on it so that other towns can effectively use their ideas and strategies to become green, too.
Saas Fee is entirely powered by hydroelectricity and has a strict legislative policy on building and zoning. The town also has tight limitations for people wanting to purchase a second home there, which means less houses spend most of the year empty.
Most of the chimneys in Saas Fee have particle filters, which reduce the amount of particle matter in the air, making it super clean. It aims be the first particle-free community in the world, and to cut carbon emissions by 30% by 2020. Good luck to you, Saas Fee!
Find out more about Saas Fee's environmental policies here.
Meribel is working towards becoming ISO certified and has been making a big effort over the last few years to be super green. While it's not possible for them to cut out traffic completely, they've made a huge network of footpaths which allow people to get around the valley super easily; there are even groomed footpaths in the mountains which allow you to walk all the way to Courcheval. There is also a free shuttle bus and lots of cheap and free parking to encourage people not to use their cars while on holiday.
Like Saas Fee, Meribel also has strict building policies; buildings can only be of a certain height and have to be made from locally sourced materials, including wood, stone and slate. More recently, it is also a legal requirement for buildings to have high standard, full insulation, and new builds have tailored landscaping projects given to them by the town hall.
Like Avoriaz and Grandvalira, the Three Valleys works hard to preserve their wildlife and farming backgrounds. They sow the favoured grass of the local cows on the pistes in the summer, and have created a new meadow area in order to help preserve the indigenous black grouse.
Find out about more of Meribel's green initiatives here.