We’re lucky to be able to ski year-round on Tignes’ Grande Motte glacier, plus have guaranteed snow on Val d’Isere’s Pisaillas glacier and exceptionally high skiing with Paradiski’s Bellecote and Aiguille Rouge – even in mild winters like last year’s. But with global temperatures set to rise, and predictions that glaciers will continue to retreat, resorts know it’s more important than ever they take action to preserve ski areas and limit their contributions to climate change. It’s not just their responsibility; there are lots of things each of us can do to make sure we don’t harm our mountain environment, as Amy Twigge reports.
Most of the greenhouse gases for which ski holidays are responsible come from transport to, from and around resorts.
- Flying to the Alps emits 145kg of CO2 per person
- Road travel with carpooling cuts that figure down to 34kg
- Take the snow train and your carbon footprint reduces further to 23kg
- Stats from Mountain Riders
For the most guilt-free option take the overnight Eurostar ski train from London. Arriving at Bourg St Maurice early on a Saturday, it even has the added bonus of an extra days skiing! While you’re in Tignes and Val d’Isere take advantage of the free bus shuttle services around resort. Paradiski is doing its bit to reduce in-resort traffic by providing a free shuttle service for around 200 staff every day – reducing emissions by 65% – and they’ve been encouraged to swap snow scooters for skis.
Their traditional wooden beams and Alpine charm may make resorts look pretty, but older chalets tend to have poor insulation and heating systems. The extra energy used here makes up 11% of resorts’ carbon emissions. Tignes and Val d’Isere have used thermal imaging cameras to find where buildings are losing heat, so they can plug the leaks. New buildings must adhere to much stricter environmental rules. Tignes 1800 is a completely new complex and the first high altitude eco village. Its underfloor heating is supplied by the first plant in the Alps to run on wood waste biofuel.
The Espace Killy has invested millions of euros into reducing the impact of ski lifts on the environment. Replacing the chairlift at the top of the Solaise with a state-of-the-art gondola we can enjoy from November 2016, has meant a reduction from 8 lift stations with 34 pylons, to just 2 lift stations with 16 pylons. For every tree chopped down during the project, 5 have been planted in its place, and the gondola machinery will be buried underground to reduce noise pollution.
Rather than run lifts constantly at full power, Paradiski has electrical regulators to make sure that equipment works to its needs and no more. All its electricity is 100% renewable and its snow grooming machines even run on biodegradable hydraulic oil. Paradiski limits the expansion of its ski area to protect its surrounding mountains, wildlife, flora and fauna.
Sometimes nature needs a helping hand to make sure pistes have enough snow coverage – which is where snowmaking machines come in. Of course, as we expend more energy creating manmade snow, we release further CO2 to add to the problem. To combat this Catch 22 effect, Val d’Isere now uses a computer-automated system along with brand new distribution and filtering equipment, allowing it to create snow in the most efficient way in any given conditions using water from the local Isere river.
Paradiski improved snow production so its white stuff is drier and better able to stick to the natural snow, making it last longer. Each slope now sticks to a quota of extra snow depending on its exposure. Natural snow is protected using windbreaks on the most exposed slopes to prevent snow being blown away. Head up the Becoin lift and you can see the Roche de Mio barrier stretching a mighty 150 metres!
Recycling is a simple way we can all reduce our carbon footprint. Each season Paradiski ski passes are reused and recycled, saving 2million paper passes; that’s a lot of trees! Each summer local volunteers and holidaymakers take part in ‘environment day’ where they clean up all the litter that reappears once the snow melts. This year the Val d’Isere crew broke records by collecting an impressive 840kg of rubbish left on the slopes. That included champagne bottles, beer bottles, bottle tops and an endless number of cigarette butts. One of these left on the mountain would otherwise take around 5 years to decompose so smokers; bin your butts!
THE BOTTOM LINE
Historically ski resorts have been seen as harming rather than helping their beautiful Alpine surroundings, but fortunately that picture is changing. If everyone does what they can now, hopefully we’ll all be able to enjoy skiing our glaciers and resorts far into the future.
Green Globe Award For Tignes
Tignes became the first ski area to be awarded the Green Globe international certificate for eco-friendly organisations this year. The resort had to pass 300 eco tests to earn the award, and to keep it they have to do the same every 2 years. Recently Tignes has removed 100 lift towers, added new greenery, started monitoring plants and animals, and invested in energy-efficient buses.