How to make your ski trip more environmentally friendly
An A-Z of eco-friendly mountain practices
Skiing and snowboarding are not, sadly, very environmentally friendly. Flying to the Alps, driving up to a purpose built chalet on the hill side, taking the chairlift through the trees, past the snow cannons to the top of the well groomed piste, strapping on freshly waxed skis and zigzagging down through the trees to the mountain restaurant might be a great way to spend a holiday but it is not, unfortunately, a great way to save the planet. There are a few things we can do to make our sport a little greener though and in some cases they make your holiday more comfortable and sometimes cheaper.
First off, travel. Flying is the single biggest producer of carbon dioxide involved in your holiday. Even at the bottom of a mogul field, panting, sweating and promising to get fitter before next year's trip you will not produce anything like the CO² that your Boeing 737 is pumping out. But you can choose to offset your carbon emissions with some airlines and in most cases this will cost you less than the hugely overpriced Kit-Kat and can of coke you were going to buy on the flight. Although emission offset programs (Carbon Clear & Climate Care) have good intentions they do not take away the underlying problems and we should not be made to think that our flights are carbon neutral after a donation.
Almost any form of transport creates a smaller carbon footprint than flying. Whilst not convenient for all resorts or all holidaymakers, one of the best ways to get to the Alps is by train. The overnight Eurostar snowtrain leaves London St Pancras and stops in Moutiers, Aime la Plagnge and then Bourg St Maurice. No queues, no airport security and an extra day skiing as you arrive in resort on Saturday morning while most other holiday makers are gesticulating wildly at the French baggage handler who has sent their skis to Cancun. With tickets from £149 return you can be in the three Valleys, Espace Killy or Paradiski forty minutes after stepping off the train, happy in the knowledge that you are saving the planet.
If you are on slightly more of a budget you can always take the bus. This is cheaper than flying and again more environmentally sound. Snow Express offer bus journeys to 24 destinations around the Alps that will get you to all the major ski resorts with less than a sixth of the CO² emissions of flying and for just £45.
Bear in mind that your last part of the journey up to the resort is just as much an offender as the rest so why not booked a shared transfer to help minimise your impact to the local resort.
Once in resort there is no need to wander around in hemp trousers. There are a few manufacturers of environmentally sound ski clothing. Picture produce organic clothing and use recycled materials in their pants and jackets AND they're cool. More chance of the planet surviving, more chance of you looking good when you post your holiday pics on Facebook. Win-Win. Picture clothing is available in Val Thorens from Ride & Style, Les Arcs from Skimium and La Plagne from Intersport. For all-mountain gear check out Patagonia, pioneers of green manufacturing techniques of very long lasting clothing.
Now that you have arrived in comfort and you are looking sharp in your ski wear it is important to make sure that you are skiing in a way that does not impact too heavily on the surroundings. Obviously your very presence will have a detrimental effect on the mountains but you can limit this with a few simple practices.
Try and use eco friendly wax on your skis or snowboard. The waxes most commonly used contain fluorine and parafin and while they make your skis run smoothly these chemicals end up in the water system, damaging plants and animals. Try an eco wax like Magic Potion or Bioglide.
You can put this wax on a set of skis or a snowboard that has been made from recycled materials. Idris Skis in Chamonix produce handmade skis built from recycled flooring. Watch the video we filmed there last week to see how! Alternatively, if you stand sideways, Venture Snowboards use wind turbines to power their work shop, donate a percentage of profits to environmental causes, recycle waste products and use materials from Forest Stewardship Council certified wood.
When you are on the hill make sure you don't drop litter or cigarette butts. A cigarette butt takes five years to break down and a clean up party found 30,000 under one lift in Val Thorens. As if smoking doesn’t affect the air enough - don’t pollute the ground around as well. Take all of your rubbish off the hill with you. Simple.
Where you ski is also important. Some areas will be closed as they are plantation areas for young saplings or nesting areas for Alpine birds. Stay out of these areas, they are not part of the ski area and are protected for a reason.
You can go green with your accommodation too. Hotels in the Temmos family have an environmentally friendly policy that offsets their carbon footprint, reduces water wastage and sources much of the produce used in their restaurants locally.
Or stay in a chalet that has a had an eco-friendly renovation. Companies like Alpine Eco install solar thermal panels, photovoltaic (PV) panels for electricity, biomass boilers, ground source heat pumps and rainwater harvesting plants making your chalet as green as possible.
The mountains are a beautiful place and if we want to keep enjoying them and share them with future generations then we need to be a little more careful about how we treat them. For more information on environmentally friendly mountain practices see our Environment page.
Environmentally Friendly Skiing
For many of the European Alpine resorts, winter is an important source of income and snow is heavily relied upon for related sports such as skiing, snowboarding, telemarking, hiking and ice-climbing. However, when we drive or fly to our favorite ski resorts, climb on the brand new six-seated chairlift through the trees; toss our cigarette butts in the snow, chuck our orange peel from the chairlift targeting a skier/boarder below; few of us ever really stop to consider the impact the sport is having on the mountain and its eco-system. For example, did you know the following facts:
Orange peel takes up to two years to break down;
Cigarette butts will remain on the hillside for up to 5 years before the atmosphere breaks them down (which we hear on the alpine grapevine is contributing to 'alleged' increases in lung cancer amongst marmottes and chamois
When skiing through trees, you can damage them by knocking off branches and killing young shoots underneath;
Your snotty tissues and plastic sweet wrappers will still be on the mountain there when you’re back at work dreaming of your next winter holiday!
Direct and Indirect Impact of Skiing on the Environment
The huge expansion of ski resorts since the 1970s has, according to environmentalists, had numerous effects on mountain water levels of lakes and streams; damaged mountain wildlife through the destruction of habitat, noise and pollution in addition to affecting annual climate conditions.
The increasing popularity of skiing and simultaneous development of the ski industry has created a demand for larger accommodation blocks to be built in the popular resorts but with limited space for new aparments and chalets on the valley floor, this forces more erosion of the surrounding hillsides in order to fulfil accomodation demands. In order to keep up with the tourist demand for the sport, ski resorts today are under pressure to build more lifts with a faster and higher skier capacity. This improvement in resort facilities ultimately creates a 'catch 22' situation as number of individuals visting the resort increases, which in turn creates pressure to improve transport links to these resorts and so the cycle continues.... The indirect cost of the increase in human wealth and enjoyment is to the detrement of the Mountain and its associated environmental conditions. Mountains are highly sensitive to extreme changes we humans are currently enforcing upon them. The repeated damage and environmental changes which are being inflicted upon the mountains by mankind is difficult to repair. It won't take a year or two to put things back to 'normal'. Environmental damage which is being caused by this change mankind is creating is being seen in eratic climate changing patterns across the Alps, with predictions including more rain and melting glaciers that will bring erosion and floods on an unprecented scale. Already, such implications of these changes for the alpine environment can be seen by the following changes in recent years:
poor snow records
receding glaciers; and
unusual weather patterns
Pistehors.com recently wrote that in general, average seasonal temperatures across France have risen by 1ºC during the winter months at 1800 meters in the French Alps. Additionally, Pistehors commented that high temperatures experienced during the summer of 2002 caused some of the European glaciers to recede by up to 10% causing concern amongst some climate specialists that within 50 years Swiss glaciers could potentially melt away! As pressure mounts on the ski companies to build higher into the mountains to reach snow reliable areas, sensitive high mountainous environment then become ultimately affected. The increases in global temperatures will have a serious implication for the many ski resorts located at lower altitudes. It’s not just as simple as going higher to get more snow.
How to become a Greener Skier
Whether you’re just in the mountains for a holiday or there all season, if you love the environment you live in it’s often just simple little changes to your daily routine that can make a difference and encourage other people to do the same. We’re not suggesting you sell the car, ditch the deodorant and move into a snow hole, but here are a couple of little ways to help the environment and even your bank balance.
Planning your trip the environmental way!
Choose the right company Many transfer companies and tour operators offset their carbon emissions and adhere to an AITO recognised environmental policy. If you have a choice, take this into consideration when booking your trip or choosing an employer; or, if you think they might listen, try suggesting some environmental improvements to the boss!
Getting there Getting yourself to resort is always going to be the major contributor to climate change and flying produces at least three times more CO2 per passenger than any other method. Driving or taking the train are both viable alternatives for getting to the Alps that will help reduce your carbon emissions considerably. For trips further afield, Seat61.com can help you plan a trip without using a plane, for holidays to Europe, the US and even New Zealand!
Offset your carbon If you choose to travel by air don’t forget to offset your carbon. Some airlines such as Easy Jet provide you with the option of doing this whilst booking. Sharing a transfer from the airport or a bus is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint and cut costs. Do a little web research beforehand and find a transfer company that already offsets their carbon footprint.
Environmentally Friendly Gear & Gadgets
Eco-friendly snowboard wax When your gliding down the mountain side appreciating your newly serviced boards and skis , the last thing you want to think about is the damage your wax could be doing to the environment. Many waxes are fluorine based and once in the water system can be damaging to plants and animals. There are however a limited number of manufactures now offering eco friendly waxes. Magic Potion is one such example made by Apo Snowboards. Alternatively Bio-Glide, is a peppermint-scented, soy-based alternative to paraffin waxes and is available online at www.welovesoy.com.
Eco-Friendly Snowboards There are several companies out there now offering boards with a conscience! Arbor Snowboards are one such example and Snow & Rock are now carrying a few of their lines. Venture Snowboards is another who have three models in their range, all hand made out of sustainable harvest wood cores, recycled fabric, hemp top sheets and low impact resins and glues. Venture aims to have a 100% recycle policy in its factory and generate all of its own power from windmills.
Solar Powered Backpack This new contraption means you’ll never have to plug in your iPod again. Charge as you ride with the Burton Solar Amp Backpack. Renewable energy only accounts for around 8% of the power generated in Europe, and therefore anything that runs on electricity takes 90% of its energy from fossil fuels.
Respect the Mountain Wristband Respect the Mountain is a campaign set up by the Ski Club of Great Britain in 2005, the profits from which goes to planting trees in order to offset the harmful effects of CO2 emissions released from fossil fuels. By buying a green ”Respect the Mountain” wristband to show your support for the scheme, the combined donations made by the snowsports community will enable over 400 trees to be planted as part of the trust's new Tree For All campaign. Tree For All is the largest children's tree planting initiative the UK has ever seen inspiring today's youngsters to become environmental custodians of the future. You can buy your wristband through the Ski Club of Great Britain themselves, by joining the Snowboard Club , or by calling 09065 224 698 where the £2 cost of the call pays for your wristband.
Are snow cannons environmentally friendly?
European resorts have experienced a decrease in precipitation (rainfall) over the past five years which in turn has led to some resorts having to stringently control their water supply in order to conserve supplies. After the unseasonably warm temperatures and lack of early season snow during the winter of 2007, global warming has been at the forefront of winter sports enthusiasts’ minds. To counter this very real climate change, (a 4 degree temperature rise is anticipated by the end of the century) ski resorts are turning to artificial snow manufacture.
Snow canons are becoming increasingly commonplace in France, today 15% of French ski areas are covered by the machines and they are no longer confined to low lying areas. Tignes has equipped the bottom of the runs on the Grande Motte glacier with snow making equipment at 3000 meters and Val d’Isere will do the same next year on the Glacier du Pisaillas to preserve summer skiing. Millions of euros are invested in artificial snow manufacture every year, but the investment comes at a high cost to the environment.
It seems illogical to combat global warning, widely agreed to be created by the burning of fossil fuels with yet more energy outlay. In some resorts, such as l'Alpe d'Huez, snow making now consumes more power over an average season than the entire lift system. Furthermore, the machines constitute a visual blot on the landscape and contribute hugely to noise pollution. A single snow canon emits between 60 to 80 decibels, the equivalent of heavy traffic, which disturbs mountain wildlife.
Snow cannons spray water at great pressure into sufficiently cold air which then falls as snow on the ground and any long-term environmental impact of this at present is uncertain. We do know that artificial snow is much denser than natural snow and it takes a meter cubed of water to make two meters cubed of snow. This artifically created snow has an effect on the vegetation and melts much later than natural snow.
We do however understand that the manufacture of artificial snow is costly in terms of energy and quantities of water required. It is estimated that snowmaking in France uses as much water as a town with 170,000 inhabitants. Everyone knows that water freezes at 0C but the rainwater found in reservoirs for snow making has to be cooled to around -7 to -9C before it will freeze and make snow. If it is necessary to make snow at warmer temperatures, agents such as Snomax™ are added. Snomax is a protein which provides a nucleate for ice crystals enabling freezing at temperatures around -3C. York International says that Snomax is completely safe but extensive studies have not been carried out to determine the overall effects of such additives on the environment. Despite the construction of reservoirs, snow-making uses vast quantities of water with consequences on a region’s water courses and aquatic wildlife.
More worrying is the natural erosion caused by the increase in melt water which runs back down the mountain in the Spring. There is also a suggestion that chemical additives used in its production affect the natural vegetation. As melt water comes off the slopes, chemicals used in the production of snow potentially find their way into rivers that supply drinking water for the resort.
Ski Press World in 2005 reported that low lying resorts such as Les Gets (1172m) were spending up to €300,000 searching for additional water supplies in an effort to meet an increase in resort demands as resort expansion continues. In response to their use of snow cannons, Les Gets stressed: 'the manufacture of artificial snow did not have any impact on the water supplies', further commenting that their '...snow cannons principally use water supplies which are unsuitable for drinking water.' Whether the same can be said for all other resorts is a different matter! In Val d’Isere a 36,000 square metre reservoir has been built on the Iseran sector to supply water for the snow cannons that will boost the summer skiing available on the Pissaillas Glacier. The STVI Lift company in Val d’Isere are committed to employing summer skiing possibilities with a minimum of consequences for the surrounding environment and its ecology.
Finally, artificial snow is currently seen as the saviour of some European ski resorts however given that the vast majority of canons require low temperatures to operate, reliance on them in the warmer winters of the future seems misguided. Since the long-term answer to the snow question has yet to be found, the debate between environmentalists and the ski industry looks set to continue well into the future.
Environmental tips for in resort
Public Transport Once in resort, make use of the local public transport system which is generally free with your lift pass or guest card, or tailor your choice of accommodation so you don’t have to! However, if you’re not in a location where you can ski to your door or take the bus, try to car share whenever you can. Shared transfers or buses are kinder to the environment and are often cheaper then taking your own car. If you’re networking with the right people in resort, you may swing them even cheaper still!
If you fancy getting out of resort, the local train network can get you surprisingly far for amazingly little! Check out the SNCF (French trains) or SBB (Swiss trains) websites for destinations, timetables and ticket prices.
Recycle Most resorts are now fully equipped with handy recycling points. If your not getting rid of your own rubbish make it easier for whoever is to recycle by separating your rubbish into recyclables and non. It’ll only take you a few minutes and at least you’ll know that you’ve done your bit for the day.
Cigarettes A cigarette stub may seem harmless enough but Val Thorens recently reported finding up to 30,000 under just one lift. These levels can contaminate water and damage the local wildlife so think before lighting up. In many resorts you can now buy pocket containers for collecting used butts or be inventive and recycle something, an old Vaseline tin will do the trick.
Resort environmental initiatives to watch out for
Is the resort or business ISO 14001 registered? Businesses and organisations can apply to become ISO 14001 registered to prove they are adhering to the strict requirements. The ISO 14000 documents are a set of guidelines designed help organisations minimise the negatives effects their activities have on the surrounding environment. The Avoriaz tourist office is one of many businesses awarded with this certification.
Does the resort recycle? Recycling is already easy and common place in most resorts and especially now as an increasing number of holidays companies will offer to do it for you! Some resorts go further then others when it comes to recycling, Meribel, for example has made it mandatory. Ski Set are now using an Albertville based business called Tri-Vallées who specialise in recycling used snow boards and skis. The company collects the old stock and then breaks it down into metal (which can be recycled) and combustible matter which is used in a local cement making factory.
Does the resort use green power? Lots of resorts have now seen the light regarding green power and are raking in the financial and environmental benefits. Solar panels, hydro-electric plants, wind turbines and biodiesel run machinery are just a few ways in which these resorts are doing that.
Does the resort have a traffic reduction policy? This is a serious concern across the Alps and one that is already being addressed in many resorts. Several resorts including Meribel and La Plagne provide free shuttle services between different ski areas and others such as Morzine have created no traffic zones encouraging people to park and ride. Zermatt has banned cars altogether and instead provides an efficient train service up to resort and electric taxis to transport you around the town.
How does the resort manage it’s waste? Large amounts of holiday makers and visitors obviously bring with them the issue of waste and sewage disposal. The most environmentally forward thinking ski areas are using techniques such as composting to reduce waste from mountain restaurants. In some areas purified wastewater is also being used for snowmaking.
Is the resort addressing the issue of Climate change? Thankfully most resorts have realised that things have to change in order to create a sustainable future for the sport and to tackle the worldwide issue of global warming. Despite this, there is still considerable variation amongst resorts. Tourist information sites should be able to enlighten you on the exact actions such as traffic reducing policies that are being put into place.
Does the resort have a green building policy? Again, this is an area where some resorts are well ahead of the game and others still have work to do. Several purpose built resorts such as Meribel and Alvoriaz have been implementing strict architectural rules since the day they were built. The building codes specify materials and measurements for buildings that are both in keeping with the local environment and scenery. Other rules include things like mandatory construction of underground parking for every new building as well as roof and wall insulation, for energy saving.
Local Business & Tour Operator Initiatives
It is not only resorts doing their bit, there are hundreds of businesses that are investing time and money into improving their green credentials and cashing in on the extra customers this attracts. Before you plan your next trip bear this in mind. There are plenty of hotels, transfer companies, airlines, clothes shops and restaurants doing their bit to help you do yours.
Look out for tour operators with an AITO recognised environmental policy. These companies adhere to strict guidelines to reduce their impact on the environment on which they rely. These guidelines are:
To protect the environment – its flora, fauna and landscapes
To respect local cultures – traditions, religions and built heritage
To benefit local communities – both economically and socially
To conserve natural resources – from office to destination
To minimise pollution – through noise, waste disposal and congestion
Tour Operators such as Finaly Ski and Ski Olympic are members along with independent chalet operators such as Chalet 1802 in Avoriaz. For more information and further operators visit out www.aito.co.uk
Climate Care More and more companies are starting to do their bit to offset their carbon footprint. The online company Climate Care enables companies to pay to offset their carbon emissions, the money from which is used to finance ongoing projects in the developing world. Projects range from replacing fuel-hungry inefficient technologies with low carbon efficient versions to planting trees. Sharing a transfer rather then hiring your own car will also help to lower your carbon footprint.
Look out for the climate care logo. Easy Jet and Euro Star both have them along with many other companies.
Environmentally Friendly Ski Resorts
How green is your valley?
Mountain Riders is a French non-profit organisation who work to inform and raise awareness on environmental issues and for the promotion of sustainable development in the mountains.
They have devised an evaluation criteria based on transport, energy, buildings, water, waste, land and social awareness, which is used to establish how green the resort is.
Environmentally Friendly Ski Resorts
As environmental awareness grows it is important to recognise the green efforts made by ski resorts in the Alps. Here we have put together a green chart with the help of Mountain-Riders to point out the resorts environmnetal strong points and weak areas.
It may be important as part of the decision process for where to go skiing or it could be just helpful for you to put pressure on resorts to continue there green efforts in other areas.