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Can skiing be eco-friendly? Here's how ski resorts are upping their sustainability game

Ski resorts are nurturing dreams of a carbon-neutral future, but the impact of travellers on the slopes is undeniable. We look at what resorts are putting in place to aim for a more sustainable future. 

Published 1 Feb 2022, 10:06 GMT, Updated 1 Feb 2022, 14:59 GMT
Solar Panels on the roof of the Monte Rosa Hut, Zermatt, Switzerland.

Solar Panels on the roof of the Monte Rosa Hut, Zermatt, Switzerland.

Photograph by Getty

When you’re carving up a well-groomed piste, inhaling the crisp winter air and peering up at snow-encrusted mountains, it’s easy to forget your eco footprint. Ski resorts have traditionally fared poorly on the environmental front: flattening forests, causing erosion and uprooting wildlife; and using snow canons and piste bashers that guzzle precious energy and water. Some say the damage is done before you even hit the slopes, with skiers jetting in for a few days of downhill fun and each flight taking its irreversible toll. 

The impact of climate change is undeniable on piste. Winters are getting shorter. Temperatures and snow levels are rising, having a direct knock-on effect on low-level resorts, some of which are now up to 80% artificially snowed. According to the Copernicus Climate Change Service, winter 2020 was the warmest on record: 3.4C hotter than the 1981-2010 average. Continue at this rate, experts say, and there’ll be no snow in 100 years time. The message is clear: change or face a future without skiing. Some ski resorts are taking note, just in the nick of time. 

Sustainability is more than just a buzzword in Alpine resorts like Zermatt, in Switzerland, where some of Europe’s most fabulous slopes unfurl at the foot of the Matterhorn’s 14,692ft fang. Shouldering up to Italy, the car-free resort is easily accessed by train and wields impeccable eco credentials: a photovoltaics (solar) system powers its tricable gondola lift station; electric buses whisk skiers from A to B; snow groomers run on eco-speed diesel (generating 11% less carbon monoxide); and environmental experts oversee construction work. 

Crocus flowers during spring bloom, Motta di Olano, Lombardy, Italy.

Photograph by Getty

Recently, the resort has taken recycling to the next level by repurposing waste plastic to resurface roads. Conservation-wise, Zermatt has protected forests and wildlife sanctuaries, where chamois, deer, ibex, marmots and alpine hares can seek respite.

Many other Swiss resorts are following suit. Renowned for hardcore skiing and boarding, the resort of Flims Laax Falera, in Graubünden, is taking the fast run towards self-sufficiency and 100% renewable energy. Its electricity already comes from CO2-neutral sources and all new lift facilities are equipped with photovoltaics. There are e-vehicle and e-bike charging points, recycling stations, drinking water fountains (to minimise on plastic waste) and protected zones for animals and plants. Even the ski wax is biodegradable. 

Elsewhere in the Alps, a flurry of resorts are raising the sustainability bar. French destinations have set their sights high, with a clear roadmap for achieving carbon neutrality by 2037. Among them is Chamonix, with its vast backcountry, sensationally varied slopes and Mont Blanc views. The Flocon Vert (‘green snowflake’) resort has improved energy efficiency and introduced new eco-buses and hydroelectric plants. Guests can use public transport for free in the valley. 

Across the pond, the desire for cleaner, greener skiing is equally apparent. At the gateway to Yellowstone National Park, Big Sky in Montana is a stellar example. In 2019, the resort formally outlined a path to net-zero emissions by 2030 through the Forever Project, which recently earned the NSAA’s Golden Eagle Award for Environmental Excellence. The lifts run on carbon-free energy and guests are actively encouraged to offset their carbon footprint. 

“Sustainability is at the core of our business and with that comes tremendous momentum within the ski industry to become stronger stewards of the environment,” says Big Sky public relations manager Stacie Mesuda.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, Vail resort is so far making good on its ‘Epic Promise’ to achieve zero net emissions and zero waste to landfills by 2030, with 50% progress toward this goal by 2025. It has installed low-energy snowmaking equipment, adopted green standards for building and construction, planted or restored forest impacted by the resort and partnered with Eco-Products on restaurant supplies — initiatives that have been adopted in Vail Resorts’ slew of ski areas across North America.

But while ski resorts have an important environmental role to play, skiers can also take action to minimise their impact, starting with wise travel choices. Take the train, not the plane, says snowcarbon.co.uk which provides rail-ski packages that reduce carbon emissions by up to 90%. 
In reality, skiing might never be whiter than white, but both resorts and skiers can certainly work towards a future that’s significantly greener.

Mountaineers walking on the ridge of Weissmies, Switzerland. 

Photograph by Getty

Five more sustainable ski resorts


1. Saas Fee, Switzerland 
Glacier-capped Saas Fee in Valais is the world’s first carbon-neutral municipality. The car-free resort runs on hydropower and has nailed it transport-wise, with an e-car sharing service and emission-free ski buses. 

2. Wolf Creek, Colorado 
Deep, steep and snow-sure, Wolf Creek is a shining model of sustainability. The resort is carbon-free, conservation-minded and runs on 100% renewable energy. Its snowcats even use biodegradable grapeseed oil.

3. Kaprun, Austria
At the foot of the mighty 10,560ft Kitzsteinhorn Glacier, Kaprun is going green. Cue high-elevation recultivation projects, lifts running on 100% ecologically generated energy and free ski buses. 

4. Pejo 3000, Italy
This green-minded resort in Stelvio National Park, in Trentino, is plastic-free and has hydroelectric plants providing renewable energy. Plans are in place to introduce hybrid snowcats. 

5. Avoriaz, France 
The greenest of France’s Portes du Soleil ski resorts, Avoriaz has launched projects to revegetate slopes, protect natural snow and keep snow-groomer emissions to a minimum.

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