The world’s most sustainable ski resorts

22nd April 2021, by Abi Butcher

Serre Chevalier is leading the way to sustainable skiing with its renewable energy project

Serre Chevalier is leading the way to sustainable skiing with its renewable energy project

The concept of a sustainable ski holiday might sound like an oxymoron, but if you make careful and informed choices about your travel and destination, it is possible to take a trip to the slopes without doing too much damage to the environment. As well as opting to drive or take the train instead of fly, picking a resort that is making great effort to preserve its surroundings are good choices

Faced with shortening winters, receding glaciers and rising snow levels, ski resorts have little choice but to start taking steps to improve the way they do things. But some have been well ahead of the curve, and Where to Ski & Snowboard has pulled together a list of those we think are leading the way. Here is our pick:

Zermatt, Switzerland
This Valais village has been at the forefront of the ecological advance since the 1970s when it banned cars. Back in 2002, Zermatt formed a working group to look at how the resort could be made more sustainable — resulting in systematic monitoring of construction work to look at its environmental impact and to repair environmental damage from the past. The Zermatt Bergbahnen AG invests CHF1 million a year in projects for the environment and there are photovoltaics across the resort to capture energy.
It still leads the way with initiatives; in June 2019 Zermatt lay “tarmac” made from recycled plastic and the village holds an annual “Sustainable Day” every summer for hoteliers and businesses to share training and learning on integrating tourism and sustainability.

Verbier, Switzerland
With plans to eradicate plastic used by restaurants and events within the ski area, a project team from Téléverbier is studying how the use plastic can be replaced by glass and other sustainable materials, for example the instillation of drinking fountains. There is a free shuttle bus and last season the Verbier Express was launched, a weekend train running directly from Geneva airport to Le Châble, to encourage visitors to rely less on the use of their cars. The lift system runs on 100 percent renewable energy, with reduced speed options for quiet times, heat-saving systems in the Le Châble-Verbier and Le Châble-Bruson gondolas, and the restaurant at Les Gentianes is heated by an ecological boiler. There are photovoltaics on buildings around the ski area to produce energy for the resort, and all the piste groomers have been optimised to use eight percent less fuel.

Laax, Switzerland
It was back in the 1970s when head of Laax’s rocksresort development, Reto Gurtner, became aware of the “ecological movement”. His early vision has enabled this resort to already run entirely on 100% renewable energy, with the buildings within the resort being heated with biomass energy and electricity from regional hydropower. There are eBikes for hired, Tesla charging points in the garage, sustainable fabrics in employee uniforms and only eco cleaning products used. In 2017, Laax created non-profit “Greenstyle Foundation” to bring together committed businesses and individuals together to work to support the local environment.

Serre Chevalier, France
This resort in the southern French Alps invested €3.6 million on its Renewable Energy project in 2016, since which time the installation of small wind turbines, photovoltaics and hydroelectricity plants have results in its Green Globe certification. With these renewables Serre Che plans to produce between 30-50 per cent of the electricity it needs by the end of 2021. The resort is taking sustainability so seriously that it is producing an entire ‘press kit’ dedicated to its environmental work, to inform journalists of its ground-breaking commitment.

Les Arcs, France
Along with La Plagne in Paradiski, Les Arcs has run its ski lifts on 100 percent renewable energy since 2011 and was last year awarded the Mountain Riders’ Flocon Vert certification for its commitment to sustainable tourism. In September 2020, Les Arcs surveyed visitors on how it could make the resort more sustainable and flagged up four areas for work: waste, energy, transport and preservation. Skiers also wanted more recycling bins, water stations, zero plastic packaging and more electric buses around resort. This winter Les Arcs has committed to providing electric vehicles for resort staff — including some electric snowmobiles trialled last winter — and uses an algorithm to produce just the right amount of snow. There are photovoltaic panels and trials in hydroelectric power, and of course easy train travel directly to Bourg St Maurice followed by a funicular to the resort. Les Arcs has also launched a #DrinkLocal campaign to reduce the amount of bottled water consumed every year.

Morzine, France
This resorts is brimming with committed individuals who have already set up their own non-profit Montagne Vert to reduce environmental impact in the local area from residents, tourists and businesses. The tourist board has launched a bid to attain the Flocon Vert label to demonstrate their commitment to sustainable development of tourism. Among the many initiatives are the addition of ‘visualisers’ on lift cables to stop birds flying into them. A heart-warming 93 percent of restaurants and hotels are now using eco cleaning products with many serving only local food. Litter picking days are organised and tree replanting schemes are in place in collaboration with the Forestry Commission. Morzine’s piste grooming machines, which run on non-toxic, biodegradable GTL fuel as opposed to off-road winter diesel, use GPS to precisely manage snow stocks and save energy in snowmaking.

Alta Badia, Italy
This summer the ski resort situated in the Dolomites UNESCO World Heritage Site launches its Food Forest, a multipurpose cultivation area for sustainable agriculture — with the dual aim of CO2 absorption. Natural, wild food such as blackcurrants, wild strawberries, juniper berries, elderberries and other fruits have been planted as a “forest orchard” for visitors to enjoy. In 2018 Alta Badia launched its “WOWnature” project to repair storm damage to woodland sustained that year, offering the purchase, sponsoring and gifting of trees to reforest 12 hectares. To reduce vehicle traffic, the resort is keeping 17 ski lifts open for the summer of 2021, to help people move between the Movimënt Parks Piz Sorega and Piz La Villa and the towns of La Villa and San Cassiano without using cars.

Cortina, Italy
Co-hosting the Milan 2026 Winter Olympics, Cortina pledged to be part of the “most sustainable ever” Games, producing a carbon-neutral event and ensuring suppliers adhere to their “Green and Social Procurement” guidelines.
There will be a complete ban on single-use plastics in all catering, water fountains in all the venues and any wood used will be sustainable sourced. The 2026 Olympics will reuse the venues from 1956, and any permanent new buildings will be built to an internationally-recognised green building certification system called LEED. All temporary units will be relocated after the Games to create apartment buildings on a concrete base.

SkiWelt, Austria
One of Austria’s largest linked ski areas, the SkiWelt has long pioneered sustainable technology, beginning with the world’s first solar-powers ski lift, the Sonnenlift, in 2008 and installing a heat-recovery system in its Choralpe mountain resort. Renewable energy is used to heat various SkiWelt facilities, with photovoltaics installed at the Jochlift (Brixen), the Brandstadel (Scheffau) and the new Zinsbergbahn (Brixen), opened in 2019. It uses a GPS slope-management system to keep the snow-production process 100 percent accurate, helping it save 20percent on snowmaking costs.
The SkiWelt was the first area to install an electric car charging point at a cable car station and now has 17 across the entire area.

Ischgl, Austria
Over the winter of 2019/2020, Ischgl earned the accolade of being the “largest climate-neutral ski resort in the Alps” by powering its ski lifts almost entirely with renewable energy. The resort supports a reforestation project in Peru as well as local programmes in Ischgl and Paznaun to offset any further carbon emissions.
At the end of the ski season, employees clean beneath lift lines — there can be up to 30,000 cigarette butts beneath a chairlift with 10 pylons and a single butt can pollute an astonishing 1m3 of snow and 500l of water.
The region powers many restaurants and buildings with geothermal energy and using solar and heat-recovery systems, saving Ischgl 80,000 litres of heating oil each year.

Whistler-Blackcomb, Canada
Renowned for its environmental work, Whistler has a hydro-energy facility in the village centre to harness power from the Fitzsimmons river. Almost all of the buildings are now fitted with LED lights and, in bathrooms, high-efficiency hand dryers. The resort has an aggressive waste recycling, recapture and composting scheme, and water stations have been installed across Whistler to help reduce the use of single-use water bottles.

Aspen-Snowmass, US
Aspen made its sustainability pledge back in 1997, with its Sundeck Restaurant being one of the world’s first LEED-certified buildings. In 2012, Aspen Skiing Company helped turn an old coal mine into a clean-energy production facility that works to convert waste methane into electricity used to power its four resorts. An astonishing 40 percent of the food currently bought by Americans is thrown out and in 2017, Aspen began a composting system to ensure all food waste from restaurants and offices is made into compost to fertilize gardens and flowerbeds. It aims to ensure all items such as single-use utensils, cups and plates are compostable and can be added to this waste.

Vail Resorts, Worldwide
Across its 37 different ski areas around the world, Vail Resorts has made the “Epic Promise” to reach a zero net operating footprint before the start of the next decade. The company has so far reached its 50 percent waste diversion goal nine months ahead of schedule (the goal being zero waste to landfill by 2030), and has completed the contract on a new solar wind farm outside Salt Lake City to power Park City, Utah with 100 percent renewable energy by 2023. Vail Resorts is also working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase energy efficiency.

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