The steps your ski resorts are taking to protect the environment

From protecting biodiversity, to recycling and green energy production, there are a whole range of ski resort initiatives aimed at sustainable development. Let’s look in detail at some of the measures that ski areas included in the Ski à la Carte offer have already put in place. 

Sustainable energy? Photovoltaic, hydroelectric, biomass…

An increasing number of buildings are being fitted with photovoltaic panels to produce solar energy. Les Arcs, for example, already has over 60 panels installed on the Varet and Aiguille Rouge ski lift stations. In Tignes, you’ll see the same on the building for ski area employees, as well as the Boisses gondola lift arrival station. Further south, Serre Chevalier is relying on 650m² of existing photovoltaic panels and a potential 2,500 hours of sunshine a year to produce between 30% and 50% of its electrical consumption for the ski area between now and 2030!

At the same time, we’re also seeing the development of other sources of sustainable energy, including hydroelectricity. A number of ski areas are producing energy using their artificial snow network and gravity-flow reservoirs. Serre Chevalier Valley has installed small wind turbines as an innovative way to produce electricity, with two already in operation in winter 2020/2021.

In Plagne Centre, we’re excited to see the biomass boiler system. In operation since 2009, it uses vegetable matter, comprised mostly of wood, to provide 90% of the site’s energy. In total, it heats almost 50 buildings, including hotels, restaurants, offices and apartments.

The fight against waste, and recycling

You can’t raise the issue of sustainable development without first broaching the question of reducing and recycling waste.

Just like towns, resorts have implemented recycling schemes for a long time now, but some are going even further. That’s the case in Les Arcs, which pledged to put an end to the use of plastic bottles. The resort installed water fountains at several points around the ski area so that visitors could refill reusable water bottles during the day. A joint effort on the part of shopkeepers, restaurateurs and hoteliers took bottled mineral water off their menus and replaced it with jugs of Les Arcs water.

Another positive initiative is the reuse of building material. The Serre Chevalier ski area is a good example, having used 94 tonnes of recycled material when replacing the Cibouït chair lift. It represented a huge saving in resources and a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Transport

Ski resorts are also keenly aware of the issue of transport and its environmental impact. We’ve seen a great many initiatives in this area, including the arrival of a fleet of electric vehicles for staff and intra-resort shuttlebuses, the availability of electric car charging points for holidaymakers, and the introduction of car-share lanes.

A brief word on Val d’Isère where, in addition to resort buses, 12 piste groomers now run on GTL. This synthetic fuel made from natural gas is biodegradable, more resistant to cold temperatures and helps to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions and particles on the slopes. Eventually, Val d’Isère Téléphériques and its subsidiary Valbus plan to run all of their vehicles on GTL, as well as the back-up ski lift combustion engine. 

Finally, a study is underway into the introduction of piste groomers than run on hydrogen. The future looks promising!

Observatories and protected zones

Several ski areas have introduced environmental observatories. They allow us to record, study and map animals and plant life. Partnerships have been established with the national parks (Ecrins, Vanoise…) to better protect vulnerable species such as the black grouse. Visitors are sometimes able to go and see these animals on guided walks, but the rest of the time the zones are kept safe, avoided by off-piste skiers in particular. 

Labels: Green Globe and Flocon Vert

To endorse the steps that are being taken, a number of mountain destinations have signed up to strict environmental certification labels. The two main labels are Green Globe and Flocon Vert.

Green Globe is an international label that rewards tourism professionals who are working towards sustainable environmental and social development. A number of resorts have already signed up to this label, including the Grand Massif in 2016 and Serre Chevalier Valley in 2018

This certification involves 41 mandatory requirements and 337 compliance indicators. To obtain the label, you need to conform with each of the basic criterium and achieve a compliance rating of over 50% for the indicators corresponding to each criteria.  

The criteria cover a range of environmental aspects including:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • water management
  • protecting biodiversity
  • waste management
  • energy saving
  • ground and space use
  • noise management
  • air quality

Certification criteria are reviewed and updated twice a year. They’re based on strict international standards and agreements such as the STC Partnership, ISO 9001 / 14001 / 19011 and Agenda 21.

Destinations are subject to an annual audit and must increase the number of compliance indicators they meet by 5% every year in order to retain this highly respected certification. 

The Flocon Vert label was created in association with Mountain Riders to promote responsible tourism. The label is based on 21 criteria created by a consortium of over 70 organisations with expertise in sustainable development, tourism, or the mountains.

The criteria include land management, the protection of local heritage, natural spaces and the local economy, as well as the management of water, energy and waste for example.

So, what can I do to help? 

We know that you’re interested in environmental protection and that you already do a great deal. To go even further, here are a few ways to reduce your carbon footprint: 

  • Don’t throw litter and pick up any you find. 
  • Use a pocket ashtray if you’re a smoker
  • Choose car-sharing whenever possible
  • Use public transport (train, bus,…)
  • Buy your equipment from brands that are committed to the environment (materials, manufacturing process…)
  • Repurpose your old ski equipment to make decorative items and furniture