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Eco-friendly ski resorts

The trend towards environmentally-friendly ski resorts.

Putting these two terms together may seem like something of an antithesis; it may even make you smile, given that resorts are great guzzlers of natural resources. And yet ski resorts are increasingly aiming for more environmental-friendliness, initially in response to the invective from green groups and to attract customers concerned about environmental issues, but increasingly as a result of growing awareness.
Les Menuires was one of the first resorts to be ISO 14001 certified* and since then, dozens of other resorts are preparing to be, or have already been, audited. Ski resorts and ecology do not always go hand in hand, but some positive new measures are now being introduced. Protection of the environment has become a major issue while, at the same time, tourist offers need to remain attractive. Read on.
Sustainable development: a sustainable concept
The petrol crises and major industrial disasters like Chernobyl acted as a real wake-up call: natural resources, the underpinning of our prosperity, are not infinite, and last century’s industrial model based on non renewable resources has reached its limits.
Over the last thirty years, the idea of a new social order that will let us “meet the needs of the present without jeopardising the capacity of future generations to meet theirs” has taken hold.
What is now known as Sustainable Development (since the Brundtland report published by the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987) has become a hot topic, not only for nations, but also for regions, towns and ski resorts.
The idea is to continue to develop, to take advantage of technical progress and to meet the needs of the local economy without jeopardising the future. This type of development revolves around three main areas, in other words, ecological, economic and social issues. Resorts now work on their environmental strategy with this in mind.
A major challenge: squaring sustainable development and tourism
In France alone, the work to be done is colossal.
Some resorts engaged in sustainable development are able to develop new urban areas providing they take the landscape and the site’s natural heritage into account. Carefully selected promoters must be ISO 14001 certified, and must adhere to a sustainable development policy that includes concrete environmental criteria.
Existing buildings are renovated with insulation, as structures built 30 years or more ago often had only symbolic insulation or even none at all.
In addition, all French ski resorts were designed around the car. Transport is a major source of pollution and annoyance in resorts, and is a major topic in local council discussions. Free shuttle services do not reduce the car’s omnipresence, but introducing public transport to the sites could well lead to change. With specifically set aside roads, this type of transport would generate huge gains in terms of comfort, with improved punctuality, more and faster services, less time spent on the road.
Contrary to what might logically be expected, the introduction of roads reserved for site-specific public transport does not necessarily lead to an increase in congestion around strategic centres: the idea is to reduce the space given over to cars. Initial schemes indicate that drivers either find a new route or else change their mode of transport entirely. This is the aim, the ultimate goal being to get drivers to change their habits entirely. We can get around just as easily, consume less and enhance the overall comfort of pedestrians, in other words, all of us. This long-haul and complex transport engineering process is a real problem for resorts that were initially designed around cars. It illustrates the emergence of a new social model which challenges a form of development that has reached its limits.
Man-made snow and sustainable development
The use of man-made snow due to disastrous snowfalls in recent years has become a virtual necessity to keep resorts economically healthy.
The use of chemical additives is strictly forbidden, and in addition, they are so complex to use that resorts virtually never use them. Water remains a problem as it is a limited and highly sought after resource when snow is scarce in december. When it comes to making the facilities work and spreading snow, water and fuel are used in keeping with strict sustainable development policies. Snow traps may even be installed to preserve as much of the precious white stuff as possible. Of course, ideally we should manage without artificially produced snow, but in that case, how could the resorts retain their economy? At any rate, man-made snow is only used on liaison ski runs. In the event of real shortage, man would simply have to bow down before Nature.
A few initiatives at our personal level
To prove their commitment, an increasing number of resorts have signed up to the National Charter for sustainable development in the mountain resorts this year. This charter sets out 130 measures, some of which are easy to put into practice on a daily basis, including selective sorting of cardboard and glass, and even recycling of low energy light bulbs. In addition, we can use the new shuttle services that have been introduced.
In Auron, children and their parents are asked to pick up rubbish in the resort and to sort it into the appropriate bins. Holiday-makers in Rosière and Avoriaz 1800 are given recyclable dustbin bags, with disposable pocket ashtrays for smokers. In Orcières 1850, the power lines have been laid underground to protect the birds, while Saint-Lary Soulan has upgraded all of its ski lifts to save on energy. In Alpe d’Huez, mountain flower seeds selected by Cemagref are sown on the slopes. Les Sybelles in Maurienne has developed a scheme to collect used oil from snow grooming equipment, and special eco-friendly events to raise holiday-makers awareness.
In Autrans, the ‘Foulée Blanche’ organised in collaboration with the local community of Villard-de-Lans was designed to develop skiers’ respect for the environment via educational schemes such as introducing greener ways to wash up after meals...
The Mountain Riders association, which promotes sustainable development in the mountains, has published a guide listing 96 mountain resorts and informing consumer-actors of the resorts’ performance with regard to transport, waste, water management, energy... Holiday-makers can find all the sustainable development and green measures that certain resorts expect to introduce this winter. View it free of charge on
* ISO 14001 is a worldwide standard of environmental management delivered to organisations that manage to minimise the damaging impact of their activities on the environment and continually strive to improve their environmental performance. In deciding to work towards ISO 14001 environmental certification, resorts aim to implement, maintain and improve environmental management systems. The standard measures the impact of discharge into the water and the air, ground contamination, the use of fuels and natural resources. In addition, no new ski runs can be created without first carrying out an impact study based on a map that features all the most environmentally sensitive areas, and subject to strict regulations. suggests that you also read its report on Snow management, which covers ground preparation, grooming and the production of man-made snow.
Photos: N.Cuche, E.Beallet
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