Avid skiers beware: Melting snowcaps may ruin your next ski vacation.
Indeed, the Alps are warming at a rate three times the global average, and the number of snow days during the past two decades is lower than any time in the last 100 years, according to the Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research. “Within 50 years all ski resorts below 1,200 meters won’t have a chance and will go out of business,” Michel Revaz of Cipra, an Alpine conservation society, told the Financial Times.
But faced with bleak prospects for snowy winters to come, ski resorts are going green in places where avid skiers hope to see miles and miles of white.
France’s Val Thorens powers its lifts with hydroelectric energy and the resort has planted more than 200,000 trees in the past 20 years. Meanwhile, Les Arcs, also in France, has buried its power cables and banned cars from resort areas. It has also limited “off-piste” skiing and replaced the topsoil on its slopes with hardy Alpine grass to minimize the need for snowmaking.
In large part, resorts are responding to global warming and their own bad habits, such as clearing trees to build cable cars and using loads of water and energy to make artificial snow. Even traveling to the slopes can leave a serious carbon footprint. Traveling from London to Serre Chevalier by car would produce 222.59 kilograms of carbon emissions, while the same trip by plane adds up to 97.77 kg and by train, 11.11 kg, according to calculations by Snow Carbon, a site that helps travelers reach the slopes by train.
Developers are also catching on. The French company MGM is working on six new projects that adhere to international construction industry standards known as Haute Qualité Environmental (HQE). The new units maximize natural light, use low-energy lights, motion-activated lighting and geothermal heat pumps to extract energy from the Earth’s core.
Some resorts, like Les Arcs, are trying to attract tourists with activities other than skiing, such as biking, rock climbing, hiking and paragliding. France’s La Schappe, a 150-year-old silk mill, is being converted into a luxury property with a wood burner to provide hot water and windows that trap sunlight to warm the building. It is also connected via lifts to Serre Chevalier, which offers rewards for those arriving by train.
“It is hard to be eco-friendly in the Alps — the amount of heating required is phenomenal — but we are increasingly using solar panels and double insulation,” said Richard Deans of MGM.
But some think there isn’t another option.
Developers are concentrating their efforts on established resorts with initiatives in sustainability, said Joanna Yellowlees-Bound, chief executive of Erna Low Property, which is handling La Schappe’s development. “Developers are increasingly interested in ensuring that their projects have a long-term future in the way they are built,” she said.