Skiing: green channel

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The Independent Online
One would think that sliding down a mountain on a couple of slats of wood was one of the least environmentally damaging things a fun-loving tourist could do. Unfortunately, when there are thousands of us doing it all at the same time our need for chalets, roads, ski-lifts, water and fuel puts a heavy burden on the environment and on the local villages. We even often need snow made for us by gas-guzzling snow cannons.

The Alps, known as "the roof garden of Europe" with 5 million tourist beds, 12,000 ski lifts, 50 million tourists and 150 million short-term visitors has long experienced the downside of catering to this increasingly popular downhill leisure pursuit. But now locals in the Lech valley in Austria, where visitors outnumber locals by 7:1 in peak season, are reclaiming their valley. Community politicians decided to restrict access to the valley in order to preserve the quality of life for locals and visitors - so when their limit of 17,000 ski tickets has been reached, the entrance doors to the valley are closed.

The goal of their loftily named Ecologically Orientated Life and Economy in Lech project is to marry a good time for the tourists with a healthy environment, a strong economy and an uncompromised local community. They are starting with solving problems such as traffic congestion and pollution and in the longer term will focus on encouraging more efficient use of water, energy and other resources.

Austria also has a "Green Village" ecolabelling programme in which 36 villages have agreed to abide by ecological criteria. The Tyrol, for instance, has a Tyrolean Environmental Seal of Quality - an ecolabelling programme for accommodation and catering businesses. "Ecology and economy are not antagonists, but partners," says the Tyrolean tourism board.