Inside winter travel: The greening of the slopes

Climate change has slid down the agenda for skiers, but resorts still assert their 'eco' credentials. Patrick Thorne reports

Five winters ago was one to forget in the Alps. The 2006-7 season started badly with unseasonably warm weather, meaning there was very little snow. It wasn't the first time this had happened but it did coincide perfectly with a period when the world's media were as obsessed with climate change as they are now about economic meltdown.

"Global warming poses threat to ski resorts in the Alps" warned The New York Times on 16 December 2006. It quoted an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report that warned rising temperatures spelt doom for lower-lying ski resorts in the Alps.

Kitzbühel Lift Company director Georg Hechenberger disputed the warning, pointing out one theory claiming rising temperatures would disrupt the Gulf Stream, making northern Europe colder. High-altitude resorts, the safest bet for snow, would then be too cold for pleasant ski holidays.

Back then, the ski travel industry was caught in the headlights of global publicity. On one hand, the ski areas looked set to be the first victims of climate change; on the other, they were portrayed as perpetrators, with people flying around the world to get their snow fix, generating the CO2 emissions blamed for global warming. (This irony was lost on a group of Colorado resorts that were advertising their environmental friendliness while advising skiers fed up with poor conditions in Europe to fly to the US.)

The 2006-7 season ended with a late surge by Mother Nature, who conjured up heavy snow in March and April. Some months later, the world's media were finally provided the hard evidence they craved of global warming destroying an industry dependent on low temperatures.

"Snowless in a warming world, ski resort in French Alps bids adieu," claimed The New York Times again on 19 July 2007, reporting on the little village of Abondance (00 33 450 730 290; valdabondance.com), where the town council had taken a majority (and what turned out to be temporary) decision to stop offering snow sports.

But was it all down to climate change as the report implied? If the journalist had sought to dig deeper he'd have discovered that hundreds of small ski areas at all altitudes had stopped offering skiing over the past few decades, thanks as much to rising energy, staff and insurance costs and changing consumer trends as to declining snow cover.

"Frankly, I'm a lot more concerned about demographic and economic shifts than I am about a few tenths of a degree, plus or minus, on a climatological temperature chart," says Skip King of ski industry consultancy firm Reputation Strategies (reputationstrategies.com).

"I work with ski areas all over the US – including areas which aren't blessed with either impressive topography or reliable natural snowfall – and in some cases, not even reliable cold temperatures. They've been dealing with that since long before people got concerned about global warming and they're all doing just fine."

So what has changed since 2006-7? Well, those who follow snowfall stats will say "not a lot": last winter record snowfall accumulations were reported in western North America, and even Scottish ski areas have had a couple of banner winters after being largely written off.

Importantly, those who report seriously on climate change will point out that this does not mean climate change isn't happening, and indeed that it fits with their projections of changing weather patterns and extremes in different places as the planet slowly warms.

The attitude of ski resorts has certainly changed markedly. Their annual "press kits" that arrive in journalists in-boxes each winter now have a few pages detailing their environmental efforts. When new infrastructure is built, explanations on the greenness of its construction and operation precedes description of its practical advantage to skiers.

There have been big investments in green technologies too. Whistler Blackcomb, the Canadian giant, has installed a hydro-electric power system that runs the entire resort, while the little Austrian ski centre of Salzstiegl uses two wind turbines to achieve 100 per cent green energy. Other ski areas are hydro-powered, including the world's biggest, the French Three Valleys area.

With climate change out of the headlines, has there been a change in the approach of skiers and boarders after a period of soul-searching for some when the climate change debate broke? Are they switching to terrestrial transport? The signs are mixed.

Crystal (0871 231 2256; crystalski.co.uk) reports that, before the recession, one in five skiers opted to offset the CO2 emissions from their flights. "Since then, it has dropped to 7 per cent," says spokeswoman Marion Telsnig. This season, however, Crystal has started selling rail holidays to the Alps at the same price as travelling by air – and doubled the number of ski holidays by train.

The Ski Club of Great Britain's annual Snowsports Analysis report notes another 1 per cent drop in the numbers of British skiers and boarders self-driving or travelling by rail last winter, as packages including air travel look more affordable.

That OECD report predicted that the (then more distant) 2020s were when climate change would start to have a significant impact on snowsports in the Alps. It seems we need some more poor winters and perhaps an end to economic turmoil for it to move back up the public agenda again.

Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Recruitment Genius: Centre Manager

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Guru Careers: Accountant

    £28 - 45k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Accountant is needed to take control of the ...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before