The little resort with big ideas about going green

Skiing plays havoc with the environment, but some Alpine resorts are striving to curb its excesses, says Simon Birch

Any skier will tell you that whizzing down a sparkling alpine piste is one of the best feelings in the world.

But there's a price to pay for that adrenaline rush, because skiing just happens to be one of the most environmentally destructive sports on the planet. Why? Well how about the habitat-trashing ski lifts and their monstrous pylons that stomp across the mountains; not to mention the pine forests that are bulldozed to make the pistes in the first place (did you honestly think that the pine trees decided not to grow in the middle of your favourite red run?). Then there are the energy-guzzling ski resorts themselves that have turned once isolated farming villages into an ever-growing concrete sprawl of over-heated hotels and thumping bars. Suddenly, that alpine idyll is looking less than picture-postcard perfect.

There is, however, good news emerging from this eco-carnage because a growing number of resorts are waking up to their environmental duties and are working hard to reduce the environmental impact of skiing. Like Les Gets, the pocket-sized resort in the massive Portes du Soleil ski region of the French Alps.

"We're working on sustainable development and environmental policies for future generations because the mountains are our most important resource," says Gregory Delachat, the town's deputy mayor. Les Gets embarked on a 10-year sustainable development programme back in 2003 and is now widely acknowledged as one of the most environmentally proactive ski resorts. So what's been achieved so far?

"There's nothing sexy to see, like a line of wind turbines," admits Delachat, who has demonstrated his green credentials by installing a renewable ground-source heating system in his own hotel. "Instead, what we've done is lots of little actions."

These "little actions" include pedestrianising a large portion of Les Gets's village centre, providing free shuttle buses, using only biodegradable oil in its piste-bashers, and reducing the brightness of the street lights to save energy. One of the most impressive projects is that almost all of Les Gets' public buildings, including its police station and church, are now heated with renewable energy provided by a woodchip boiler fuelled by wood sourced from local forests. Plus, as a signal of its commitment to a sustainable future, Les Gets has appointed an environmental manager to co-ordinate all its green policies.

Other resorts which are just leaving the starting blocks in all this include Méribel. "We've always cared about the environment," claims Francois la Chéré, the manager of parks at Méribel, the most popular ski resort in the Alps with Britons. Since it was founded in 1938, Méribel has enforced a strict building code which has saved it from the concrete horror that has blighted other resorts.

Méribel also provides free buses, has extensive recycling and has recently won a national award for the management of waste water from its mountain restaurants and ski stations. However, it is still to adopt an overall environmental management plan and has no one person in place to co-ordinate environmental policies.

The most important thing that a resort can do to reduce its environmental impact is "sort out its transport", says Stewart Sheppard from Mountain Riders, the Grenoble-based green campaign group. Two years ago, he says, Mountain Riders carried out the first carbon audit of a ski resort. It showed that 75 per cent of the greenhouse-gas emissions arose from transporting skiers and boarders to the destination, as well as from servicing the resort with everything from beer to bed linen.

"Climate change is already a reality here in the French Alps, with scientists recording 40 per cent less snow at an altitude of 1,300 metres since 1960," says Sheppard. "If we're going to have snow to ski and board on in the future then it's vital that the ski industry reduces its greenhouse gas emissions, like any other industry."

Mountain Riders is encouraging ski resorts to look at ways to get skiers to travel in by public transport rather than private cars. Both Les Gets and Méribel score high because they are just a short distance from mainline train services. Les Gets is already looking at introducing a discount on lift passes for skiers who arrive by train.

Launched eight years ago, Mountain Riders is made up of French skiers and snowboarders who are passionate about their sport but alarmed at the lack of environmental awareness within the ski industry. The group has grown rapidly and is now helping to set the environmental agenda within the French ski industry.

In a move to get ski resorts to adopt more environmental measures, Mountain Riders now produces an annual guide to the environmental record of 250 ski resorts around the world. Information is provided on more than 40 different environmental issues, ranging from a resort's policy on recycling to climate change. "The aim is to drive up standards by highlighting those resorts that are working hard to protect the environment," says Sheppard.

But even if a resort adopted all 40 recommended measures, can it ever truly be green? Andreas Goetz, from the Lichtenstein-based alpine environmental campaign group Cipra, is unconvinced. "We don't know any green ski resorts. Some are better than others, but in general ski resorts are bad news for the environment."

Sheppard accepts the argument that skiing can never be green. "However, we can help to reduce the impact of skiing," he says. "For example, we can take the train to the Alps rather than flying and turn down the heating in our chalet."

Betony Garner from the Ski Club of Great Britain agrees with Sheppard that skiers must be aware of their environmental responsibilities. "As skiers and boarders, we need to think about how we can lessen our impact on the environment individually, and then think how the resort can ensure that it's sustainable," says Garner, who helped to launch the Ski Club's own environmental campaign, Respect The Mountain.

"We're all passionate about skiing and boarding, so we need to ensure that there will be snow left to ski on and mountains on which we can enjoy our sport."

Compact Facts

How to get there

Simon Birch travelled to the French Alps with Rail Europe (0844 848 4070; raileurope.co.uk), which offers returns from London to Cluses (for Les Gets) from £99 for daytime services and £124 overnight in a six-berth couchette. Return train fares from London to Moutiers (for Méribel) start at £99 for day services and £124 for the overnight, again in a six-berth couchette. A week in Les Gets, staying at Chalet Bluebell with Ski Blueridge (00 33 450 75 86 69; skiblueridge.co.uk), costs €399 (£364), fully catered, with free transfer from Cluses station. A week at La Boua chalet in Méribel with Snowline VIP (0844 557 3118; snowlinevip.com) costs from £449 per person.

Further information

Mountain Riders (00 33 954 66 86 83; mountain-riders.org); Ski Club of Great Britain (020-8410 2000; skiclub.co.uk/skiclub/respectthemountain/default.aspx).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Sport
Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates one of his goals during the FIFA World Cup 2014 round of 16 match between Colombia and Uruguay at the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Sport
Antoine Griezmann has started two of France’s four games so far
sport
Life and Style
techYahoo Japan launches service to delete your files and email your relatives when you die
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
life
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
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
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Recruitment Consultant (Trainee), Finchley Central, London

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    Day In a Page

    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
    Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

    Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

    They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
    The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

    20 best days out for the summer holidays

    From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
    Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

    All the wood’s a stage

    Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
    Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

    Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

    Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
    Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

    Self-preservation society

    Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
    Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

    Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

    We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor