Green skiing: Ski with a clean conscience

It is possible to hit the slopes without leaving a huge carbon footprint, says Patrick Thorne

Saturday 17 October 2009 00:00
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It's one of the dilemmas of the climate-change argument: to ski we need snow, but going on a ski holiday contributes to climate change, making that snow less reliable.

So what do we do? Stop skiing is the obvious answer. But for those of us who love the mountains, that's not a satisfactory option. We may even argue, why should we stop going skiing? After all, travelling to resorts is hardly the key cause of what many scientists regard as climate change triggered by human activities. It is only one small component. So giving up skiing would need to be part of a negotiated, comprehensive settlement.

In general, though, people want to keep skiing but are thinking more about where they go and how they get there. For many, carbon offsetting just doesn't feel right: it seems too easy to buy your way out of the responsibility for your actions. So that leaves some relatively straightforward decisions to make.

Let's start with the simple stuff. A bit of back-of-a-beer-mat CO2 maths tells us that it is the travelling to the ski resort that's important, not what the resort is doing to minimise your environmental impact when you arrive. (Although every little bit helps: see the panel on green ski lifts opposite.)

As far as British visitors to the self-styled "green ski resort" Aspen, in Colorado, are concerned, more than 90 per cent of CO2 emissions are made flying there and back. And those emissions are many times greater than spending two weeks in a resort in the Alps, even if it has made no effort to cut its emissions. So, Johnny going skiing in the Alps, 800 miles away, on a bus full of other skiers, will produce much less CO2 than Rupert who flies alone in his private jet to the Rockies, 4,000 miles away.

The greater passenger density we can endure, the better, and travelling at ground level is better than by air. The bus is the optimum green way to reach a ski resort in Europe and it's also one of the cheapest.

Ski Weekends (08444 060 600; skiweekends.com) offers one-week half-board holidays by coach to its hotel at Brides-les-Bains (which sits just a gondola ride below the Three Valleys) from £195 per person. Its international coach operator, The Kings Ferry (01634 377 577; thekingsferry.co.uk), was the first in the UK to go carbon neutral. And in the resort, the 183 lifts in the ski area use entirely hydro-electric power, provided by the Gaz Electricité Company of Grenoble, which is generated in small hydro-power centres in the French Alps. Even the company's 67 trail groomers use biodegradable diesel and the region has the top ISO 14001 international environmental management certification. So it's as close to a win-win ski holiday as you can get.

Self-drive in a car in which every seat is filled is also good, although there is the risk of road accidents to consider. Trains are probably the safest way to travel and a new service called snowcarbon.co.uk is due to launch next week, which can help with planning your train journey to winter snow. There are few better experiences in snow holidays than getting on the Eurostar at St Pancras and getting off eight hours later at the heart of the Paradiski region of La Plagne and les Arcs in France, with many other resorts such as Tignes, Val d'Isère, Courchevel and Meribel nearby or accessed from other stations en route.

Let's not forget our own ski areas either: Cairngorm near Aviemore and Nevis Range near Fort William have both had good winters for the past two years and saw their first snow this autumn a fortnight ago. When I went skiing at the former in 1986, I loved it so much I moved there.

Once on the slopes, crowded pistes and lift queues are a sign that resorts are operating at capacity rather than wasting energy. Bad news if you go skiing for wide-open spaces and enjoy a little luxury.

But here's a final consolation: when you do arrive in the resort, wherever it is and however you got there, the likelihood is that you'll be producing less CO2 skiing all day than in your regular life back home. Ski lifts use comparatively little energy, skiing is good for your health and the mountains good for your soul. There are few better places to think about what's really important in the world.

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