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Top 10 tips for greener skiing 21.01.08

The mountain tops are snow covered, the skis are rattling restlessly in the basement, knees are being flexed and the old salopettes are being squeezed into after a Christmas of excess. It’s that time of the year again- ski time. So how do you cut down on the impact of this mountain passion.

We all have our dirty secrets that are best not mentioned in polite green society. One of mine is skiing. The higher the better- the combination of beautiful snowscapes, high adrenaline, all day exercise, good company and artery clogging Savoyard food makes skiing one of the highlights of the year.

According to Direct Line 1.15 million flew off to ski resorts in 2006, and the figures are still rising as activity holidays increase in popularity- and new resorts in Eastern Europe and North America continue to attract more and more Brits.

So can you ski green? Well if the truth be told not really. Ski resorts are environmental hot spots, try visiting your favourite resort in spring time as the snow melts and look at the scars of the pistes, the waste that the melting reveals, the low water tables as the snow makers have drained the water supply in an effort to extend the season. 30,000 cigarette stubs were counted on the queue space of one lift in the Val Thorens a couple of years ago. Then there is the issue of damage to the mountains, and in particular the plant and animal life, the transport, the energy to keep us warm at high altitudes- and with a constant supply of hot water.

Having said all of that, if like me the call becomes to strong to resist there are a number of key actions that can be done to limit your impact, and still have a great time.

1. Where to go. – The rule here is as local as possible, Aspen may sound great but do you really need to cross the Atlantic to ski, of course you don’t. I’m not suggesting Scotland here, although if you live in Scotland why not. The Alps are nice and local, and with their wide range of resorts you can do a life time of ski-ing in just the Haut Savoy.

2. How to get there. The transport you take to go skiing represents about 74% of the total carbon footprint of your holiday according to the French green ski association, Mountain Riders. Let’s face it package air flights are just terrible anyway- they leave at unsightly hours, fly to out of the way airports, with a long coach journey driven by some demented lunatic with a death wish at the other end- you arrive stressed and tired. Flying to ski resorts is so 20th Century, why not start the holiday as you travel? Eurostar offer a range of ski trains- which give you access to the best the Alps has to offer- Val Thorens, Coucheval, Meribel, La Plagne (yuck), Tignes, and Les Arcs. A return journey with Eurostar to the French Alps releases 24kg of CO2 per traveller; in contrast, a Heathrow to Geneva flight releases 191kg of CO2 per person. It doesn’t take a maths whizz to work out which is the greener option. On top of that from last November Eurostar off set the passenger emissions, in a scheme supported by Friends of the Earth making the journey Carbon Neutral. Pack a baguette, some organic cheese and wine and start the party on the journey. The trains speed you through either through the day for the views or even cooler the night trains mean that you can get a full day’s ski-ing in on your last day, jump the train at 9pm after a bit of après ski and a bite and hit London at 7am. Eurostar ski trains

3. Which are the greenest resorts. The Ski Club of Great Britain has a list of the environmental reports of most of the big European resorts. It isn’t a comprehensive report, and ideally needs some third party verification but it is a start

4. Where to stay- this is a two fold one really, firstly try and find something locally owned so the money stays in the area. It may seem hard to believe when you are paying £3 for an expresso as some cabin café at 3000 metres but the Alps is actually a very poor area. The majority of the large hotel and apartment accommodation is actually owned by companies outside the region. Have a look at the local tourist office site, talk to them, most speak English. The second point is try and find a chalet or apartment that is heated with wood. The second largest carbon use in skiing holidays is not surprising heating, at around 19%. Wood heating both fires and boilers emit 12 times less carbon, and because they are biomass you can argue that they are in effect carbon neutral as they are only emitting what the trees have absorbed. Take Val Thorens, the highest of the Trois Vallees, and part of the biggest ski resort in Europe. It’s lifts are now entirely powered by renewable energy, in this case hydro, it has planted over 200,000 trees in the last 20 years, all municipal vehicles, including piste bashers, are moving towards using bio- diesel. It has rebuilt its sewage system to prevent pollution- a big step as most resorts still use the over stretched local village systems, its street lighting now uses low energy bulbs, it has replaced the on-piste toilets with organic toilets, it is planting its pistes with tough grass to avoid soil degradation, municipal building are moving towards solar power. Wild life areas to protect black grouse are in place, ski lift cables marked to help avoid birds from flying into them. It has joined up with Mountain Riders the French skier and snow boarder environmental group to run environmental awareness traing for visitors and staff alike. It has a long way to go but a start is being made.

5. When you are there stay on the pistes. Off piste skiing is not only dangerous, it is unnecessary and environmentally a nightmare. Off piste skiing has a number of problems, the first is that most responsible resorts are busy replanting the forests that were initially cut down to provide pasture land in summer. Young trees can be severly, and fatally damaged by having their tops knocked off by indiscipline skiers. The same applies for the rare flora that covers the mountains in spring. The second is that the majority of fatalities occur off piste, while you may not care about your own neck a whole team of resort safety staff have to risk theirs daily pulling idiots out of avalanches. Sarkozy, the now French President made it a crime to ski off-piste and has now authorized the police and resort security to arrest off piste skiers. They rarely do but the law is now in place, you may find yourself handcuffed to your hospital bed after a bad fall, as well as facing the huge bills for your heli-evac, most ski insurances no longer insure against off piste accidents.

6. Litter, just don’t do it. Even if it is biodegradable it won’t degrade while it is frozen in the snow and ice, leaving food stuff on the spring slopes. If you smoke take a pocket ashtray, one cigarette butt pollutes upwards of 1 cubic meter of water. Orange peel takes two years to decompose, and of course on glaciers nothing decomposes.

7. Recycle, most resorts now have recycling points around the accommodation units.

8. Safe guard water- water is a huge issue in the mountains, especially now with the extensive use of snow makers. You may not be picking up the water bill but the mountains are. A good shower instead of the bath- leaves more time for the après ski anyway.

9. Try your hand at something new Snow walking and cross country skiing, really enjoy the high forests and views.

10. Have a great time, skiing is superb exercise, the French Alps in winter are one of the most beautiful parts of the world. The wild life is spectacular if you ever get to see it.

Peter Shield

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Related links

Save our Snow- a great site about green resorts, climate change and of course..snow

Ski Clubs Guide to Green Ski resorts

Mountain Riders -French with english newsletter

Ski Clubs Seven Steps to Preserve the Mountains

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