Does the climate catastrophe that we find ourselves in herald the end of ski resorts? Visiting the slopes for a weekend of skiing and snowboarding is now tinged with the guilt of all the environmental damage that goes along with it.
Between the short-haul, carbon-emitting flights many skiers hop on to get to the slopes, the deforestation and diesel-powered vehicles required to make suitable hills, the constantly running chairlifts that emit even more greenhouse gases—not to mention the increasing need for carbon-intensive snow production as temperatures rise—it’s a pretty clear: skiing is not environmentally friendly.
However, a ski resort in the French Alps is striving to show how ski resorts can, in fact, be sustainable. The ski resort in question, Serre Chevalier, was supposed to celebrate its 80th-anniversary last year, but of course, since the pandemic started in 2020, tourists hadn’t been able to visit.
While this was an unfortunate turn of events, the resort decided to use the tourist-free time to ramp up its environmental plans. Its four centers of Briançon, Chantemerle, Villeneuve la Salle, and Le Monetier-Les-Bains were already working on fulfilling their pledges to reduce their carbon footprint by 2030. After some deliberation, they also decided to aim at generating 30 percent of all their electricity supply by 2023.
“Everyone said we were crazy, that it was impossible,” said Patrick Arnaud, the manager of Serre Chevalier, “but now we are on track to exceed that figure.”
How exactly are they achieving this? Well, it turns out that ski resorts are usually ideal for harvesting renewable energy. Serre Chevalier has plenty of wind at its altitude, and the wind streams that are already piped in for a snow-producing cannon can be repurposed to produce hydroelectricity (which accounts for 80 percent of all renewables at the resort). They are plugged into the existing network, but instead of taking electricity, they give electricity when not being used to produce snow. To top it all off, installing this system is easy because it uses the infrastructure that is already there, which means that no trees need to be felled in the process.
The resort also gets 300 days of sunshine per year, and due to the sun’s light getting reflected off the crisp white snow in the winter, the solar panels that are on the roofs of the chairlifts produce much more power than they consume. Wind turbines also generate energy to power more lifts.
“Grooming accounts for 90 percent of our energy consumption,” Patrick explained, “and 50 years ago we groomed less.” Though the resort has been using mostly hybrid (diesel and electric) piste bashers, the resort has been asking guests if they would mind if the slopes weren’t groomed as much. Chevalier also plans to be using 100 percent electric and hydro-powered piste bashers by 2030.
The resort, which has 81 runs spread over the four centers, also offers environmentally friendly attractions. Instead of skiers being harnessed to snowmobiles, guests can enjoy being pulled by galloping horses. Zip lining, snowshoeing, hiking in the surrounding woodlands of Ecrins national park, viewing glaciers, visiting nearby natural hot springs, and snacking on fondue made from local cheeses are other activities that customers can entertain themselves with.
The marketing slogan behind all these shifts toward a more sustainable ski resort is: “All we need is change.” As Patrick said: “we’re not doing this for Chevalier, we’re doing this for the planet. If all the resorts make this change, imagine the difference it would make.”