Earth Day 2021: How to take a sustainable ski holiday (that'll actually make a difference)

Abigail Butcher
·7-min read
Swap the alps for Scotland for a more sustainable ski trip - Getty
Swap the alps for Scotland for a more sustainable ski trip - Getty

There’s nowhere to hide from climate change in the mountains. For decades now, snow levels have been rising, glaciers receding and winter seasons shrinking in length – these are just some of the issues that will be brought to light on Earth Day 2021 (April 22).

It’s got to the point where we can no longer shirk the issue – a trip to the slopes impacts the environment at every turn. In fact, the carbon footprint of a ski holiday is dominated (60 per cent) by transport and accommodation (35 per cent) followed by ski lifts (2 per cent), according to Alexandre Maulin, president of Domaines Skiables de France. Thankfully, it’s never been easier to make more sustainable choices with our ski holidays, from our travel plans to the places we stay, food we eat and kit we wear.

A ski trip doesn’t need to come at a cost to the planet as well as your wallet. Here are a few tips that will help you make a different to our planet’s future on your next escape to the slopes.

Ditch flying and stay for longer

We use the most carbon getting to our destination. Taking a flight instead of a train to the Alps is the equivalent of leaving your television on standby for 22 years, according to website snowcarbon.co.uk, which in July 2020 compared the actual carbon cost of a one-way journey from London to the ski resort of Tignes by plane and by train.

A flight from London to Geneva and taxi from Geneva to Tignes created 103.43kg of CO2 per person whereas the journey by Eurostar Ski Train from London to Bourg St Maurice, and then a taxi to Tignes, created 18.47kg per person. If taking the train is unrealistic, consider driving instead. With the loss of many flights post-coronavirus, driving to the Alps might be a necessity – to find the least impactful way to travel use an easy online carbon comparison calculator.

Lower your carbon footprint by driving to the slopes - Getty
Lower your carbon footprint by driving to the slopes - Getty

If you normally take several ski holidays, go less and stay for longer. Merge your trips into a two-week stay, or tag on a weekend – you can even change resorts, just don’t fly home in between. Or spend some time skiing in Scotland to further reduce your carbon footprint and support our local industry.

Choose a sustainable ski resort

Ski resorts globally are taking impressive strides to reduce their impact on the environment, both in unique, small ways – by banning single-use plastics (Pejo 3000) and putting visualisers on lift lines to reduce bird deaths (Morzine) – to making impressive pledges.

Among the eyecatchers include the Swiss resort of Laax, which already runs on 100 per cent renewable energy and aims to be the world’s first self-sufficient ski resort. Elsewhere, Vail Resorts has its ‘Epic Promise’ of reaching a zero net operating footprint by 2030, while Serre Chevalier is one of the few resorts to have attained Green Globe status, with plans to produce 50 per cent of its entire electricity requirements by 2030. So many resorts are taking action, all it takes is a little research before you go to ensure where you go is aligned with your values.

Pick a company doing its bit

How you stay will make a difference, too. Choosing self-catering over a luxury hotel might ease the pressure on the planet and your wallet for example – think, do you really need fresh towels, disposable toiletries and chemically cleaned rooms every day?

That’s not to say all hotels are bad – in car-free Zermatt, hoteliers meet for annually for ‘Sustainable Day to work on integrating tourism and sustainability. In fact, these days, anyone worth their salt offering a ski holiday won’t be doing so at unnecessary expense to the environment. Club Med stands out with its ‘Happy to Care’ initiative, introduced in 2019 to implement changes like cutting food waste to 101g per person, per meal, for which all of its French Alpine resorts have received Green Globe Status.

Other notables include Lagom for its ‘use what you need, positive luxury’ ethos giving guests the option of choosing which luxuries they can and can’t do without – including fresh towels, toiletries and slippers. Laax’s Rocksresort, which runs on 100 per cent renewable energy with optimal insulation, uses only eco-friendly cleaning products and offers eBikes for rent, while Hotel Chetzeron in Crans-Montana serves only local and seasonal food under a ‘slow food’ movement. In Morzine, Alikats makes its own yogurt to avoid unnecessary plastic use and asks guests to bring slippers from home. It's also a founding member of 'Montagne Verte Morzine', a non-profit association which aims to develop solutions to reduce the region's environmental impact.

Take reusables

By now it should be second nature to use refillable water bottles and cups so don’t forget them on a trip – along with cutlery so you don’t have to resort to single-use plastic. World Earth Day reports that mankind uses one million plastic bottles per minute, less than a quarter of which is recycled in the United States.

Don't forget your reusables on your next ski trip - Getty
Don't forget your reusables on your next ski trip - Getty

A refillable bottle, like the stainless steel Hydroflask 21oz (from £29.95; hydroflask.com) will helpfully keep drinks hot or cold – many resorts including Anzére and Crans Montana in Switzerland, Les Arcs in France and Squaw Valley in California offer water fountains for topping up throughout the day – though most restaurants will now refill, too. And a reusable cup, like the NOW cup by Circularandco.com (£5) will save money on hot drinks (the big brands such as Paul and Costa will save you up to 50p in the airport and smaller individual cafés might if you ask, too) and the environment – every year 1.5 billion single-use cups in Britain end up in landfill.

Evaluate your kit

Ask yourself, do you need new kit next winter? Buy less and make informed choices to do you bit to help the environment. Many winter brands are already using recycled and plant-based fabrics and fewer harsh chemicals during production. One leader is Picture Organic Clothing (picture-organic-clothing.com), which has always used recycled polyester but now produces a fabric partially derived from plants such as sugar cane and castor beans.

Consider renting and recycling too, especially if you’re new to ski holidays – both available on ecoski.co.uk. As well as selling brands ‘with a conscience’, EcoSki offers rental as well as resale and repair of items you might already own. Founder Rachael Westbrook said: “Everything we have comes at some cost to the planet. We need to understand the ingredients in our kit but also, crucially, have a system to ensure it's kept in circulation for longer – repairs, rental, preloved.”

Patagonia launched its ‘Worn Wear’ tour in 2016 and now has a dedicated website (wornwear.patagonia.com) to help people buy pre-loved items or mend what they’ve got, stating: “Buying used extends a garment’s life by about two years, which cuts its combined carbon, waste and water footprint by 82 per cent.”

Be proactive

Ultimately, we have to be responsible for our own holidays and our own choices. Chairman of Protect Our Winters Canada, Mike Douglas, urges people not to get downbeat though. “Absolutely still go on your ski holiday – the benefits people get from being in the mountains and seeing nature far outweigh the carbon to get there.

“Instead of carbon offsets why not set aside time to do something proactive,” suggests Mike. “So, if you’re going to fly for four hours, offset it with four hours of action. Write a letter to your MP, your town council or get involved in a campaign with a group like POW (protectourwinters.org)."