As global temperatures continue to soar, many alpine ski resorts are expected to lose up to 70% of their snow cover by 2099.
This could mark the end of conventional ski holidays, with natural snow becomes wetter, less frequent and harder to find.
But the European winter sports industry attracting up to 210 million skiers every year, many resorts look for ways to offset the heavy carbon cost of tourism – and survive the threat of permanent closure.
“We run a tourist area, and we encourage people to come here,” says Sara Burdon of the Morzine Tourist Office, “but we can still have a huge impact on the actions we take.
“Whether it’s choosing to put the train over the plane or opting for more sustainable ways of maintaining the ski slopes, we can choose to minimize our impact and help to keep the snow here for years to come.”
Can ski resorts be truly green?
Despite alarming predictions about the future of the ski industry – the length of seasons could be reduced by 50% by 2050 alone – many resorts remain optimistic about the possibility of carbon-neutral tourism.
Located deep in the Chablais Mountain chain, Morzine is one of France’s most popular ski destinations, offering 120 kilometers of skiable terrain spread over 69 glorious pistes.
In 2021, the resort became the ninth winner of the Flocon Vert sustainability award – an environmental distinction rewarding green development policies in European ski resorts. The title celebrated the city’s commitment to sustainable transportation, waste reduction and green tourism.
“Winning this award was an incredible achievement for us,” Burdon said.
“More than a year of work went into gathering information, creating a strategy and implementing improvements and new projects. We still have a lot to do, but we are very motivated to keep moving forward.
Next to an innovation reseeding projectMorzine’s commitment to a pollution-free town center was at the heart of their triumph.
“We did a pedestrianization test in the summer of 2021, and we will put it in place permanently in the summer of 2022,” Burdon continues.
“The idea is to create a beautiful area where children can play happily, families can sit and have fewer cars polluting the city.”
Without a car but not without worries
Walking through the village center it is easy to see why Morzine would benefit from a reduction of road traffic.
The resort has a fine array of storefronts, cafes and restaurants, each brimming with holidaymakers en route to and from the slopes. But as the day’s skiing begins, cars become an unnecessary intrusion in this quaint alpine village. They clog the roads, causing queues throughout the resort and producing noise pollution late into the night.
Transportation, it seems, is a key issue for this town – and so is the ski industry in general.
“Around 75% of the carbon footprint of a Briton’s ski holiday at a ski resort comes from transporting them,” says Al Judge, the founder of Chalet Experts Morzine, AliKats.
“If people could come by train instead of plane or car, it would significantly reduce the carbon footprint of tourism in the Alps.”
This sentiment carries over throughout the resort, where many local businesses band together to reward travelers who opt to take the train over the plane.
Montagne Verte – an environmental association based in the town – has created the ‘AlpinExpress Pass’, a discount card offering train travelers discounted accommodation, transfers and ski hire throughout the region.
“There is a huge range of different discounts available to rail users,” says Burdon.
“You just have to come and prove to them that you arrived by train, and they will give you a specific QR code to get these discounts.”
Is skiing possible in a warming world?
For many in Morzine, climate change is no longer a distant phenomenon. It is a daily reality.
As snowfall dwindles and winter seasons get shorter, the resort’s reliance on skiing becomes increasingly difficult to sustain. Instead, locals are looking for ways to encourage four-season tourism throughout the city – attracting both skiers and non-skiers.
“It’s not just winters, it’s summers as well,” Burdon says.
“Morzine is a great all year round resort. We have a very busy and busy summer season with tons of activities and loads for tourists to do.
Later this year, local eagle expert Jacques-Olivier Travers will reintroduce six white-tailed eagles to nearby Lake Geneva – a region without birds for 130 years.
“It was the last place they lived in France,” says Travers, “and in the next eight years we will reintroduce 80 more.”
Locals hope initiatives like this will encourage tourism throughout the warmer months, reducing their reliance on snow. Alongside mountain biking and hiking stays, this is the start of a shift that could see conventional ski resorts become a thing of the past.
“Our mountainous regions are more affected than any other by rising temperatures,” Burdon says. “We are now seeing a huge difference in the snowfall we receive and the changes it brings to our natural environment.
“That’s why it’s really important for us to make these changes now, before it’s too late.”