Combining ski holidays and protecting the environment, nothing could be simpler in France!

Protecting the environment isn’t just an objective for the lowlands, it also takes place in the mountains. To preserve their landscapes, managers at French ski resorts are creating initiatives that are charting the way for a "greener" ski experience.

Free bus shuttles included with ski passes to limit personal vehicle journeys, waste sorting and recycling, dry toilets on the slopes, reduced energy consumption, the use of locally grown seeds to re-plant the sites, protection of biodiversity... All of these activities are part of daily life in French resorts. Here’s a round-up of some more of the remarkable environmental actions being implemented in the mountains.

Snow farming to recycle snow

Widely practiced in Nordic countries, the technique of "snow farming" has arrived in the French Alps. Particularly in Grand Bornand, Courchevel, Val Thorens and the small resort of Bessans, Savoie. Snow is essentially harvested. The season’s snow is stored underground and covered with a 40cm thick layer of sawdust, or a specially insulated tarpaulin. This preserves it so that it can be reused the following season. Ideally, the snow is stored in a sunny location, sheltered from the wind, close to where it will be reused and easily accessible for snow groomers and trucks. According to a scientific study, a minimum altitude of 1,500m is essential for optimal conservation. The process of compacting, insulating and restricting air flow, minimises the chances of the snow melting. More than two-thirds of the snow stored in the spring will be reusable the following winter. It’s an ecological way to deal with the uncertain winter weather and reduce the risks of snow shortage caused by climatic fluctuations.

Grand Bornand has stored 16,000 m3 of snow to ensure good conditions for the Biathlon World Cup event, and in Courchevel, the authorities are aiming to ensure enough snow for the women's stage of the ski world cup. In Bessans, snow farming will support the early opening of a loop of its cross-country ski area - as early as the start of November (All Saints' holiday). And, in Val Thorens, skiers will benefit from plans to take advantage of generous seasonal snow conditions to avoid any unpleasant surprises should that might occur the next year.

Bioclimatic hotel, ecogites and bivouacs…

In the mountains there are many types of accommodation and experiences that are in harmony with nature. In Carroz des Arâches, the la Croix de Savoie (External link) hotel is the very first bioclimatic hotel in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. The owners Edwige, Jean-Marc and Gaetan Tiret, are taking an ecological and bioclimatic approach that makes sense. This includes using ecological building materials, renewable energy sources, environmentally friendly cleaning products and organic, as well as gastronomic, menus. The hotel even offers preferential prices to guests who use public transport to arrive. This innovative hotel has even more plans to develop its ecological credentials by installing living roofs.

Also in Savoie, Ecogites (External link) meets very strict environmental requirements, including the use of renewable energy, energy efficient recycling, water management and the use of local materials throughout.

In Flumet - Saint Nicholas-la-Chapelle, near Megève and La Clusaz, the ecolodges “Entre Terre et Ciel" (External link) encourage you to forget the hassles of everyday life in a natural and protected environment. The rustling of trees, birdsong, the sound of a bubbling stream and a cosy night in a treehouse await you. Another unusual adventure in the heart of nature, not far from Annecy, can be experienced at Alpes Bivouac (External link) . They offer unusual activities as well as unusual, green accommodation.

"Small" everyday gestures

The route to "green skiing" is creating initiatives carried out on a daily basis in each resort. Through schemes such as the use of renewable energy, waste collection campaigns and energy saving lifts, the French ski resorts are all competing with each other to generate ideas to reduce their ecological impact.

Here are a few examples: In Auris-en-Oisans (Isère), a chairlift driven by a 30-year-old, recycled motor has replaced three ski lifts. Avoriaz (Haute-Savoie), has been further pedestrianised, and fun transport by horse and carriage is a great way to get around, plus they have also opened a new, ecological snow park. In Alpe d'Huez, two electric charging stations have been installed for electric vehicles.The resort also has a snow groomer using a diesel-electric hybrid motor which consumes up to 20% less fuel. And, further south, in Orcières Merlettes (Hautes-Alpes), high voltage lines have been buried to protect the birds.

Who said that combining the pleasures of skiing and an ecological attitude was complicated?