“Wow, how long did that take? A couple of days?” a friend just asked me, learning that I took the train for my ski vacation in the Alps. Two days might seem like a reasonable guess (after all, the Swiss Alps are a long way away) until that you consider how fast and convenient it really is to travel across Europe by train.
Less than 10 hours after walking through London’s St Pancras International Station, we’re climbing onto the Sion platform in the Valais, ready to be whisked up steep mountain roads in time for a beer before the sun sets. sun. Après-ski starts now, even if the skiing itself has to wait until tomorrow.
This is my first time on the slopes, on what the organizer, Dark Green PR’s Ed Hopkins, has called “the most sustainable ski trip in the world.” A lifelong skier, Ed’s passion is getting skiing onto a green trajectory as quickly as possible. For the rest, the snowless slopes we saw at Christmas and New Years will be a recurring theme.
“It’s about showing what’s possible,” he explains as we speed through the Channel Tunnel on the Eurostar. “The ski resorts understand what needs to be done, but they are not doing it. I wanted to plan a trip and say, ‘here, this is how you keep your emissions low and still have an amazing ski vacation.’
“The industry urgently needs to move away from the luxury, steak and raclette, jet-setting model, otherwise it won’t survive.”
The industry urgently needs to move away from the luxury, steak and raclette, jet-setting model, otherwise it will not survive.
Ed Hopkins, PR dark green
Arriving at our Anzère resort, we are surrounded by hundreds of other ski enthusiasts from all over Europe, most of whom flew into Geneva airport. According to snowcarbon.co.uk, a website that encourages travelers to travel by train to the slopes, more than half of the emissions from your ski holiday come from flying there.
Travel differently and you can have a big impact on the environment. The statistics are impressive: our journey, which involved three electric trains and a metro through Paris, generated just 5 kilograms of carbon dioxide each. This would have been 127 kg of CO2 if we had flown*. Add to that that our taxi to the resort, a Tesla no less, charges from a solar panel in the owner’s garden, and we’re doing pretty well.
A nice side benefit of low emission travel is fun. Give me laptop space, leg room and looking out the window any day. Within hours of leaving the UK, we are surrounded by the snow-covered foothills of the Jura mountains; An hour or so later, we’re rattling along the sprawling Lake Geneva, fairytale castle and all. There is time to think, work, chat, sleep, whatever we choose. Time spent traveling is time well spent.
On the first morning, I’m in the beginner’s area, while my more experienced travel companions head to the red runs. I’m equipped with clothing from EcoSki, a company that offers ethical brands on a rental basis, so you can have something new without having something new. The all-important cold-weather accessories come from my local charity shop or were lent to me by a friend. With the fashion industry’s carbon footprint exceeding even that of aviation, it’s a shrewd move to avoid unnecessary emissions.
By lunchtime on the second day, I’m covered in bruises, but I’m making progress, even standing upright, almost, on the 100 yards of black run between me and our lunch spot. All of our food on the trip is plant-based, widely considered the friendliest diet on the planet. Although I am concerned that the vegan offering in a ski resort may not be up to the task, I am pleasantly surprised: our cafe, Le Grenier de Zalan, has adapted their delicious polenta raclette for us, and the herb mushroom toasties are a delight. . Then there’s the vegetable soup and tarte aux pommes – hearty, warm and tasty food washed down with une bière blond.
In the evenings, we tried the restaurants in the village, where we enjoyed risottos and burgers, and lots of fries. The land of Gruyère is not known for its vegan meals, but it is possible to find them if you ask.
One of Anzère’s proudest features is its biomass plant, the largest facility of its kind in Europe. This provides heat and hot water to 70 percent of the town’s properties, saving between 1.5 and 2 million liters of heating oil per year. The vast majority of Anzère’s electricity comes from hydroelectric power, and there is solar power on several buildings.
The resort knows its winters are at risk and plans are underway to extend summer activities, for when snowy slopes cannot be relied on to attract tourists. To me, this already feels like giving up. The snow can still survive, if we fight hard enough for it.
However, the challenge is enormous and probably involves a complete overhaul of the industry. No-fly routes need to be promoted much more, with incentives such as free lift passes for those arriving by train.
Moving away from the steak and cheese dinner model will be less enjoyable, but arguably necessary in response to the snowmelt climate emergency.
This has been a quick visit with no flights and I am back home after just four days of travel. My first ski expedition wasn’t a disaster, I didn’t die or break anything, and on my last morning, I even hit a red run.
People ask if we should be skiing in a weather emergency, but there’s a lot to recommend it. There’s not much better than being on top of a mountain, above the cloud line, under a piercing blue sky, surrounded by snow-capped peaks. If it sounds like a postcard, it’s because it does. It’s a great way to be active, and the quiet surroundings, with lots of fresh air, are the perfect antidote to our hectic, stress-filled lives.
So instead of giving up skiing altogether, we need to figure out how to do it better. Who knows if I’ll be back? But if I am, I’ll look for the smaller resorts that don’t use snow machines and run on renewable energy. I will also order vegan meals, knowing this will help encourage resorts to include plant-based, low-carbon offerings on the menu.
But most importantly, for the sake of the planet and my sense of adventure as a traveler, I will always arrive by train.
Travel: Eurostar from London to Paris, TGV to Lausanne, Swiss rail to Sion.
*carbon info from RailEurope.com
Anna Hughes is Director of Flight Free UK, a company whose mission is to inform people about the climate impact of aviation and inspire people to travel by other means.