Environmental sustainability is playing an ever-larger role in the skiing world, with ski resorts increasingly using self-generated electricity, establishing car-free zones in the village centres and looking at ways to avoid wasting natural resources such as the water that is used to produce artificial snow. In addition to the ski resorts themselves, more and more independent organisations are pushing for eco-friendly initiatives. But one of the most interesting concepts has to be the Tyrolean ski resort of Mieming, which recently took drastic steps to reduce the eco-footprint of skiing at their resort.
Higher, faster, comfier, more, more, more - these are the watchwords in today's ski industry, especially when it comes to lifts. With the snow sports industry booming and ski areas getting larger and larger, we've come to expect 8-person chairlifts with heated seats and plush name-brand gondolas that set world records for the span between their towers. But in its drive to please the masses, this pursuit of comfort is taking its toll on the environment, with the energy-hungry lift infrastructure gobbling up the planet's finite resources. Eight years ago, in the face of declining profits and unreliable snow cover, Mieming's Sonnenplateau ski area made a conscious decision to take a stand for Mother Nature. The ski area demolished all its lifts and turned its focus toward alternative winter sports such as ski touring, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.Cross-country skiing at Mieming's Sonnenplateau (Photo: © TVB Innsbruck / Christian Vorhofer)
Initially, local hotels protested against the radical decision, which saw the number of overnight stays decline during the first two years. However, this phenomenon reversed itself as the hotels and tourist bureau started to focus on re-branding their village as an oasis of tranquility compared with the bustling, lively destinations elsewhere in Tyrol. You won't find rowdy après-ski bars in Mieming, but it's the ideal retreat for anyone looking to disconnect from the stresses of everyday life. Today, Mieming warmly welcomes families, nature lovers and snow sports enthusiasts who come for the alternative snow sports (that being said, if you're hankering after some downhill action, you can find it at nearby Olympia SkiWorld Innsbruck, connected by ski shuttle).
Some may say the ski area is hearkening back to the days before ski resorts, when die-hard skiers would hike up the hills themselves. Indeed, the phenomenon of ski touring is experiencing a resurgence in recent years, not least because it allows skiers to get away from the crowds that are flooding the bigger ski areas. And indeed, although lifts make our lives a lot easier, the huge machines built of steel, cables and pillars are definitely not the most attractive part of the mountains. Accordingly, Mieming is also experiencing a surge in summer visitors, who come for the metal-free views of the mountain peaks, meadows and forests.Winter hiking at Mieming (Photo: © TVB Innsbruck / Christian Vorhofer)
Unfortunately, one small ski resort is not enough to change the face of our planet, and climate change is still a very real threat. Even cross-country skiing and snowshoeing rely on snow cover, and the many warm days have led to frequent closures of the cross-country and snowshoeing trails. It seems running a ski area is just not feasible these days without snow cannons - but they have a negative effect on the environment. Is it time for bigger ski resorts to jump on board and start promoting eco-friendly choices?
Born and raised in the ski paradise of Vancouver, Canada, I learned to ski before I can remember, balancing precariously on my parents’ skis as they sailed down the hill. I started snowboarding in my teens and am now delighted to be exploring everything Europe’s ski scene has to offer!
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