While most resorts are investing in the newest gondolas and bubble chairlifts with heated seats, some ski resorts are quietly turning to renewable energy in a bid to keep our winters white. From Switzerland to Austria to America, these ski resorts have successfully installed eco-friendly solar-powered lifts.
The tiny mountain village of Tenna in the Swiss canton of Graubünden operates one of the world's first solar-powered ski lifts. The lift is 450m long and experts say the solar panels produce 21% more energy than regular rooftop panels because of the angle at which they are placed. The solar panels are south-facing and oriented at an angle of 30 degrees, but they track the sun's movements throughout the day to gain the maximum solar power. Of the 90 000 kWh produced annually, the lift only requires 22 000 kWh. The extra power is sold to EW Tenna.
The SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser - Brixental also boasts a solar-powered ski lift, the Sonnenlift in Brixen im Thale, which runs 100% on solar power. Following the success of this initial solar-powered lift, similar installations were made at the Jochlift in Brixen and the Brandstadel lift in Scheffau am Wilder Kaiser. For its efforts, the SkiWelt was named Environmentally Friendly Ski Resort of the Year 2018.
Zell am See - Kaprun takes it up a notch, harnessing not only solar but also wind power on the Kitzsteinhorn/Maiskogel – Kaprun Glacier. In fact, all lifts and catering facilities run on 100% sustainable power, operating a pumping station for snowmaking that turns into a hydroelectric plant in the summer, using the snow melt to generate power. Buildings are energy-efficient and fitted with solar and photovoltaic systems. The lift company also relies on snow farming to protect the Kitzsteinhorn Glacier from melting over the summer.
In St. Moritz, the Piz Nair gondola is equipped with solar panels at the bottom and summit stations. Together, they produce an average of almost 25000 kWh of solar power each year. Since installing these solar panels in 2002 and 2003, St. Moritz has been hard at work installing more solar panels in the region, striving to one day become carbon-neutral.
Over in the United States, Wolf Creek became 100% solar-powered as of the 2017/18 ski season. A 10-hectare solar farm located nearby provides all the energy needed to run the ski resort, including lifts and the electricity for the buildings. To further reduce their eco-footprint, Wolf Creek uses water-free toilets and powers their snowcats with biodegradable grapeseed oil.
The Savoie Mont Blanc ski region will inaugurate a fully electric cable car for the 2019/20 ski season. The new cable car will link Les Arcs and Bourg Saint Maurice (which is accessible from the UK via the Eurostar ski train) and will replace the previous aerial cable car, which was built in 1989. Meanwhile, the neighbouring ski resort of Les Sybelles has pledged to use only green energy for lifts and snowmaking cannons from now on. Over at La Rosière, crews have been working hard to rid the slopes of garbage and increase the number of plants, in addition to restricting vehicle access in an effort to give nature a chance to flourish.
In Les Trois Vallées, Orelle is experimenting with skating rinks made from artificial ice. The skating rinks don't use any electricity or water, and they have zero CO2 emissions. Sister resort Val Thorens is also inaugurating a self-driving electric shuttle bus. The service will be free and will bring a welcome reduction in emissions to the slopes. Let's hope other ski resorts pick up on the idea - there's nothing sadder than seeing all that beautiful white snow blackened by car exhaust fumes!
It's fantastic to see ski resorts taking the initiative to be environmentally friendly! We as individuals can also do our part - if you want some ideas, check out our article on skiing green >
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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