Public Participation in Developing a Common Framework for the Assessment and Management of Sustainable Innovation

How climate change challenges the ski tourism industry

How climate change challenges the ski tourism industry
29.06.2017 | Plamena Petrakieva

The world has changed in the last two centuries. The climate changes, caused by the Industrial revolution and our harmful environmental actions. It has become a huge challenge for several industries and the ski tourism is one of them.

The climate change and snow, and many other things

One of the best ways to understand the conflict between nature and tourism is to look at the controversies that ski resorts face.[1] The year 2016 was the third year in a row with scarce snow over the Christmas period in the Alps.[2] After a long-awaited snowfall in January this year, the Alps were covered with snow and excited ski tourists flocked to the slopes. But projections suggest that the snow in the Alps is threatened in the near future.

Scientists from the Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF) and the CRYOS Laboratory at the École Polytechnique Fédérale in Switzerland recently conducted a study and the results are even more frightening than expected. There is a real chance that 70 % of the snow cover of the Alps will be lost by the end of the 21st. century. The reason for this is global warming and its negative effect on the environment. The scientists claim that we can alter the gloomy future of ski tourism if we manage to keep global warming below 2°C. If we manage to do this, the snow-cover reduction would be limited to 30% by 2100. If we don't, there will be no snow for winter sports under 2500 meters and the ski season will begin half or even one month later than it does now because of a shortening of the winter season.

Below 1200 meters there will be almost no snow, and 1/3 of the ski resorts are below this altitude.[3] Apart from that fact, there is a real danger that the snow depth would decrease with around 40 % even above 3000 meters. Just for comparison, the highest mountain in Germany, The Zugspitze, has an altitude of 2962 m.  “Since many Alpine villages are heavily dependent on winter tourism, the economy and society of regions with such tourism centers will suffer,” claims study co-author Sebastian Schlögl . The West Coast skiers are dealing with a similar problem.[4] Squaw Valley, which averaged 450 inches of snowfall per year between 2008 and 2014, has received less than a third of that amount in the 2014 winter season, according to a February 2014 snow report. The snowpack situation is so dire there that the International Ski Federation canceled the ski cross and snowboard cross World Cup two weeks before it was scheduled to launch, in early March 2014.

The future seems to be extremely unfavorable to the tourist ski resorts located in the Alps. At current, ski tourism is undeniable as it represents the top industry in this mountains area with around 120 million tourists visits per year.

The solution?

The complexity of thisissuedirectly relates to the challenges of economic development in the modern world, particularly to the question of how to balance demands for growth with environmental constraints. Sustainably designed tourism emerges as the only reasonable solution. And hopefully – achievable. Technologies and innovations including novel business models are now available and enable significant mitigations of human incurred climate change impacts and mitigation in greenhouse gas emissions, three-quarters of which are linked to the transport that tourists use to arrive at their destination – especially flights and cars. However, over 20% of emissions in the region can also be attributed to tourist accommodation, so there is room for improvement at all levels.

CIPRA, the International Commission for the Protection of the Alps, in its reports on tourism and climate change suggests a number of steps that tourist facilities, such as hotels and local communities, can take to build a sustainable future for tourism in the Alps. First is the development of environmentally friendly transport options. This could include electric vehicles and carts being introduced in the hotels and tourist facilities and measures to adopt economical travel packages with rail operators, so that guests arrive by train, or organising buses or vans to pick up groups of guests from the airport or railway station rather than have them travelling individually. Examples of successful car sharing systems are to be seen more often and one such, the Aha Car is even documented in Casipedia.

Tourist facilities also need to become more energy efficient

 For example, the production of one square metre of artificial snow requires 200 to 500 litres of water, according to research cited in the report. To cover a one-hectare ski run with 30cm of artificial snow necessitates 600,000 to 1.5 million  litres of water – and that does not include the water needed for daily maintenance. It also consumes 5,000 to 27,000kWh of electricity. Using low-energy lighting and installing renewable energy sources such as solar panels, hydropower, wind, biomass and geothermic energy could reduce the environmental footprint significantly. In addition, heating and lighting should be turned down, or turned off, in buildings left empty during the low season to avoid energy wastage. Investing in energy saving measures such as snowmaking compressors, efficient snow guns, lighting and heating, boilers, GPS tracking equipment for snow cats control, small renewable energy installations, and many other measures are necessary to consider.

This not only benefits the environment but can also bring financial benefits. Terme Snovik, a thermal spa in the Slovenian Alps, realised that it could accomplish energy savings and financial benefits when it turned to biomass heating and solar energy and constructed a biological treatment plant. By using renewable energy resources, the spa was able to reduce heating costs by 28% despite a 36% increase in business volume.

The ski resorts of Val d’Isere and Tignes also give a good example by using electric cars Twizys, equipped with snow tyres and ski carriers, available for car sharing. The piste bashers and the other machines in Tignes run on 100% biodegradable fuel. As for the snow cannons, Val d’Isere has built an underground snow creation facility which creates more snow with lower energy consumption. Aspen is capturing methane from a nearby coal plant to power its snow guns, and Deer Valley runs its snowcats on bio-diesel.

Reuse and recycle

Through a combination of reduction, reuse, and recycling a huge part of the waste in the ski resorts can be diverted. Engaging employees, the local community, and tourists in this effort is of chief importance in order to minimizing waste generated through the tourists. Programs should be implemented in every resort based on their unique operation needs and on the resources and infrastructure available in the mountain communities. Materials that can be recycled are cardboard, aluminum, glass and even chairlifts and mechanical parts. In Vail resorts for example, old unusable ski gear is being collected at special locations and are being send to be shredded and recycled. Veggie oil from mountain dining facilities is being collected in order to be turned into biodiesel. It's vitally important not only to divert food waste but to find uses and develop a market for the end product. Vail is working with the Forest Service to use local compost on large re-vegetation projects. Their food scrap composting program is also used to plant flowers and herb gardens across the resort. Programs for reducing the use of plastic water bottles are also very important.  The sale of reusable water bottles in retail stores and some food outlets is a step forward in this direction.

Switzerland's famous resort of Zermatt, home of the iconic Matterhorn,  has also been working on some innovative solutions.  The new restaurant at the Klein Matterhorn looks at first sight as if it is made simply of glass. The reason are photovoltaic solar panels - these produce the electricity the restaurant needs to function. The restaurant has won the European Solar Prize for its innovative design and its contribution to protecting the alpine environment.

The citizens of Zermatt agree with the mayor. Investment in greener buildings is becoming more common; Zermatt's new youth hostel was the first in Switzerland to be built according to strict minimum energy standards. It too has solar panels to provide hot water.

The new upmarket Hotel Firefly has sunk 12 bore-holes deep into the ground, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of Swiss francs, rather than deciding to rely on traditional oil-fired heating. All the hotel's heating and hot water, including for its extensive spa facility, come from this geothermal source. "We wanted to do something sustainable," explains owner Michael Kalbermatten. "I think this is the future, more hotels will be built like this" she said. Meanwhile, outside on Zermatt's streets, tourists will never see a car. Private vehicles have always been forbidden, the only type permitted are electric carts belonging to the hotels, or traditional horses and carts.

Diversifying the tourism package

While not all tourists in the region are skiers, many communities focus almost solely on promoting holidays on the slopes. Other activities, such as hiking and biking, local traditions and festivals and, in winter, cross-country skiing can help to develop tourism that respects the environment. One resort already doing this is the InterContinental Berchtesgaden. Situated in the Bavarian Alps, the resort was developed to attract tourists who want to relax and enjoy the surroundings. It is near a small ski hill but those who come to visit are encouraged to leave their cars parked in the garage and take part in a range of activities to discover the local environment and culture.

Sustainable business models

The urgent need of new sustainable business models and labelling systems also have an important role to spurr sustainable development in ski resorts. There are more than 50 different labels available for mountain-based resorts and hotels across Europe and they vary enormously in what they measure and the scale and scope of qualifying businesses.

The commercial benefits of an environmental label have been confirmed by Trip Advisor, a colossus in the global tourist industry which is now rolling out its Green Leaders programme in Europe. The program is designed to help travelers book a greener trip by recognising hotels and B&Bs that engage in environmentally friendly practices ranging from recycling to energy use,” says Trip Advisor’s Tom Breckwoldt, speaking at the SMTA’s launch conference. “Qualifying properties are then marked with a badge on their Trip Advisor home page.” Trip Advisor’s own research has found that Green Leader businesses are 20% more likely to be booked compared with those that haven’t signed up to the free scheme. With more than 300 million people using Trip Advisor every month, many believe that this new initiative has the potential to be a game-changer in the push for more sustainable development in mountain regions.




[3] according to the website.



You can see more cases, related to the topic of this article in Casipedia:


 Co-author: Maria Alexandrova, Cleantech Bulgaria 









Relevant themes: Sustainable innovation, Resource efficiency, Environment, Climate action
Relevant tags: Social innovation, Technological innovation, Sustainability, Eco-innovation, Sustainable materials management, Circular economy, Energy policy


  • Plamena Petrakieva - Cleantech Bulgaria

    Plamena Petrakieva

    Plamena Petrakieva works as a Marketing assistant at Cleantech Bulgaria. She has experience in Marketing management, Event management, Inbound marketing and marketing research and Social media marketing. She has been part of several projects during her education in The International Business Academy at Kolding, Denmark. In addition she has been a Project manager in another International foundation.

    Plamena graduated from The University Of National and World Economy - Sofia, Bulgaria with bachelor degree in Business Administration and has a Master’s Degree in Economy and Management of Tourism from Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski", Bulgaria.

    Her interests are traveling, reading, yoga, dancing, handmade arts and writing. Her dream is to work for a good cause which is why she has chosen Cleantech Bulgaria - because the foundation works to make the world a better place.