“Sustainability” and “green skiing” have been key buzzwords of the snow sports industry for a few years now. As climate change melts glaciers and turns what were once blizzards into rainstorms, we’re left to ponder the future of our beloved mountains.
Not only does climate change pose devastating ecological effects the world over: its social and economic risks are considerable. An entire way of life exists around ski tourism— from the saisonnaires renting you boots to the cheesemakers, après-ski DJs, and street sweepers of mountain resorts. They are parts of unique cultures, interacting with local history and their environments—as precious as the mountains they sit on.
Hence the buzz around skiing green. However, there’s some irony in the fact that the biggest source of emissions in snow sports, and thus its biggest threat, is not generated on the slopes themselves. Rather, it comes before travellers reach the mountain in how they choose to get there.
Each UK tourist flying to Chambery this winter before driving to the slopes will generate somewhere around 419kg CO2 alone—roughly the annual carbon footprint of a person living in Nigeria. Offsetting, as climate scientists have proved time and again, isn’t the answer. Reduction is needed.
However, for Brits, few alternatives are as convenient as the flight option for getting to the French Alps. Instead of a two-hour flight to the Alps, we face rail travel via Paris or a long drive or coach journey.
Nevertheless, one resort is leading the way in eco-friendly travel. If you book the full ski-holiday package by rail offered by the Travelski Express direct from St Pancras, Les Arcs is once again “the only mountain destination in France which has direct access by train to the slopes”. That said even if you just want a conventional rail trip, direct routes run from Amsterdam, Brussels, and Paris, connecting with the Eurostar from London, to the base station at Bourg-Saint-Maurice, where travellers can step off the train and onto a waiting funicular free with their train ticket.
Alone, Les Arcs’ direct access by train reduces the above carbon emissions of a UK tourist by 97%. However, the resort is making more eco-friendly improvements for 2023, proving its worthiness for the Flocon Vert it received in December 2020.
New hydroelectric production using power from its artificial snow network, photovoltaic solar panels on resort buildings, and the use of French biofuel for resort vehicles have revolutionised energy use in Les Arcs. Alongside these are simple measures like turning off streetlights at 23:00; turning down heating in public buildings by 1oC; and providing free shuttle buses as well as a GoWiz carpooling platform. Combining the above, Les Arcs aims to reduce its electricity consumption this winter by 10%.
In conversation with Marion Grognet, one of the great minds behind Les Arcs’ eco-initiatives, none of this is surprising; the resort has had the environment at its core since day one. Charlotte Perriand, the visionary French architect who designed Les Arcs in the 1960s, prioritised the area’s natural beauty over developer profits.
Hence why, instead of a town’s-worth of chalets on the mountainside blocking the view, Les Arcs’ main villages comprise space-efficient, modernist hotels. Its streets are fully pedestrian—or in the case of Arc 1950, built later, they’re skiable.
While modernist architecture might seem unusual (or better, retro) for those used to traditional Alpine design, in Les Arcs’ case it truly accentuates the landscape. There’s no better view than from the balcony of 4-star Pierre & Vacances Résidence Le Belmont: Mont Blanc’s majesty is clearly visible above natural pine forests and the iconic Tarentaise Valley.
Of course, no matter what we do now, we are too late for much of climate change’s impact. A ski guide at Les Arcs told me the slopes were getting much less snow at their bottom and rain at the top. It’s not just Les Arcs: a France24 report this month highlighted “unseasonably warm winter weather in Europe, including record high January temperatures in Switzerland”.
Thus, for mountain communities to survive, diversification of tourism activities will be necessary. Once again, Les Arcs is one step ahead.
In the 1970s, the resort constructed a 60-hectare golf course on its slopes, redeveloped in 1990. Golf Les Arcs is a major feature in the summertime, with a 9-hole and an 18-hole course. Non-golfers can try world-class mountain biking, hiking trails, and rock climbing, or simply relax amidst green meadows and stunning Alpine views. According to Mme Grognet, thanks to these attractions Les Arcs’ summer season now accounts for 20% of the resort’s intake—an unusually high figure for a “winter destination”.
Diversification isn’t just seasonal, however: Les Arcs now offers a wide range of activities within its winter season. Its brand-new 1.8km zipline allows visitors to zoom down-piste at speeds of up to 130kph. Alternatively, there are snow-shoeing trails, exhibitions by world-famous snow artist and local Simon Beck, and the Musée des Animaux de Montagne which opened last year. The last showcases Les Arcs’ vibrant fauna—another example of a resort conscious of its environment.
The bottom line: you don’t have to be a ski or snowboarder to visit Les Arcs. As mentioned above, half of a mountain resort is its culture, of which Les Arcs has plenty. Why not sample the resort’s excellent selection of authentic Savoyard cuisine, available both on-piste and in Les Arcs’ villages? Be sure to book a table in advance, as raclettes and fondues made with local Beaufort cheese go fast.
The Festival de Cinéma Européen in Arc 1950 kicks off the winter season: a one-week film festival where visitors can meet the filmmakers and actors behind Europe’s best indie cinema. The festival’s aim is to promote lesser-known, grassroots cinema over Hollywood’s global monopoly—the kind of localism green movements celebrate.
And for those seeking the après-ski experience, look no further than La Folie Douce, located slope side. The venue/restaurant is open 9am–7pm every day, and regularly hosts world-famous DJs such as Ben Klock, Carl Craig, and Agoria.
Embracing the twin principles of sustainability and our natural diversity, Les Arcs is a resort that caters for all—including future generations of mountain lovers. Whether you’re on a family holiday, a partygoer, or a free-rider (in the resort that hosted the X-Games), you’re sure to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience when you visit Les Arcs.