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Inside Tracks

COP26 and skiing

With the COP26 summit taking place in Glasgow at the moment, focus is very much on our carbon footprint. As skiers, this is particularly pertinent as global warming is a significant threat to the snow and glaciers that make our wonderful sport possible. Switzerland being landlocked does not have the cooling influence of the sea so is particularly vulnerable with its temperatures growing at twice the pace of the global average. The thought that one day future generations of skiers could be confined to plastic ski slopes and indoor snow domes is too horrific to contemplate!


While of course we are all desperate to keep our winters cold and the snow plentiful, we also have to recognise the contradiction that skiing is an energy intensive activity; from ski lifts and snow making equipment to international flights there is much on the wrong side of the equation. The industry is taking many positive steps to reduce their energy usage and dependence on fossil fuels and there is a sense that this is more than just greenwashing, however we must all play our part.


One of the big problems is flights and while it is easy to suggest that UK skiers take the train as an eco friendly alternative, for many it is not that practical. Another thought for those who ski frequently during the winter might be to go less times, but stay longer with each trip. This though is trifling at the margins and sadly the only option is carbon offset (or in the case of Swiss offsetting with Sustainable Aviation Fuel). Offsetting is far from perfect but at the moment it is the best we have. We would encourage all our guests to do this and from our point of view, PT Ski will continue to offset all our staff flights and vehicle mileage throughout the winter. We are also rationalising the number of flights our staff take and looking at ways to reduce the number of airport transfers that we do.


There are other practical steps skiers can do to protect the environment, many of which are easy to adopt. Eating and drinking locally sourced produce reduces your food miles, supports local farmers/industries and makes for a more authentic holiday experience too. Recycling is important as well and now 40% of plastic bottles in Switzerland are made with recycled plastic. Also, taking water up the mountain in a re-usable water bottle makes a difference. Don't leave litter on the mountain, even if it is biodegradable and not cigarette buts either as these are toxic to animals. It is important to respect the designated wildlife zones and not ski in them; by scaring the wildlife they lose a lot of valuable energy as they run away which is hard to replenish when winter food is scarce. Lastly, when you are updating your ski kit, pass on or sell your old second hand clothing rather than discarding it; it is also worth bearing in mind that there are many sustainably produced replacement items too.


At a local level there are plenty of initiatives in the Davos Klosters ski area both in terms of innovation and efficiency which will have a positive impact on reducing emissions and protecting the natural environment. The lift company Davos Klosters Mountains has just been nominated for the Swiss Mountain Award for their pioneering small hydro plant on the Jakobshorn. This uses the snow making infrastructure used to pump water up the mountain in reverse to drive the turbines and generate some 800,000kWh of energy, enough to supply around 200 homes. A similar project is now underway on the Rinerhorn, together with the construction of a small lake. Elsewhere they have installed solar panels on several of their buildings up the mountain including at Weissfluhjoch and there is a rolling plan to expand this project further. Equally they have dismantled the oil heating system on Weissfluhgipfel in favour of more environmentally friendly energy sources and their goal now is to replicate this elsewhere on the mountain.


There are many other sustainability projects ongoing. The woodland habitat is being managed to improve the habitat for the endangered capercaillie, measures are in place to protect further the fragile Alpine dry meadows, mountain paths are being repaired where they are damaged and natural waterways are being restored. The Swiss are rightly proud of their mountains and we are very fortunate to ski in an area where their protection is deemed so important. Similarly, as skiers conscious of our environmental impact we can also take heart that so much of Switzerland's electricity generation is hydro and nuclear, and not fossil fuel based.


These initiatives all make a difference but it is easy to be seduced into forgetting that there is a lot more to be done. Switzerland's overall performance is not good with the country rated "insufficient" for climate commitment. Indeed the decision earlier this year by voters to reject the CO2 law makes the road to climate neutrality even longer and they may struggle to adhere to their obligations under the Paris climate accord. The Swiss are more heavily dependent on heating oil than many other nations and high levels of consumerism and convenience jack up the national carbon footprint. While the direction of travel is positive it is sobering to reflect that there is still a long way to go.


For more information of the projects outlined above and other action being taken please visit the Davos Klosters website