Nature-Oriented Ski Tourism: Is It Possible?
The numbers speak for themselves: 98% of South Tyrol’s ski areas operate their facilities using electricity from renewable energy sources. The electrical energy that the province obtains from water power not only meets local needs, but is also a major export. Even the water used to make artificial snow goes back into the natural water cycle when the snow melts. The growing number of environmentally friendly ski areas is also confirmed by skiresort.de; 16 ski areas in South Tyrol have been recognised as "Eco-friendly Ski Areas".
The highest rating was given to the ski area on the Schnalstaler Gletscher glacier, because it has been taking environmental protection into account for a long time now. A combined heat and power plant and a hydroelectric power plant supply the necessary power for the lifts; in peak hours, additional electricity − produced exclusively from renewable sources − is bought in. The Schnalstaler Gletscherbahnen cable car company have also been awarded the "Eco-Management and Audit Scheme EMAS" certificate, also known as the Eco-Audit, the European Union’s system for eco-management and auditing of organisations.
Prizewinners also include the Carezza Ski area in the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Dolomites. Together with the Arosa ski area (CH), it implemented a project to increase energy efficiency through joint energy-saving initiatives and measures, introducing innovative renewable energy sources and creating an environmentally friendly Alpine ski area. These measures succeeded in reducing power consumption by 20%. The general public were made more aware of the energy-saving measures by the use of solar-powered information screens and the so-called "Energy Carpet", which generates electricity as people move about on it.
Similar measures have been introduced by Meran 2000 Bergbahnen AG. The company proposed increasing energy efficiency during operation by monitoring and recording energy losses and using this information to take steps to improve the situation. The functioning of machinery and lifts was optimised and measures were taken to save energy. Among other things, the potential of the ski area and adjacent municipalities for producing power from renewable energy sources was examined.
One important initiative to increase environmentally friendly tourism is the umbrella organisation "Pearls of the Alps", an association offering holidays in the Alps based on sustainable transportation. So far it has five members across South Tyrol: Malles/Mals in the Vinschgau valley, Racines/Ratschings, Tires al Catinaccio/Tiers am Rosengarten, Funes/Villnöß and Plan/Pfelders. The aim of these resorts is to combine sustainable transportation with wonderfully relaxing holidays. One outstanding example is Plan in the upper Passeiertal valley, which has been using sustainable transportation for holidaymakers since 2007. Its Village Express, a small train on wheels, and two city buses allow locals and visitors alike to enjoy the picturesque village, which is located inside the Texelgruppe Nature Park, free of stress and with limited traffic. Thanks to this innovative mobility concept, visitors can park their cars at the entrance to the village; driving on the roads is now only permitted for residents and for guests staying at hotels in Plan. Not only is a car-free holiday environmentally-friendly, but in this way Plan also guarantees its visitors a calm and relaxing stay. No car means no stress: visitors are brought directly to the village centre and the slopes. The ski area operates all its lifts and snowmaking equipment using renewable energy from a hydroelectric power plant.
Sustainable mobility was also the aim of the hiking and skiing paradise of the Seiser Alm Alpine pasture, which is why the Siusi/Seis-Seiser Alm cable car was constructed. This means the region can be easily reached without a car in 15 minutes. The access road to the Seiser Alm is closed to traffic during the day, guaranteeing a peaceful day's skiing or hiking.
Equally innovative environmentally friendly policies are also being introduced in the Pustertal valley; the Ski Pustertal Express is the name of the train link connecting the two ski areas of the Sexten Dolomites and the Kronplatz mountain. This has created a ski carousel covering 200 kilometres of slopes. Until recently, both areas were only accessible by car, but now the ski areas can be reached by public transport services running every 30 minutes. In the Pustertal valley it is expected that the train connection will reduce car traffic by up to 10%, which will lead to a reduction in CO2 emissions. This will create an environmentally friendly area that will be both good for nature and popular with its residents and visitors.