Travel positively: Try “the world’s most sustainable ski tour”

Travel Positive is a new column where we celebrate the exciting sustainability gains in the travel industry that give us hope for the future.

Sitting on a sunny terrace with a local beer in hand and a dish of raclette in front of me, gazing out over the majesty of the Valais and the snow-capped Swiss Alps, I feel the same bone-deep sense of contentment that I always do in the mountains. That’s why I keep coming back, year after year, to put on uncomfortable boots, clip them into planks of wood, and hurl myself down at speeds I pray to God my mother will never find out.

But increasingly this contentment has been tainted by something else: a tiny question about whether, in trying to enjoy the beauty of the Alps, I might be part of the reason they are gradually deteriorating. That my actions, along with those of thousands of others, may be the very thing that puts the future of these unique landscapes at risk.

We saw all the pictures from resorts across Europe this season – pistes usually covered in white reduced to narrow strips of brown slopes, as an unusually mild winter and lack of snow led to closed lifts and runs. It served as a visual, visceral warning: climate change is not a future, distant event. It is already here, reshaping the way our world looks and works.

Taking the train slashes your ski trip carbon footprint

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Taking the train reduces the carbon footprint of the ski trip

(Ed Hopkins)

At the time, a friend shared one Private eye cartoon of many planes in the sky. In a speech bubble it said: “Damn it, isn’t there snow for skiing?”; another replied: “What rotten luck!”. That seemed to sum up the problem succinctly: there remains a huge disconnect between our own emissions-heavy behavior and the impact that can have on our planet and, consequently, the elements we love most about it.

But does it have to be this way? Does going on a ski trip always have to be a high-carbon activity? Not according to Ed Hopkins, director of sustainability-focused PR firm Dark Green, which has taken it upon itself to organize what has been billed as “the world’s most sustainable ski trip”. That’s why I’m sitting on this restaurant terrace in the small but perfectly designed Swiss resort of Anzère, tucking into no ordinary raclette – this one strictly vegan, the melted ‘cheese’ tops a warming bowl of roasted tomato ragout and polenta.

Before I get anywhere near the mountainside lunch, there is the small matter of getting there from the UK. Herein lies the biggest factor when it comes to Brits going on ski holidays – the vast majority want to fly (72 per cent, according to a survey by the Ski Club of Great Britain), and it is this that accounts for the highest proportion of carbon emissions for any snow sports trip. According to a study conducted by the French ski areas of La Clusaz, Le Grand Bornand and Tignes, 52 percent of your carbon costs will be generated by travel to the resort; that number rises to around 95 percent if, for example, you fly long-haul to go skiing in the United States.

There is still a big disconnect between our own emission-heavy behavior and the impact it can have on our planet

“The single biggest way you can make a difference to the carbon footprint of your holiday is how you choose to travel to the resort,” says Iain Martin of Ski Flight Free, a campaign to encourage skiers to travel to the Alps without flying. “Typically this accounts for 50-70 per cent of the total carbon cost of the holiday – simply because most people choose to fly. Traveling by train is the best option – reducing your emissions to around 1/8 of flying – but if you can travel in a car with at least four people in it, it also makes a significant difference.”

Thus it is that my happy group of other sustainable skiers and I find ourselves heading out of St Pancras early on a Wednesday morning to Paris on the first of the day’s four trains. As always I find the Eurostar a great pleasure – there’s coffee on board and a continental breakfast (vegan on request) and it feels like no time has passed before we pull into Gare du Nord. We are immediately rewarded by the universe for our low carbon efforts; in a moment of pure serendipity, a canadian woman approaches us while we’re waiting in line to buy metro tickets and offers the rest she doesn’t need. There are six: the exact number of our group.

Anyone for vegan raclette?

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Anyone for vegan raclette?

(Helen Coffey)

A fast RER service whisks us to Gare de Lyon, where we board a high-speed TGV train to Lausanne. The seats are wide and comfortable, the wifi impeccable, the tables big enough to work with a laptop. I spend my time tapping while other members of our party chat, sleep or just admire the view. The journey of 3h40m goes again quickly; and then it’s all aboard the Swiss Rail service to Sion.

Even I, for once, have no choice but to down tools and stare in wonder at the track scenery, which glides from the dreamlike, silvery Lake Lausanne, shrouded in otherworldly fog, to high, sharp-topped Alpine peaks. A man smiles faintly as he observes us newbs, mouths agape in awe, as we snap snap after blurry snap of the landscape outside the window. In fact, we’re so engrossed that we don’t immediately realize when we’ve pulled into the Valais town of Sion – such a charming outpost that we’re planning to stay a few days on the return trip to soak up the history and taste too much local wine – and a mad dash to collect possessions scattered across the cart follows.

The final leg of our journey awaits: a quick 25-minute drive up the mountain to Anzère. Even here, we’re determined to keep emissions down by hopping into two electric taxis that seem to glide, rather than drive, up the sharp hairpin bends. Door to door, the whole journey takes around 10 hours – which is not so unfavorable compared to the equivalent flight time when you add in the arrival at the airport, the two-hour waiting time, hanging at baggage claim and the hours-long transport time from Geneva airport – and we check in at Eden apartment hotel at 17.30. The best part? Using, we calculate that the entire journey produced just 5kg of CO2 per passenger, compared to 127.39kg if we had traveled by air – around 96 per cent less emissions overall.

Read our best European ski hotel reviews

The town of Anzère itself is small and perfectly laid out; pretty and cute, with enough places to eat and drink without feeling busy or overwhelming. Speaking of eating and drinking, that’s another key element of our sustainability efforts while on this trip. For as long as I can remember, I have associated ski trips with meat and dairy food: tartiflette, raclette, fondue, käsespätzle, schnitzel, Tyrolean gröstl… But Ed is determined to show that it doesn’t have to be this way. As most people are now aware, changing our diets is one of the most important ways to reduce our carbon footprint. And so, for the next few days, Anzère’s restaurants have been given a challenge: to avoid the cheese and prepare vegan dishes for us.

Anzere boasts some of the best views in the Valais

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Anzere boasts some of the best views in the Valais

(Ed Hopkins)

Mostly they play blindfold. We serve a sticky mushroom risotto at Restaurant de la Poste; the aforementioned “raclette” on the hillside Restaurant du Pas de Maimbré, the plate impeccably dressed with edible flowers, before a comforting slice of vegan apple tart; towering burgers and portions of fries at Burger Terrasse; a creamy, spicy curry at Jojo’s Thai. There’s a funny moment in our hotel restaurant where the vegan message seems to have been lost in translation – I can’t help but burst out laughing when the well-meaning waitress insists we can have the tuna ’cause there’s no dairy in it den” – but we sneak past it in good spirits.

Other green efforts on the trip include the opportunity to use the ski rental company EcoSki. I don’t participate as I already own most of the equipment needed, having been skiing for the best part of two decades, but the idea behind the service is to reduce consumption and waste. It is particularly useful for those who are new to the sport and don’t want to shell out hundreds of pounds on a new kit. And I can’t help but feel a twinge of envy when my fellow hikers slide up to the gondola in this season’s high-waisted dungarees from British brand Planks, seeing a sight trendier than mine.

The resort itself also boasts impressive eco-creds – Anzère runs mostly on hydroelectricity, generated by the nearby Tseuzier Dam, and is home to the largest wood pellet combustion plant in Central Europe. The latter is responsible for heating 600 apartments, two hotels and a public swimming pool and spa, saving the village 1.5 million liters of oil per year.

The resort itself also has impressive eco-cred – Anzère runs mostly on hydropower, generated by the nearby Tseuzier Dam

Of course, that’s not really what you focus on when you’re here. Gliding down Anzère’s welcoming network of 58km of sun-drenched slopes takes precedence, with glorious top-to-bottom pistes such as black-graded Les Masques and red Les Rousses (my absolute favourite) reason enough to put this lesser-known resort at the top of your ski hit list . The panoramic view of the Rhône valley below and the impressive peaks opposite is also one of the most impressive you will find in Switzerland.

But still, knowing that the impact of skiing is slightly less damaging thanks to the resort’s forward-thinking energy procurement certainly puts my mind at ease. It means I can focus all my attention on my long, sweeping turns; on the road, the sun warms my face as I fly down butter-smooth slopes; on the richness of the tomato ragu at the bottom of my bowl – all without being attacked by climate anxiety at every turn.

Add on a day or two in Sion to make the most of a trip

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Add a day or two in Sion to make the most of your trip

(Ed Hopkins)

So, was it the world’s most sustainable ski trip? It certainly felt pretty close; and it hopefully shows that there can be another, more thoughtful way when it comes to snow sports. A blueprint – or greenprint, if you will – for a better holiday.

Travel essentials

Get there

Take the Eurostar to Paris, then a TGV to Lausanne or Geneva, and a Swiss train service to Sion. From there it is a 25-minute transfer to Anzère; Helen’s group booked electric taxis through Carron Excursions.

Live there

Rooms at Hotel Eden from £111, B&B.

More information

For more information about the resort, visit

For more information about the Valais region, go to

Read more about sustainability ski trips:

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