The climate-neutral future of ski resorts

The future of alpine economic management was the focus of the expert forum for climate-neutral ski resorts, to which the Lebensraum Tirol Holding, the Vitalpin Association and the Alpine Tech Innovation Hub recently invited to Werkstätte Wattens. Besides showing ways and possibilities to reduce the carbon footprint of tourism companies, the expert forum provided valuable food for thought on the subjects of energy, mobility, snow and water management as well as innovation challenges for the future of alpine economic management.

Climate change is one of the most pressing challenges of our time – the participating industry representatives agreed. Also, the pressures on organizations are increasing. The Vitalpin association, an international community of interests for people and companies living and working in the Alps, has set itself the task of contributing to the climate initiative for ski resorts. The association wants to support members in doing their part to achieve climate goals and thereby have a lasting impact on the effects of climate change on the industry. The goal, according to Vitalpin Managing Director Theresa Haid, is to show that the Alpine tourism industry can be part of the solution – and above all, wants to be.

The first pilot project is Ischgl, which, as the largest climate-neutral ski resort in the Alps, shows that climate-conscious management is also possible in alpine tourism. Since the start of the 2020/21 season, the unavoidable carbon emissions caused by the ongoing operation of Silvretta Seilbahnen AG have been offset by an internationally recognized climate protection project and a reforestation program in the valley; efforts to reduce CO2 emissions so far have been intensified. Supporting international climate protection projects with regional measures – that is the approach that Vitalpin is taking. Regional actors are involved in the process, ideas can be brought in by the regions and, after the selection by an expert jury, are included in the Vitalpin catalogue of measures.

Regional measures for ski resorts start in the following areas, for example:

  • Mobility: Not only the arrival of guests but also that of employees to the workplace must be considered in the area of mobility. The ridesharing concept of the Tyrolean startup Ummadum, for example, can be a solution here. A reward model is intended to motivate people to share trips, while at the same time involving local trade.
  • Slope preparation: In the ProAcademy by Kässbohrer, carbon emission savings potentials are determined by driving technique training.
  • Gastronomy: Küchenprofi(t) supports businesses in reducing food waste by an average of 20% – through a two-stage analysis and evaluation process on site.

Further impulses came from the Austrian Federal Railways company ÖBB, who want to force an environmentally friendly journey to Tyrol with the project “With the nightjet to the snow”, from Energie Tirol, who showed projects and measures to achieve the goal of making Tyrol energy-autonomous by 2050, from the 3 Zinnen Dolomites, which were able to significantly reduce CO2 emissions through targeted energy, snow-making and fleet management, and from Syneco, who gave a keynote speech on the innovation challenges in the context of climate neutrality to the subsequent workshops.

The workshops were used for discussion and in-depth study of the previously defined fields of action snow and water management, vehicle fleet and energy management. In the areas of snow and water management and the vehicle fleet, for example, it quickly became clear that the digitization of snow production is already at a very high level, that training for snow groomer drivers and the first hybrid vehicles are available. On the other hand, there are challenges in the (more) strategic approach about the positioning and operation of the ski areas, in the sensitization of skiers and guests as well as in the use of slope management systems as well as (political) framework conditions that affect ski resorts. The ski resorts have not been idle in the past in the area of energy management, and are already using a large number of measuring points, some of which allow enormous savings in CO2 emissions thanks to the extensive analysis options. On the other hand, there are challenges in raising awareness among (seasonal) staff and the lack of view of the overall system. A benchmark system could help here to be able to determine where there is still potential for optimization in comparison with other ski areas.

In a next step, the Alpine Tech Innovation Hub can now connect the right players in different innovation programs and work together with (international) startups on solutions that support ski resorts on their way to climate neutrality.

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