The Swiss resort of Laax is well on the way to becoming the world's greenest ski resort through their Greenstyle initiative. New lifts are powered by solar energy, heat and rubbish are recycled and even the menus at the mountain restaurants are changing to become more sustainable.

Greenstyle was conceived several years ago by the owner of Laax, the Weisse Arena Gruppe, under the lead of their visionary chairman Reto Gurtner. It took the resort back to basics, placing environment at the forefront of their future strategy and as a result all aspects of resort operations have been looked at with a view to becoming significantly more sustainable.

Public awareness and the media have played a vital role in the development of Greenstyle. It may have been in place for several years, but only last winter was it properly communicated and marketed to the public. Reto Fry, the head of the project, calls this the “biggest development” in the history of the Greenstyle project. As a result the likes of Nicholas Müller and Sina Candrian, two of Switzerland’s (and also the world’s) most famous snowboarders, have fully got behind Greenstyle – with local hero Müller even presenting the resort’s official video trailer:

LAAX Visions - Greenstyle

 

So what have they done?

Energy: 100% of the electricity consumed in Laax comes from renewable sources – mostly hydropower, but also a significant amount from solar energy. The base buildings of the new La Siala gondola and the Alp Dado chairlift are covered fully by solar panels, as are the back of the chairs on the Lavadinas lift. A project is also in the pipeline to build a windfarm on the Vorab Glacier, which could power 5000 homes and enable even more green energy to be pumped back into the national grid.

Buildings: All recent building work in Laax has had sustainability at its core. Local Graubünden wood has been used to construct new lift stations, including the massive storage shed for the La Siala gondola. Our accommodation at The Rocks Resort was a great example of Greenstyle in action; the new development at the base of the main lifts is heated by wood pellets and all waste is recycled.

Slope Management: 235km of pistes need to be prepared and maintained on a daily basis and Laax has made a big effort to improve the sustainability of this work. We saw several hybrid piste groomers (painted bright green) which each cut emissions by a massive 20%. In addition, all piste groomers are equipped with GPS snow depth sensors to inform drivers as to where the snow is needed and where it isn’t – making the whole grooming process much more fuel-efficient. Thirdly, extensive groundworks have been carried out during the summer to “pre-build” the world-famous halfpipe and slopestyle course, ensuring 40% less artificial snow is needed each winter.

Around resort: Laax has introduced a Zero Waste policy to try and slash the waste it delivers to landfill and this was abundantly clear when staying as a guest in resort. Recycling facilities were everywhere, even on the mountain. Electric car charging points were dotted around town and it was also clear in the restaurants that locally sourced products were at the heart of the menu. Additionally free drinking water (from local mountain springs) was widely available through the Drink Water scheme. In fact it seemed to be the case that every aspect had been thought of, however small.

There are several other initiatives that form the Greenstyle project which can be found by clicking here.

How has this been made possible?

Laax is quite a unique resort, certainly for Switzerland, as all components are owned by one company – the Weisse Arena Group. They build and run the lifts, maintain the slopes, own the shops, run the restaurants both on and off the mountain and employ most of the resort staff. This model mirrors the likes of Whistler in Canada and Vail in the USA and it gives the resort a real freedom to make big changes at all levels.

Weisse Arena Group

This means that projects like Greenstyle are easier to initiate and can percolate through all levels of the resort. As Reto Fry suggests, initially “the power of the people was the main inspiration” behind starting Greenstyle, but it then became “an essential business model. For instance: More efficiency means spending less on energy and having more money for other investments”.

It also meant that amongst the other Greenstyle initiatives, “investing in renewable energy sources helps to fight climate change, helping to keep snow on our mountains”. So not only does Greenstyle make complete business sense for Laax, it appeals to the will of the people and helps save the environment all at the same time.

Therefore, it has not become a question of why the company should do it, but a better question is why not?” says Reto – which sums up fantastically well why Greenstyle has come into being.

And what does the future hold?

Now that many of the construction projects have been completed, the main focus of Greenstyle is moving towards increasing awareness. Part of this move has included joining the I Am Pro Snow campaign, spearheaded by Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project and fronted by the likes of Mike Abma, Ted Ligety and Michelle Parker. This aims for all members to be 100% committed to help stop climate change and shift to renewables.

To raise awareness further Laax are creating the Greenstyle Foundation. As Reto explains, “it aims to protect and develop our unique environment that we all benefit from, as well as fighting climate change. The foundation is managed by locals, staff and people with strong reliance on the destination and only they decide where the money is spent. The money is raised through voluntary donations from guests, locals, companies etc. For instance, if an employee donates 1CHF of his monthly salary, the company triples this amount. Alternatively guests have the opportunity to donate a small amount on bookings when they come and visit Laax”.

It is inspired by the Environment Foundation set up by Aspen, which in 19 years has seen $2.9 million dollars invested in hundreds of local projects. Laax intend to follow this lead in a move that could prove invaluable to the wider region becoming more sustainable and green.

Hopefully, as Reto suggests, “more resorts will join the way to a more sustainable future” by developing projects such as Greenstyle. And as he keeps emphasising – “there is no reason to not do it!

All photos c/o Laax - www.laax.com/en/

More about Laax on skiclub.co.uk: Laax resort guide