Time for a change

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” Lao Tzu

For nearly three years, this blog has published the top 50 French ski resorts on Facebook and the top 30 on Twitter, every month, together with insights into who’s doing what on social media and why it’s working. This month, for the first time, I didn’t. Not because I was on the beach, but because it’s time for a change.

I started this blog because I moved to a small(ish) French ski resort and mountain village – Les Contamines-Montjoie – and I was curious about what makes smaller resorts like this tick… I wanted to see if I could contribute some of my experience in journalism and communications gained in the big city and corporate world to my first love, skiing, and the mountain environment I was now living in.

It’s been great fun, I’ve learnt a lot, met and have spoken to lots of people and hopefully been useful to some of you. The page views keep growing and while I’m appreciative, we all know it’s not just about the numbers.

So, starting this autumn, I’ll be refocusing more closely on what, for me, has grown from curiosity to a passion – exploring how mountain villages and resorts like the one I live in can survive and thrive – sustainably. After the last few weeks of heatwave here in the Alps, crumbling glaciers and melting permafrost, it seems timely.

There’ll be a new and different blog and news of an exciting project I hope to be able to talk more about soon. I will keep you posted.

Thanks very much for following all this time, have a great (but not too hot) summer and à très bientôt.

 

 

Making sustainability sing in ski resorts – spotlight on: Les Gets

When it comes to climate change – and there’s no doubt any more that it has come to that – many ski resorts have historically had a tendency to keep a low profile, because they don’t want to draw attention to the fact that they generally have, today, less (natural) snow.

This is ironic, because actually mountain resorts have enormous potential to differentiate themselves by engaging positively on the environment. All the motivation you could possibly need to respect and be inspired by nature is right there, on the doorstep. I know it’s why I live here.

#ActOnClimate

Protect Our Winters (or POW), a non-profit organisation fighting climate change on behalf of the snowsports community, recognises this and highlighted it powerfully by campaigning around the hashtag #ActOnClimate:

More specifically, acting on sustainable development in mountain tourism has great potential to build brand awareness and exposure, reputation, consumer engagement and loyalty.

I want to be part of that

So how to engage people in what the resort is doing to become more sustainable and activate them to become fans of the effort, without dwelling on the negative effects of climate change? So that, as POW executive director Chris Steinkamp put it“consumers say to themselves, ‘that’s cool, I want to be part of that'”?

This is essentially the key challenge of marketing sustainability and the question I decided to pose to a number of different French ski resorts over the next several weeks. Several of them are doing great stuff to make sustainability sing and I’m hoping to help just a little bit by identifying, highlighting and sharing some creative solutions and ideas that work.

Environment is core in Les Gets

First up: Les Gets.

“For us, communicating on sustainability started out as a natural strategy, not a calculated one, but now it is: it is part of our brand. We are a family resort, a charming village, a part of the Portes du Soleil and we protect the environment – these are our four core characteristics now.” (Gaëlle Le Coz, Les Gets Tourist Office)

Thanks very much to Gaëlle and Chrystelle Felisaz at the Tourist Office there for taking the time to take me through everything that’s going on in Les Gets.  There was plenty to talk about but three initiatives in particular stood out for me as cool:

Nature-friendly accommodation scale

Edelweiss label Les Gets

The resort has launched an ‘Escale Nature’ for landlords and hoteliers, whereby their accommodation can be classified as 1, 2 or 3 edelweiss, depending on how many eco-efficiency criteria they comply with. Criteria include energy economy, waste management and a reduction in noise pollution.

What’s cool about this? It raises awareness among accommodation providers, engages them in the overall resort effort and gives them a way to differentiate their offering from the competition, as well as encouraging them to make eco-efficiency improvements. Neat. At the same time, it also raises awareness among visitors to the resort about the choices they can make.

The resort just needs to make sure the system is robust enough, in terms of criteria and compliance, so that the edelweiss rating is credible and meaningful. It could also make it more prominent on its central reservation site, so you could easily search for 3-edelweiss accommodation, for example. It’s early days yet, but looks promising.

20% off a day pass for eco-citizens

Second, a special offer this year is delivering the clear message that it pays to be more environmentally friendly.

This coming winter, drivers of an electric vehicle can get 20% of a day ski lift pass, as well as benefiting from reserved parking spaces and two electric car charging points in the resort. Simple, and highlights the resorts new electric car charging facilities.

Night navettes

Better still, don’t use a car at all, electric or not.

les gets navette nocturne flyer

Les Gets has a free shuttle bus circulating during the day to outlying areas and the lifts to encourage people to leave their cars at home.

That’s not unusual, but often these buses only run until the early evening. If you want to go out at night and are staying centrally, you still have to get your car out, or get an expensive taxi.

This resort’s answer? In the evening, it subsidises a pick-up on demand service that will take you where you want to go in the Les Gets area for just 2 euros per adult.

Win-win… win

So three quite different initiatives with one thing in common: they’re a win-win – for the resort and its customers. Oh, and there’s a third win, for the environment.

What’s hot: 5 cool moves to protect our pow

Winter is here. Thank the heavens, or the snow gods, or the powder pixies – whatever is your personal preference, it’s certainly looking good in the Alps so far. So here’s a little shout out for 5 cool moves to help keep it that way.

1. Greener grooming

Pistenbully 600E+

Hybrid pistebasher (credit: Pistenbully)

Two French resorts – the 3 Valleys and Serre Chevalier – have each acquired a brand new, more eco-efficient pistebasher for greener grooming this winter. The Pistenbully 600E+ is a diesel-electric hybrid that harnesses the energy on the downrides, enabling a 20% reduction in both NOx and CO2 emissions and a 20% drop in fuel consumption, according to its makers.

2. Clean lines
free navette poster

Free navette to Serre Chevalier

The Serre Chevalier valley is organising a free navette service from the TGV station in Modane to make it easier to take the train to the slopes. It’s only in peak season for now but show your support and maybe they’ll extend it. Reservation required.

3. Powering up

renewable electricity certificate

Les Gets signs up to use 100% renewable electricity

Les Gets is now getting all the electricity to run its lifts from renewable sources under a new contract with EDF.

4. Sharing the stoke

eco guide

Mountain Riders Eco Guide

Mountain Riders, the France-based organisation promoting sustainable development in the mountains, has published its newly updated Eco-Guide to mountain resorts. Useful information, no moralising.

5) Make it last

These past couple of weeks I’ve been in the US where I got a glimpse of the shopping frenzy that is Black Friday. It was scary. So this last one is a tip of my old ’70s wooly ski hat to Patagonia for their Worn Wear campaign, complete with Worn Wear parties in-store and repair your old gear clinics. Brilliant.

People like this guy are the future of sustainable mountain tourism

Mountain people often wear several hats. Many of the ski instructors in Les Contamines are also carpenters, builders, farmers, or in one case, the mayor. A few weeks ago I went to a talk by the side of the Mer de Glace given by a young glaciologist, Ludovic Ravanel, as part of the Mont Blanc Versant Durable ecotourism event. From a famous Chamonix mountain guiding family, he is himself mountain leader, climbing instructor, holds a doctorate in geography, conducts research and acts as a consultant into the effects of climate change on glaciers and the mountains around his home. It helps, he says, to be able to do more than one thing. Being a climber, he could place temperature sensors into the sides of the mountain to measure the receding permafrost. He is also regularly on hand at Montenvers to talk to tourists about the glacier and answer questions. The Mer de Glace is still about 90m deep there but don’t wait too long to go and see it – it’s losing 5-6m in depth a year… You can still step into an ice cave dug into the depths of the glacier and the new Glaciorium is now open.