Vacations are a time to get away from it all, but that doesn't have to mean throwing environmental concerns out the window. For eco-conscious travelers planning ski trips in France or Switzerland this winter, two independently-awarded distinctions -- the Flocon Vert label and membership in the Alpine Pearls cooperative -- make it easier to identify resort towns that are doing their part for the environment.
Created by the French non-profit group Mountain Riders, the Flocon Vert (or "Green Snowflake") has been awarded to just three ski resort towns so far. Les Rousses, in the French Jura Mountains, and Villars in the Vaud Alps (Switzerland) were the first two towns to receive the distinction in April 2013, followed by Chamonix Mont-Blanc in October.
The Flocon Vert is awarded based on an evaluation of around 30 criteria related to environmental responsibility and sustainability. A resort town's initiatives in the areas of transportation, construction, waste management, water management, and even social responsibility are evaluated in a thorough audit carried out by Mountain Riders, the Nicolas Hulot Foundation and the Foundation for Environmental Education in Europe (FEE).
For Chamonix Mont-Blanc, sustainable public transportation initiatives proved to be the most significant factor in the awarding of the Flocon Vert. The resort area, which includes the towns of Vallorcine, Chamonix, Les Houches and Servoz, is visited by around 80,000 tourists each winter. To facilitate the flow of visitors and limit the use of cars, the resort area set up free bus lines between the town centers and the various ski slopes.
Furthermore, as part of a state-funded plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the Chamonix Mont-Blanc valley has adopted around one hundred other sustainable development measures, including the use of biodegradable fuels in its snow groomers and the organization of a public awareness campaign to educate visitors on how to limit the environmental impact of their stay in the mountains.
Facilitating recycling, installing ecological dry toilets, using electric vehicles or even distributing pocket ashtrays for use on the slopes are some of the environmental measures taken by Les Rousses in the Jura Mountains. Villars, in Switzerland, also stood out for its emphasis on renewable energy and public transportation.
Alpine Pearls, meanwhile, is a network of 28 resort towns in six different countries, all located in the Alps. To qualify for membership, resorts must meet "stringent quality criteria" with regard to environmental responsibility. Namely, each member resort has a public transportation network allowing visitors to enjoy a car-free vacation. A number of Alpine Pearls resorts accomplish this through the use of electric shuttles and trains. Pralognan-la-Vanoise, for example, in the French Savoy region, carries visitors to and from the ski slopes and hiking trails through a fleet of electric vehicles.
Interlaken and Arosa (Switzerland), Bled (Slovenia), Hinterstoder (Austria), Cogne (Italy) and Berchtesgaden (Germany) are also part of the Alpine Pearls network.