White slopes and green goals: How Laax became one of Switzerland's greenest ski resorts
Our partnership with Weisse Arena Group, which manages Laax ski resort in the Swiss alps, is in its second year. So we caught up with their Sustainability Officer Reto Fry to talk green goals and how to keep our slopes white in the face of climate change.
As the sun hits the snow-covered mountains of the Vorab Glacier, winter sports enthusiasts make their way to the slopes surrounding Swiss ski resort Laax, sitting at a lofty altitude of 3,000 metres. The mountain peaks are frosted in white, but in the valley, snow has given way to an ever more present green.
Just twenty years ago, it was still possible to ski and snowboard on the Vorab Glacier in summer, but now the ice is melting at pace and is expected to disappear by the middle of this century. Reto Fry approaches the issue of the diminishing snow with a level of pragmatism, "Almost three quarters of our pistes are above 2,000 metres and therefore very snow-sure. But this will change rapidly in the coming years," he tells us. In approximately ten years from now, Fry suspects natural snow will rarely be found below the tree line, which is the edge of the habitat at which trees are capable of growing.
Making sustainability a key business priority
Given the impact of climate change on their business, Weisse Arena is making climate action a key priority in their business model. "Winter is crucial for our existence up here. So, who, if not us, should set our ambitious climate goals," says Fry, explaining the drivers for Greenstyle, Laax's sustainability program. "Indeed, we need snow, but right now the snow needs us."
The company's response to the climate challenges and loss of biodiversity in the area is underpinned by a sustainability program they've dubbed Greenstyle, which came into effect in 2010. As part of the program, they focus on energy, water, waste, food production and consumption, and biodiversity with a view to becoming CO2 neutral no later than 2030.
Investing in green
Beyond being a positive force for the climate, Weisse Arena hopes the Greenstyle program will create jobs and bring about new opportunities for the surrounding communities. "Up here, the consequences of global warming are clearly visible, but you can also see the incredible possibilities for energy production that mountain nature offers. This further motivates us to invest in green practices," Fry enthuses.
The company believes energy storage and efficiency hold tremendous potential for the business, aiming to transform the ski destination from being fossil fuel reliant to becoming a producer of regional renewable energy. This in turn is expected to create local jobs, make the company independent of energy imports and price fluctuations, and even allow them to supply energy to others.
Solar panels on the resort's roofs will also play a major role in the future. So will building and renovating with sustainable materials and heating, the use of photovoltaics, hydro and wind power, and effective energy storage. "But the focus is on efficiency," explains Fry, "because the best energy is that which is not needed in the first place."
The impact on wildlife
The impact on the area's wildlife is often overlooked when discussing tourism and the inhabitants of nature. This is especially true when it comes to the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, notes Fry. It's important that the energy turnaround doesn't happen at the expense of other species living in the area. "That's why I'm a big fan of solar panels on building roofs and facades without causing damage to nature and its habitants," he says. "It's our obligation to protect nature and wildlife."
Pioneering sustainable mobility
Electric mobility has long been an integral part of the Greenstyle program. With an expanding infrastructure that currently consists of more than 50 charging stations throughout the Flims Laax Falera region, there has been a considerable uptick in electric cars on the roads.
This is where Polestar comes in. As part of the partnership with Laax, Polestar vehicles are being used as e-shuttles for food deliveries and car sharing in the area. Visitors and locals can also rent a Polestar 2 on site to test it in winter conditions or on the winding mountain roads.
"The partnership with Weisse Arena is a perfect match," says Sascha Heiniger, Managing Director of Polestar Switzerland. "We both pursue very ambitious climate goals and do so with the same passion. In addition, we also want to bring the topic of sustainability closer to our customers, not as a renunciation, but as an added value. Just like Weisse Arena, we rely on innovative technologies and bold ideas."
Uber of the mountains - introducing gondolas on demand
Weisse Arena has recently broadened the concept of sustainable mobility to include gondolas. Introducing the FlemXpress, a demand-driven and energy-efficient way of exploring the unique landscape of UNESCO World Heritage Site Sardona.
The old gondolas in the region will be replaced by a new system that features a world-first rope taxi concept for cable cars. With FlemXpress, visitors will soon be able to travel the mountains on demand by calling on a cable car to designated pick up stations. It's almost like calling an Uber, but for cable cars.
Compared to conventional gondola systems where 90% of the cabins travel empty, the new on-demand system is expected to reduce unnecessary runs and the need for maintenance. This in turn is expected to lower energy consumption by 50%, according to the company's estimations.
Greenstyle aims to inspire
Reto Fry and his team are not the only ones interested in greener ways. According to Fry, visitors and locals have become increasingly engaged in sustainability issues in the past years. The Greenstyle program therefore focuses on open communication. "We don't communicate to greenwash or to boast about our projects, but to give the topic the space it deserves," he says.
By leading the way, Weisse Arena's goal is to make Greenstyle a movement that inspires communities, tourists, and businesses to become part of the climate solution. "Only by working together can we turn these destinations into places where we in the future can enjoy our leisure time with a clear conscience," summarizes Fry, looking up towards the snow-covered mountain peaks of the Vorab Glacier.
New year, new me: Polestar 2 model year 2024
The ancient Babylonians are said to have been the first people to make New Year's resolutions. While they didn't promise to sign up for a gym membership or stop eating fast food, the idea that a new year brought a better version of themselves was the same. Polestar has taken this to heart by always striving to become better and better for each year that passes.
Joined in climate action: the Pathway Report
The course of the car industry from today until 2030 will play a key role in staying within the 1.5-degree limit of global warming. But the path we're on will not get us to where we need to go. To get back on track, we need clear directions. A road map, in other words. Which is why we've created the Pathway Report, together with Rivian and Kearney.