Car-free ski resorts: Greener, safer, quieter

Car-free ski resorts: Greener, safer, quieter- ©Gilles Galas / Avoriaz Tourisme

Car-free Avoriaz in the Portes du Soleil

Copyright: Gilles Galas / Avoriaz Tourisme

The demand for car-free ski resorts is on the increase. Environmental concern, child safety, and the desire for noise-free holidays are behind it.

Growing ecologicial awareness about the consequences of uncontrolled use of cars has put pressure on tourist authorities to come up with car-free ski resorts. The Association of National Mayors of Mountain resorts, the body representing winter sports local authorities in France, has completed an ecological audit of 10 leading resorts. It found that 57 percent of green house gas pollution came from motor vehicles.

Vice President, Guy Vaxelaire told OnTheSnow that steps are already being taken to limit cars and introduce electric powered buses. Pilot schemes are underway in Ax les Thermes in the Pyrenees and La Bresse in the Vosges mountains. He said: "This is a problem that is going to have to be dealt with because people are no longer prepared to just accept the dominance of the motor cars and the accompanying pollution".

The greener steps being taken in France are already in place in Switzerland. Zermatt has electric powered buses, mini cars for hotel guests and even electric taxis.

Snow-clad Zermatt with the Matterhorn in the background  - © Zermatt Tourist Office

Snow-clad Zermatt with the Matterhorn in the background

Copyright: Zermatt Tourist Office

It is easy to have a pollution-free ski resort by using electric-only power. In fact there were complaints two years ago that the building boom going on in Zermatt was creating electric powered traffic congestion. Things are much better now and you can walk the narrow cobbled streets or take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage in piece and quiet. What is beyond doubt is that the banning of the infernal combustion engine has protected the atmosphere and the views of the Matterhorn, as was the original intention. Residents have voted three times, in 1961, 1972 and 1986 to stay all electric.

Also listed as Swiss car-free ski resorts are Bettmeralp, Braunwald, Mürren, Riederalp, Rigi, Sass Fee (since 1951), Stoos and Wengen. Wengen and Rigi boast mountain rack and pinion railways. Rigi in particular has the oldest mountain railway in Europe, installed in 1871 with sweeping mountain views.

Wengen, Switzerland has one of the oldest railways in Europe.  - © Wenger-Lauberhorn

Wengen, Switzerland has one of the oldest railways in Europe.

Copyright: Wenger-Lauberhorn

In Italy there is the attractive village of Chamois in the Aosta Valley with cable car access only. Courmayeur, Italy also has a fine old cobbled car-free centre. In the Austrian Tyrol, Serfaus is renowned for the world's smallest underground railway built in 1985: Dorfbahn Serfaus is 1280 metres long and can carry 1500 passengers an hour. The resort linked to the Serfaus Fiss Ladis snow fields is thus able to keep the village entirely car free. 

Avoriaz is the one French ski resort that claims that it is totally car-free. It boasts that "the children can fetch the bread" because there are no cars. From an environmental point of view it was designed with electric heating only thanks to award-winning architect Jacques Labro in the 1960s. One resort out of 200 in the entire country is not a lot, but Les Arcs, La Plagne, Valmorel, Valmeinier, Plagne Soleil, Belleplagne, and La Norma and Ax Bonascre in the Pyrenees are also listed as car-free.

La Plagne Centre, France.  - © Elina Sirparanta

La Plagne Centre, France.

Copyright: Elina Sirparanta

It is all a question of exactly what is meant by a car-free ski resort. Many of the modern French resorts separate the cars from the people to a large extent anyway. If you can put your skis on in your accommodation and get straight to the lifts it usually means no cars to worry about. At Flaine for example you are only allowed to park your car outside your accommodation for 1.5 hours to load or unload your luggage otherwise you must leave it in one of the car parks both free and paying. That is not quite car-free, but it is getting close.

It is important to differentiate between "car-free" and "no car needed". "You don't need your car" is not the same as "you are not allowed to use your car". Environmental concerns apart, resorts are increasingly trying to separate cars and people. Tourist authorities across Europe are aware of the growing focus on the issue and over the next few years the number of resorts banning cars will grow.


Car-free Avoriaz in the Portes du Soleil - © Gilles Galas / Avoriaz Tourisme

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