The dirty truth of the ski spring-clean

When all the snow has gone, the big clean-up begins – starting with a few surprises

Two skiers near Chalet Carlsberg, Attelas piste, with Mont Blanc in the distance

How much of the Alps will remain unspoilt for future generations?

You come across all manner of unexpected sights on the slopes of a ski resort at the end of the season. On an Easter trip to the Spanish Pyrenees, I saw a piste melt over the course of a week into a meadow – revealing a fence whose posts consisted of ski poles, presumably harvested from the strip of grass below the chairlift.

Such efficient recycling of the debris dropped by skiers is to be admired, but some of the litter dropped by skiers and snowboarders is of no use to anyone – and often toxic to the environment. According to The Summit Foundation, a Swiss organisation established to help protect the country’s nature and scenery, as many as 30,000 cigarette butts can be found under a single chairlift at the end of the season.

Whether you are a smoker or not, you will be welcome to join one of the many spring-cleaning operations organised over the coming weeks at ski areas in Scotland, the Alps and beyond. These usually take place after the official end of the season, and welcome visiting hikers and other holidaymakers as well as local volunteers.

The Big Spring Clean at Scottish resorts is organised by the Ski Club of Great Britain (0845 45 80780; www.skiclub.co.uk). Last year, more than 120 volunteers gathered more than 60 bags of rubbish, which ranged from a tin of sardines to a New York bus ticket. This year’s Big Spring Clean, to be held simultaneously at CairnGorm Mountain, Glenshee and Nevis Range, is on Sunday, June 12.

This clean-up is part of the Club’s Respect the Mountain campaign, established to raise awareness of environmental issues throughout the ski industry – and to show skiers and snowboarders how they can make their holidays more eco-friendly. The campaign’s opposite number in France, Mountain Riders, is the best source of information on spring-cleans at ski areas abroad.

Last year this organisation and its partners mobilised 6,000 volunteers to collect 65 tons of rubbish at more than 160 locations. Many resorts have not yet fixed the date of their clean-up for this year, but as they do, details will appear on the calendar of operations. You can also search by resort.

Both organisations offer plenty of ideas on how you can be a greener skier next season. The Ski Club of Great Britain, for example, offers a handy online Green Resort Guide that allows you to examine the environmental credentials of more than 230 ski areas worldwide – and choose your destination accordingly. The guide is updated annually.

Many of us will be upgrading our ski clothing or equipment between now and the start of next season, and it is worth thinking about the impact our choices have on the environment. You can find out more about how eco-friendly or otherwise different brands are in The Eco Guide to Mountain Gear, published by Mountain Riders. You can download a copy in English here– click on “Download the Eco Guide” on the menu on the left – or you can order a free printed copy from the Ski Club of Great Britain.

The Ski Club also sells a variety of items to help fund its Respect the Mountain campaign, from T-shirts to ecological paraffin-free ski wax, available here. The shop also offers portable pocket ashtrays that it claims are the first ever to be made from recycled, recyclable and biodegradable materials. You can get a pack of five for just £2.50 (actually, 1p plus p&p). Now, how many would you need to stub out 30,000 fags?

Further information

The Alpine Pearls association offers environmentally-friendly holidays in 24 resorts in various Alpine countries, including Switzerland’s Arosa. For detailed comparison of resorts in the USA, see the website of the National Ski Areas Association. A useful site for a wide range of environmental issues affecting ski resorts is the website of the Alpine Convention on Climate Change.

Les Moulins piste (Kids' Club, etc) in the heart of Verbier

  • Further information: the Switzerland Travel Centre (00800 100 200 30, www.MySwitzerland.com) and the Verbier tourist office (www.verbier.ch).
  • Train tickets from the UK to major Swiss cities are available through Rail Europe (0844 848 4070; www.raileurope.co.uk); onward travel within Switzerland through the Swiss Federal Railways (www.sbb.ch)