There’s a white-tailed eagle perched on the edge of my chairlift. I’ve shared a climb up the mountain with a wide variety of unusual characters over the years, but a bird of prey is a first.
I’m in Morzine, a ski resort in France that recently received the Flocon Vert, an award for sustainable mountain tourism. That gaping eagle is one of the reasons why.
Sitting between me and the eagle is Jacques-Olivier Travers, a conservationist as charismatic (and equally French) as his name suggests. “This is Fletcher,” he said. “I got him when he was four and taught him to fly in the mountains. He was born in captivity in Germany but now he is the ambassador of our program. We are going to reintroduce this species of eagle into the wild in France this year – after 130 years of absence.
We disembark from the Raverettes lift and Travers whispers to the eagle in French, urging it to race down the track in front of us, occasionally glancing back to check that we are following.
Soon we are back at Les Aigles du Léman, the restaurant where we started. Nestled on the mountain at 1,500m, it’s a bustling hub of hungry skiers. Once a day, around noon, a lucky skier from the restaurant can have a falcon race on the Raverettes piste, which leads back to the restaurant. If the skier can shoot the bird, they gain free falconry experience.
“The hawk usually wins,” Travers says, “but sometimes he gets distracted. The race shows people how fast these birds are. You can also book a snowshoe walk with a raptor, or an outing on the slopes, as we have just done. All of this helps the reintroduction program.
“The idea is not just to see eagles, but to reproduce and reintroduce them,” explains Sara Burdon, who works for the Morzine tourist office, as she guides us to the resort of Les Gets by wide sunny slopes. “A lot of it is just for fun and entertainment, but it’s extremely tied to conservation efforts.”
Entertainment and the environment seem to go hand in hand in Morzine – something I contemplate as I sit in the hot tub outside my chalet, run on renewable energy and sip a locally brewed beer.
I’m staying at Ferme à Jules, a beautiful converted farmhouse built in 1808. The place is run by AliKats, a carbon-neutral luxury vacation operator. It provides breakfast and dinner each evening, and all food waste from meals is composted, turned into mulch and then used locally to help grow more food, which is then served to guests.
“We are particularly sensitive to climate change in the Alps,” says Al, half of AliKats. “It is therefore essential to ensure that we operate in a sustainable way.” They drive guests to the lifts in electric vehicles and even offer a discount on your lift pass if you traveled by train.
There hasn’t been a new snowfall for a while when we arrive in Morzine but there is still plenty of snow and blue skies. The region is renowned for this. It is part of the huge Portes du Soleil ski area which, together with 11 other resorts, offers 650 km of slopes.
Morzine is a rare ski resort that also thrives in the summer, thanks to excellent cycling and hiking trails. This means there is a strong community all year round, crucial in the development of local green infrastructure. A particularly pleasant example is the town center of Morzine, recently pedestrianized.
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The seaside resort of Geilo has held the title of Sustainable Travel Destination since 2016. It is powered by hydroelectric power and accessible by one of the lowest CO2 emitting rail lines in Europe.
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Many resort buildings are equipped with energy-efficient heating systems. Hotel Terra was built from recycled materials.
This Valais village has been at the forefront of ecological advances since the 1970s, when it voted to ban cars. In 2019, she redid a road using recycled plastic.
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Les Arcs has been running its ski lifts on renewable energy since 2011. They provide staff with electric vehicles and use photovoltaic panels to convert the sun’s energy.
One of Austria’s largest linked ski areas, it opened the world’s first solar-powered ski lift, the Sonnenlift, in 2008 and uses renewable energy to heat the facilities. skiwelt.at
“You now have this beautiful area where families can sit without cars driving around,” Burdon says. “And a lot of other things were happening anyway. The idea of using local products is in their blood here. They wouldn’t do anything else.
A late powder fall arrives on the last day before the start and we wake up to the sight of a million snowflakes falling on our chalet and the valley beyond. Visibility isn’t particularly good, so it’s not a day for skiing – although a tasty powder day awaits those who will be back on the mountain tomorrow.
For me? Well, one last day in the hot tub and sauna will suffice.
Flights from London to Geneva from £26.99 one way, transfers via Skiidy Gonzales.
A week at Ferme à Jules from £797 pp (based on two sharing) including breakfast and most meals and bus journeys to the lifts/centre of Morzine between 8am and 10 p.m., alikats.eu
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