The French came late to ecology. Until recently they recognised just two species in nature, the çasemange and the çasemangepas (the youcaneatit and the youcanteatit). But they have now realised how much nature they have, and are looking after it with admirable dedication.
In the 1960s, Val d’Isère gave half its land to the nascent Parc de la Vanoise, on condition that it could replace ski lifts already on that land when the time came. But the law changed, and when the STVI wanted to build the new Cascade Express chairlift, it was only allowed on condition the Parc got a few thousand more acres.
More than 60% of Val d’Isère’s land is now given over to national parks and reserves. The ibex are back. The lammergeyer is back. The golden eagle is being more protected than ever (mostly against the lammergeyer!). The Olympic downhill was moved to protect a clump of granny’s nightcap, the World Championship slalom was moved to protect some melancholy thistles, and a snow cannon reservoir on Bellevarde has been held up for the past year because it was disturbing alpine campion – all flowers that grow like weeds around Val d’Isère, but are rare nationally. Work has finally been allowed to continue, on condition that Val d’Isère set up several other reserves for rare species.
Volunteers scoured the slopes of Solaise for rubbish this summer (they did Bellevarde last year) and picked up half a ton of litter, including ten thousand cigarette ends. The Tourist Office is trialling customised pocket poubelles, so that skiers can store their day’s detritus until they find a proper bin back at village level.
A study into Val d’Isère’s carbon footprint, designed to help the resort cut back its production of greenhouse gases, determined that most of the CO2 emissions are caused by skiers’ journeys to the resort, and that the best solution was to tell them not to come. So that one got the kibosh! Electric buses have been tried: they don’t like the cold. Trams have been considered: the rails would ice up. But 100 tons of salt per winter are no longer going into the Isère now that the village keeps its roads white. The energy consumption of all public buildings is being monitored and limited. And the days of the 4×4 driving zone on the back of Bellevarde seem to be numbered, while more tracks are being opened up to mountain bikes.
Rubbish is sorted into three categories before going in the moloks, the sunken dustbins. Most of it gets burnt in a modern, clean incinerator just below the dam. But a lot goes further down valley for more sorting and recycling. Cynics may wonder how much fossil fuel it takes to cart a load of glass down to Albertville in order to save a bit of sand, but at least the plan to heat the new sports-aquatic centre (swimming pool) with a log-burning boiler in order to save oil and, er, protect the forests was put on hold!
All in all, Val d’Isère is making vast efforts to protect its bit of heaven and preserve it for a few more generations.