French Ski Stations Turn to Hydrogen in Drive for CO2-Free Snow

France’s 250 ski resorts will switch to hydrogen-powered snow-grooming machinery as they seek to make good on a pledge to cut direct CO2 emissions to zero by 2037.

Diesel-fueled slope-preparation machinery produces 94% of the carbon emitted by French ski stations, with the running of lifts and snow-making equipment accounting for the rest, Alexandre Maulin, the head of industry group Domaines Skiables de France, said at a press conference on Friday.

The ski lobby is working with France’s Alternative Energies & Atomic Energy Commission and the three main suppliers of slope-preparation machines -- Germany’s Kaessbohrer Gelaendefahrzeug AG, Italy’s Prinoth SpA and local producer CM Dupon -- and expects the first hydrogen-powered snow groomer on the market in five years.

“Yes, we are a source of pollution, the ski area, we’re going to deal with it,” Maulin said. “The first work will be to help with production of hydrogen-powered snow groomers. It’s a priority for all the manufacturers.”

France’s largest ski stations typically replace their snow groomers every five seasons and smaller ones every 10 years, Maulin said. So the entire French fleet of slope-preparation machines could be switched to hydrogen over a decade, after a period of testing and working out bugs, he said.

The tracked machines, weighing over 10 tons, on average cost 400,000 euros ($469,000) a piece, according to Domaines Skiables de France. Manufacturers will recuperate R&D costs for hydrogen power in the price of their snow groomers, Maulin said.

  • French ski resorts invested an average 379 million euros a year between 2016 and 2019, with 10% of that spending on snow-grooming machinery, according to Domaines Skiables de France
  • Snow-grooming machines accounts for 94% of French ski station’s direct emissions, ski lifts 4% and snow-making equipment 2%
  • The French Alpine resort of La Plagne, the world’s biggest by number of skier visits, has 30 snow groomers to maintain its 225 kilometers of runs
  • France has introduced a 7 billion-euro plan to use hydrogen in industrial processes and transport to cut its carbon dioxide output by 6 million tons by 2030
  • READ: France Aims to Offset Paris Carbon Emissions With Clean Hydrogen
  • French ski stations attract 10 million visitors every winter, and the zero-carbon target doesn’t include their emissions
  • Resorts are trying to push their clients to more environmentally travel, with some offering ski pass discounts for those arriving by train or sharing vehicles
  • French winter resorts generate annual sales of about 1.5 billion euros
  • The overall winter-sports economy is worth about 10 billion euros, or 5% to 10% of France’s tourism industry

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