Climate change snow joke in the high country

It’s been a bumper snow season in Victoria, with thousands of ski lovers enjoying some of the best conditions in years. So why has our largest alpine resort decided to sign up to TAKE2?

While the Victorian snowfields are an iconic feature of our landscape, they could look very different by the end of this century. According to the Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, the effects of climate change will mean higher temperatures, less snow fall, and shorter ski seasons, with snow at lower altitudes disappearing altogether.

Such a future may seem unthinkable to the hordes of tourists who hit the slopes this year, but it’s a risk taken seriously by Falls Creek Alpine Resort in north-east Victoria, which recently joined two other major resorts, Mount Buller and Mount Hotham, in making the TAKE2 pledge.

Stuart Smythe, CEO of the resort’s management board says taking action on climate change is as much about protecting the local economy, as it is about the pristine mountain environment. “We always look at what we need to do not only to reduce vulnerability to the potential impact of climate change on snowfall, but also the economic vulnerability of our region.”

Although visitor numbers during summer months are rising, the snowfields are still the biggest drawcard for Victoria’s alpine resorts, which together contribute nearly $700 million annually to the economy. Falls Creek alone supports around 3,500 jobs, making it one of the region’s most important employers.

Even with so much at stake, tackling climate change is never straightforward. Stuart deals with more than 100 leaseholders and businesses in the village, ranging from ski lift operators to restaurants and hotels. “It can be hard to convince your stakeholders that they need to do their bit when they have to dig themselves out of the snow each day!”

Leading by example

What the Falls Creek management team can do is lead by example. Stuart points out that the resort is looking to source at least 30% of its power from renewables by 2020. “Our origins are based in renewable energy—Falls Creek wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the huge investment in the nearby Kiewa Hydroelectric Scheme.”

Transport is another area of focus. “We’re 30kms away from the nearest town and we’re at the top of a very large hill, so a lot of energy is consumed getting to the resort,” says Stuart. “We’re looking at ways to improve our own efficiency, possibly with gas or electric vehicles.”

Then there are all the trees growing within the 1,500 hectare resort, which help prevent carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. “We sit in the middle of a national park and we’re custodians of our environment,” explains Stuart. “We’ve got to maintain a well-vegetated environment that isn’t barren of trees.” In a first for an Australian alpine resort, any tree that’s removed at Falls Creek is replaced with a new tree elsewhere in the resort.

Embracing sustainable tourism

If you’ve recently enjoyed the wintry delights of Falls Creek, you may have come away feeling a bit greener. From ‘living bins’ in every guest apartment, to Tesla charge points for electric cars, village life is subtly designed to get visitors thinking sustainably.

This strategy is proving successful, having already contributed to a 45% reduction in waste going to landfill, even as visitor numbers have risen. Behind the scenes, new buildings are designed to be more energy efficient all year round.

Stuart says climate change is part of the resort’s broader commitment to care for the local environment. "We look at biodiversity, we look at waste consumption, we look at managing our waterways — it’s about the health of the ecosystem as a whole."

We can all play a part in protecting Victoria’s snowfields. Join TAKE2 and help fight climate change.