From Swisstainable to hydropower: The Saas Valley focuses on sustainability
The Saas Valley is an idyllic valley known for its breathtaking scenery, clean air and crystal-clear mountain lakes. However, it is also a place where climate change and its effects on the glaciers and on the ecosystem of the region are clearly felt. For this reason, the Saas Valley has launched numerous projects to promote sustainable tourism and environmental protection in the holiday region.
The glaciers are among the most important tourist attractions in the holiday region. However, they are also among the natural resources most affected by climate change. For this reason, the Saas Valley has committed itself to protecting and preserving the glaciers. The entire holiday region has a common vision on sustainability. This vision and development strives for a balance between economic, ecological and social goals. It is also a design process and requires a new understanding of cooperation. Continually more travellers are paying attention to sustainability and looking for ways to make their trips more environmentally friendly. In the Saas Valley, there are numerous initiatives and projects that make exactly this possible. We would like to introduce some of them in this blog post.
A significant prerequisite in the Saas Valley is the car-free village of Saas-Fee. As early as 1951, this glacier village decided to remain traffic-free. As there was no road leading to Saas-Fee until then, the village has always been car-free. In the same year, the village became a member of the Community of Car-Free Swiss Tourism Resorts (GAST). Saas-Fee is also a founding member of the “Alliance in the Alps”, a community network of over 200 international alpine communities, who work to ensure that the objectives of the alpine convention for sustainable development in the alpine region are implemented in concrete terms. The community has set itself the goal of reducing individual transport in the region and is therefore focusing on alternative transport concepts such as electric mobility and public transport. This reduces the environmental impact in the region and strengthens the Saas Valley as a sustainable holiday region.
Another example of sustainable development in the Saas Valley is the Mattmark Power Plants. The hydroelectric power plants are an important source of energy for the Saas Valley and the surrounding regions. They produce clean energy from renewable resources and thus contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Mattmark Reservoir near Saas-Almagell is the largest earth dam in Europe. It holds around 100 million m3 for the electrical power supply. The hydroelectric power of the reservoir is used throughout the Saas Valley. The average annual production is 649 million kWh, which is enough for around 97,000 people per year in Switzerland. Visitors can book a guided tour of the power plants in advance and learn more about energy production.
An exciting initiative being implemented in the Saas Valley is the Quality Week. This week is an annual event in May where the tourism organisation and communities implement different campaigns and concepts aimed at promoting sustainable tourism in the region. These include mobility concepts, energy-saving measures and projects to promote the regional economy. During this week, the Mountain Clean-up Day with NIKIN will also take place. NIKIN is a sustainability partner of the Saas-Fee/Saas Valley holiday region and aims to have a positive impact on the environment by selling sustainable clothing and accessories and planting trees. Mountain Clean-up Day is an annual event where volunteers clean up the Saas Valley of litter. In doing so, the local communities work closely with schools and businesses to ensure that the Saas Valley remains a clean place in the future.
The municipality of Saas-Fee was awarded the GOLD Energy City Label in 2021. The label is awarded to municipalities that exemplify and implement a sustainable municipal energy policy. It is the highest European award in the field of energy and climate and requires that at least 75% of the potential for action is implemented. The community of Saas-Fee exploits 78.6 % of the potential and thus scores excellently in the evaluation. In this way, the community guarantees the continuous implementation of energy and climate policy measures.
For its commitment to sustainable tourism, the community of Saas-Fee received an award as one of the Best Tourism Villages by UNTWO in 2022. This award is given to communities that are particularly committed to sustainable tourism. Saas-Fee and the Saas Valley were particularly convincing in their commitment to sustainable development.
The district heating network, which was built together with EnAlpin in Saas-Fee, offers businesses and households the opportunity to connect to renewable energy. Various hotels and properties already use this network, including the wellnessHostel4000, the Walliserhof Grand-Hotel & Spa, the boutique wellness hotel The Capra, and the community centre in Saas-Fee.
The heart of the district heating network is located in the technical centre of the car park in Saas-Fee. There, heat is extracted from the ambient air, especially in summer, and supplied to the connected properties. In summer, the heat is used to heat water. This also generates some excess heat. This is stored in 90 geothermal probes in the rock beneath the car park during the warm months. A borehole heat exchanger is a system for harnessing geothermal energy in which a pipe is inserted into the ground to extract or store heat from the earth’s interior. In winter, the heat from this reservoir is used to heat the village. Part of the energy for the heat pump is supplied by the photovoltaic system on the car park roof. The remaining part is sourced from EnAlpin’s NaturEnergie, which consists of 100% Valais hydroelectric and solar energy.
In addition, there is the ProKilowatt promotion programme of the Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE). The programme promotes the conversion from non-renewable to renewable energy sources in Switzerland. Saastal Bergbahnen AG have submitted an application to ProKilowatt for subsidies for the shaft heating project at the snow-making facility. With the energy-optimised shaft heating system, the approximately 175 shafts can be heated much more efficiently. According to Saastal Bergbahnen AG, up to 75% of the heating energy can be saved. According to calculations, the measure can save up to 105,000 kWh in technical snowmaking.
Swisstainable is a platform that promotes sustainable tourism offers in Switzerland. It offers a variety of travel options that are environmentally friendly and socially responsible. This way, travellers can be sure that they are travelling sustainably and can enjoy the beauty of Switzerland at the same time. Travellers can travel to the Saas Valley in a number of environmentally friendly ways and enjoy an eco-friendly holiday.
Here are some tips for environmentally friendly holidays in the Saas Valley:
- Arrival by public transport: Travel to the Saas Valley by train or bus. The Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) also offer a luggage transport service to ensure that luggage reaches its destination comfortably and in an environmentally friendly manner. The Saas Valley is well connected to the Swiss rail and bus network.
- Use the free SaastalCard: With this card you can use public transport in the Saas Valley free of charge and thus do without your car and protect the environment.
- Stay in environmentally friendly accommodation: Choose accommodation that is committed to sustainability and environmental protection. Many hotels and guesthouses in the Saas Valley rely on environmentally friendly measures such as recycling, energy efficiency and local products.
- Support local businesses: Buy local products, visit local restaurants and support local businesses. This strengthens the local economy and reduces the ecological footprint.
- Responsible hiking: When hiking, stay on the marked trails so as not to pollute the environment.
- Avoid littering: Take waste with you and dispose of it in the waste containers provided. Avoid disposable products; use reusable bottles and drinking cups to reduce waste.
The holiday region of Saas-Fee/Saas Valley surprises us with its imposing mountain and glacier world, but also reminds us how important it is to treat our nature responsibly. We are committed to protecting the Saas Valley, as well as the other landscapes we directly touch, by adopting sustainable practices and reducing our ecological footprint. This is the only way we can ensure that future generations can enjoy the same breathtaking landscapes and experiences as we do now.