Alpine Winter Eco-Challenge: Undiscovered Mountains Case Study
France (offering activities in French, Norwegian and the Himalayas mountain ranges)
- Apply your strength in developing engaging and educational opportunities for guests that support your sustainability goals.
- Follow and believe in your instinct, while being aware of the possible issues and risks that may come up.
- Be aware of the different expectations that your guests may have about your offers and their abilities.
- Communicate clearly with guests about key health and safety related considerations (including the “why”) as well as the benefits of your offers.
The Concept: Responsible Travel Challenge Benefits for the Guests
The Eco-Challenge by Undiscovered Mountains invites travelers to connect with nature, appreciate skills being in nature (away from ski slopes), and raise funds for a charity that’s helping people get back in touch with nature.
The Challenge includes scaling frozen waterfalls, learning to build an igloo, and experiencing spending a night in an igloo. But why challenge guests, rather than just providing a comfortable stay?
Participating in a (physical and mental) challenge is a great way of achieving a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. The goals of the Undiscovered Mountains Eco-Challenge are to provide the clients with this positive emotion, while at the same time participating in something with a beneficial impact on the environment. This helps create a positive feedback loop of environmental awareness and positive actions.
The Eco Challenge experience is also about getting back in touch with nature, feeling and harnessing the power of the natural elements first hand, which is a great way to support health and well-being.
The Process: Challenges with Implementing the Eco Challenge
The process of developing the concept of the Eco Challenge started with identifying alternative activities that provide engaging opportunities for visitors, while focusing on the aim of encouraging people to learn about and participate in winter activities beyond skiing.
Along with the idea of offering a hands-on igloo-building activity, the Eco Challenge concept includes the experience of actually sleeping in one. However, the idea of promoting “build your own igloo and sleep in it” was fraught with health and safety issues, so the concept was updated to learning to build an igloo, but sleeping in a risk-assessed pre-built one.
Since the possible health and safety risks of sleeping in a “DIY” igloo may not be immediately clear to the participating clients, this needs to be clarified, and the reason explained.
Another key aspect of the Challenge is giving back to a good cause. There were a few roadblocks in finding a charity to work with, which also required finding an organization aligned with the mission and philosophy represented by the Challenge (for example, the charity that was initially identified for this purpose ceased to exist while the program was running).
The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) is the chosen organization, receiving 50€ of every Eco Challenge booking. TCV is the UK's Community Volunteering Charity, whose mission is about helping get people back in touch with nature and supporting communities to help their own local environment and green spaces.
Lessons Learned: Overcoming Difficulties
From the experience of developing and implementing the Eco Challenge, the Undiscovered Mountains team offers this advice: “Do what your intuition tells you to do - it is probably right!”
While the concept of a responsible travel challenge focused on alternative winter activities has been the “right” choice for Undiscovered Mountains, there have also been problems along the way.
For example, as with any nature-based activities, ice climbing and igloo building depend on having favorable ice and snow conditions. When the conditions are not ideal, these activities are not possible, and alternative challenges must be provided (e.g. testing nature survival skills instead of building an igloo).
While identifying and packaging alternative offers has always been possible, communicating to affected guests about the change isn’t always easy. Sometimes, clients may have unrealistic expectations, or may be unaware of the level of effort required and the risks of engaging in snow- or ice-based activities in suboptimal conditions.
The key challenge is managing these expectations without scaring them off and still making the activity attractive.
The Impact: Creating Positive Awareness
As a result of participating in the Eco Challenge, guests are surprised to learn the types of activities they can do outside of the ski resort. In addition to gaining this new awareness, guests gain a stronger sense of their own strengths through the experience of “going back to the basics” building and sleeping in an igloo, and through ice climbing, which is a physical challenge where they also need to reach for their inner strengths.
These activities are also a powerful way to learn about living with nature and being part of the natural environment. Dealing with the difficulties of climbing ice walls and creating a suitable igloo, one learns first hand the uncertainty and unpredictability of the natural world, and learns to work with the power of nature.
Eco Challenge participants have shared that they felt invigorated, humbled and have become more aware of the power of the natural environment after doing these activities.
In addition to the actual nature-based activities of the Eco Challenge and other trips, Undiscovered Mountains also works to promote environmental awareness among guests in other ways - for example, offering a discount to guests who arrive by train instead of flying. This approach seems to work well, as it is logistically easier to manage, and is also a simple and clear way of communicating how guests can make a positive impact through their own actions.