Elimination of the Valcotos alpine ski resort

pista zabalaThe complete dismantling and ecological restoration of an alpine ski resort (VALCOTOS), is one of the most noteworthy actions carried out in terms of conservation.

From the last century sixties years emerges a different approach to the use of the mountain, based on great resorts for the practice of alpine skiing. The making in 1969 of the Valcotos ski resort, caused the destruction or alteration of valuable ecosystems and unique formations having glacial origin, in the Peñalara area. Fortunately, the real estate development projects planned for this area were stopped since they disobeyed the urban legislation provisions, avoiding an even greater disaster. The figures on the ski resort give an idea of the extent the transformation suffered: opening of 6 Alpine ski tracks with a surface area over 24 hectares; 11 ski lifts lines were built, that is about 6 kilometers of path, a hundred bollards or posts for the route and more than 20 facilities. The damage included the removal of vegetation, the destruction of the glacial geomorphological elements, removing and levelling land, soil erosion and gully formation, impact on the landscape, etc.

In 1999 the works to recover the affected ecosystems started, and although the most obvious were conducted between the turn of the century, revegetation work, improvement and follow-up of the proceedings remain at present. A summary of the work carried out would be as follows:

The project goals

The environmental restoration project was carried out with the following purposes:

a) To restore the natural environment damaged elements: geomorphology, land cover, visual quality of the landscape, etc. with the smallest possible intervention.

b) To check the environmental problems: minimizing the environmental impacts (erosion, proliferation of trails, preservation and maintenance of ecosystems).

c) To adapt the facilities and hospitality areas around Los Cotos  Pass for the Peñalara Massif visitors (conditioning of access points and car parking lots, spills treatment, landscape adaptation, installation of self-interpretative elements and signals).

d) To regulate the uses consistently with the conservation of the natural environment.

The ambitious project of ecological restoration was undertaken in three phases:

{tab Phase I}

Dismantling the artificial infrastructure

desmantelamientoThe first phase of the Valcotos environmental restoration took place during 1999 and consisted on the elimination of facilities connected with the practice of alpine skiing. The dismantling process included the demolition and removal of the bollards, the foundation blocks, the buildings, and the ski resort lifts. Similarly, a large amount of debris and residues in the area, which had been accumulated during the construction and operation of the station, were removed.

A key factor in the dismantling was to avoid damage in the areas adjacent to the working points. For this reason, the heavy machinery use was restricted to those points which could be accessed through the proper affected areas. In the rest of the areas (for example, bollards located in relatively little altered or very isolated areas) manual machinery was used machinery in the demolitions. The evacuation of debris and remains of the station was carried out using helicopters and pack animals to avoid conditioning the tracks or opening new ones for the passage of trucks.

The main factors affecting those jobs were the high gradients, the fragile soil, climatic conditions, and the high number of visitors while the works were on.

{tab Phase II}

Topographic Refund

restitucionThe Valcotos environmental restoration second phase was carried out between 1999 and 2000. It consisted on the original ridge restoration, the water flows recovery and the control of erosion. The fundamental goal of the ridge restitution was recovering the physiography of the area prior to the ski resort construction. To do this, three lines of work were defined:

  • The elimination of esplanades, land clearing and embankments, avoiding changes in stable areas.
  • The naturalization of artificial accumulations of stones (beads of stones on the sides of tracks).
  • The control of gully erosion by installing dissipative energy barriers.

Of course, the topographic refund cannot restore the glacial deposits original layout, so it just aimed to stop the impact on the landscape, to control the risks of landslides, to minimize erosion problems and to prepare the ground as to help to the natural processes of colonization. In the same way, some streams were so radically transformed (burial, diversion to another basin) that the proceedings on them are limited to recover, as much as possible, the original path or its watershed.

All these works were developed with the added difficulty of not being entitled to use materials outside the National Park.

{tab Phase III}

Regeneration of vegetation cover

plantacionThe third phase of the Valcotos environmental restoration has been carried out since the year 2000, and it consists on the vegetation cover regeneration. This proceeding, has succeeded in containing the intense erosion processes and encourage the development of a vegetation similar to the one of the surrounding areas not affected.

The main tasks developed to achieve these goals are:

  • The collection of seeds of woody and herbaceous plants for direct sowing or for plant production in the nursery.
  • The transplantation of vegetative material between different areas in restoration.
  • Fencing the restoring areas to promote the growth of seeds or species planted and natural regeneration. 
  • The contribution of organic matter and seed bank in the most affected areas (approximately 2 hectares) using the earth from the cleaning of the zone firewall.
  • The spring and autumn manual plantation since 2001.
  • The irrigation in the areas more difficult to regain.

It is noteworthy that during works, the fundamental criterion, to avoid the introduction of alien species and genetic material other than the Massif own populations, has been followed.

{tab Results}

Comparative advantages before and after restoration

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. Below we show different comparisons between how were the different Peñalara Massif areas at the beginning of the restoration project and its state afterwards.

La Predera
La Pradera
Zona 2100
Zona 2100
Zona 2100
Zona 2100
Entrada Hoyas