The family doctor on holiday at a Finnish snow resort couldn’t even ski. Entrepreneurial Juhani Aho also knew nothing of travel – but was so entranced he bought the resort of Ruka despite its faltering finances and scruffy skiing conditions. That was 40 years ago. Today Ruka, in Lapland, employs around 800 people, had a € 8 million ($US10.5m) turnover last year and is a shining example of responsible tourism through its extensive emphasis on enabling environmentally friendly ski trips. It now has a sister resort, Pyhä, which in 2011 became the first carbon neutral ski resort in Scandinavia. Ruka is 80 per cent clean emissions.
The private enterprise Aho group has invested tens of millions of Euros into Ruka and Pyha and it all took off through the efforts of founder Juhani, a former Finnish air force colonel. Juhani, 82, has handed over the reins to daughter Miia (CEO) and sons KariJussi (Chairman) and Ville (Director Sales and Marketing) while his other two children devote themselves to his vast medical empire.
Juhani, a proficient skier, inspires the family mantra: To pass on a sustainable business to the next generation. There are 12 grandchildren to motivate them. The target for these two resorts, which are highly popular as well as being environmentally friendly ski resorts – with a joint visitor tally of more than 1 million tourists and around 450 000 skiers – is to be zero rated as renewable energy users by 2020.
Chasing this ambition is Jusu Toivonen who originated many of the company ideas and policies as the company’s Environmental Programme Manager. His conversion to protecting the natural world came after a remarkable career about turn. Jusu was turbo-charging upwards as a consultant for a world-famous management business when offered promotion to partner.
“I was and 29 asked myself ‘Do I want to commit my life to a huge international organisation? I decided no, quit my job and sold my apartment in Helsinki to go to Canada for two years on a ski resort management programme. It was really an excuse to give me time to contemplate my future… and enjoy the superb skiing conditions. My background in computer and information sciences is far removed from this role. I became interested as global warming became front page headlines and also by meeting people who worked in environmental fields. While away I did benchmark reports for Ruka and Pyhä on how the ski industry operated responsibly in North America and globally. I dug into all aspects of this, including visiting Whistler resort, acknowledged as the most advanced.”
When his analysis was discussed later there was immediate response to implement change. Jusu, now 37, has been innovating and running the programme since its launch in 2008. Ruka and Pyhä – which are 100 miles apart – were Finland’s first resorts to become fully hydro-powered. Both resorts are well ahead of the European Union Energy Efficient Agreement calling for 9 per cent reductions by 2016.
More than ten different waste types are embraced in their recycling initiatives. Their master plan accommodation design lay-out means you don’t need a car. All accommodation is private but owners are obliged to rent out when absent, limiting the environment stress. For these two environmentally friendly ski resorts, being responsible is no longer the challenge, but a way of life.