Case notes from the mountains…

This winter I was in the mountains exploring ski resorts – I know, I know… it’s a tough job…

I had set out to investigate ski resorts where it’s not just about the skiing and the kilometres of piste – some of the less well known resorts not frequented by the major operators.   I wanted to look at how they manage a mix of activities, how they market the resorts and how they protect their communities and their environments.

I had done my research before I went – and I succeeded in finding resorts that were managing tourism in balance and discovered a number of interesting case studies that could be taken elsewhere…

  • I came across a couple of great tourism and farming initiatives that were succeeding in increasing incomes to local farmers, whilst them farmers provide what the tourism industry needs and creating local distinctiveness for the tourists,
  • I found resorts offering a range of activities to tempt people away from the pistes and try some more low impact activities such as snowshoeing, hiking, tobogganing, orienteering and nature hikes,
  • I enjoyed villages that were successfully protecting their culture and heritage and interpreting it for visitors (and interestingly the degree to which the British contributed to development of the Alps back in the 19th century – initially through climbing in the summer months and then their development of the sport of skiing later on),
  • I viewed cutting edge modern architecture blending beautifully with the traditional and conserved Valais villages offering a glimpse of the past – but all occupied and ‘living’,
  • I found peaceful, pristine forests and stunning unspoilt landscapes and dark night skies – a million miles from the ‘orange glow’ of a night sky at home,
  • I found ski resorts run on hydroelectricity, villages where they have buried all the electricity cables underground, biomass plants and electric cars,
  • I found viable mountain communities that had previously suffered severe depopulation, now able to support schools where the number of children going to university has multiplied exponentially,

However, I also was reminded daily of the challenges that resorts face:

  • It is often the residents from the vicinity who clog up the roads, disturb the peace and cause pollution because they drive to the resorts at the weekends…
  • That even though snowshoeing is wonderful – it just doesn’t generate as much income as downhill skiing…
  • That ‘Frozen beds’ in resort are often caused by second home owners from within the country who like to have their apartment always available…
  • Interestingly EU law is actually starting to cause difficulties for resorts who want to keep control of their housing stock – to try and give preference to local people and to keep prices low…
  • The difficult choice to build one new lift, in order to charge a higher lift price, in order that the company can raise enough money to be able to replace the key cable car at the end of its life in five years time – else the whole resort would no longer be viable…
  • That in some resorts, the local people don’t actually want to run or work in the hotels so they are forced to recruit from elsewhere…
  • That strict building, health and safety laws in France are actually dissuading people from choosing to open or even upgrade hotels…

But I guess that is what keeps us going and why tourism is always so much more than just tourism – it’s about law and economics, it’s blending the domestic day trip with the international holiday, it’s blending the past, present and future.

And that is what keeps it fascinating for me!!

Veronica Tonge Graduated 2007

http://www.responsibleskiing.com

http://www.arealwinterholiday.com

http://www.responsibleskiing.com/veronicas-blog.html

veronica.tonge@dial.pipex.com

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