The ski touring craze is going from strength to strength. A growing number of skiers and snowboarders are discovering the joys of heading into the back country for off-piste solitude, the big mountain landscapes, and the chance to enjoy the quiet that winter brings.
A decade ago, a perfectly prepared piste was the focus of all skiers, but a trend toward greater adventure has emerged and is now developing in the winter sports industry. With the world focusing on being fitter – the wellness tourism market was a *$639 billion market in 2017 and projected to hit $919 billion by 2022 – the active sport of ski touring fits well into this growing market.
Last winter, the growth in the Alps was accelerated by the health crisis – as resorts were forced to close, skiers discovered the mountains in a different way. The region of Isère saw an influx of skiers and snowboarders on restricted sites, and the emergence of new practices. This led the Department, in conjunction with the Isère Attractiveness agency, to initiate a policy of structuring ski touring over the next two years. All the Isère massifs and resorts are supporting this project, which launched earlier this year in June 2021.
Part of this project involves setting up counting units at the start of the marked routes, to monitor the number of skiers and snowboarders. It also includes creating official departures for routes compatible with the ascent and descent of the pisted slopes dedicated to Alpine skiing; the skiers and snowboarders remain in a secure area. Breaks in the route for people to join, or leave, the secure zones and a rescue service and an avalanche triggering plan if necessary.
Positioned as a pilot territory, the Department of Isère will support the resorts by funding 100% of the signs, information and awareness panels, markings and staking (according to national standards). Isère will also subsidise the cost of facilities exclusively linked to ski touring practice. The Department will also organise ski touring initiations in conjunction with local professionals; equipment testing in partnership with Ortovox and Dynafit; avalanche rescue prevention workshops; and awareness about the winter disturbance of wildlife.
Twelve pilot ski areas will start setting up 33 ski touring routes this winter, which are permanent, signposted, and secured trails, suitable for all levels. These include the resorts of Alpe d’Huez, Oz en Oisans, Vaujany, Les 2 Alpes, Chamrousse, Villards des Lans and Les Sept Laux.
Martine Kohly, Vice-president of the Department of Isère in charge of children, family, youth and sports, says: “By stimulating and creating an experimental national benchmark with our partners on ski touring itineraries in resorts, we are supporting the development and diversification of outdoor sports in Isère. A highly attractive option for our mountains. We are continuing on the path following on from the creation of the marked itineraries for snowshoeing, already used in many French resorts”.
Nathalie Faure, Deputy Vice-President for Mountains, says: “Developing the mountain is not just a slogan for the Department of Isère, but a chain of linked, daily, useful actions, carried out hand in hand with our partners, as is this national experiment we are in the process of developing for ski touring. This work will soon enable stakeholders in France to develop a ski touring activity offer in winter sport resorts. We have unwavering support for our mountains, and this is how we demonstrate it”.
This approach is part of the drafting of a national reference system “Ski touring course in winter sports resort”, driven by the Department of Isère and coordinated by the National Federation of Safety and Rescue on Ski Areas (FNSSDS). This experimental guide, which will be published soon, will constitute a toolbox for mayors, planners and operators throughout France who wish to develop ski touring activity in a winter sports resort.
In a desire to offer hands on learning experiences, the Department of Isère has signed partnership contracts with Dynafit, a provider of ski touring gear and Ortovox, a specialist in avalanche victim detection and search systems.
These partnerships offer discovery and awareness clinics for the public. (Register at https://sport.isere.fr/ski-de-randonnee)*:
Saturday 4 and Sunday 5 December 2021: Alpe d’Huez – Ski Force Winter Tour
Sunday 9 January 2022: Lans-en-Vercors
Saturday 29 and Sunday 30 January 2022: Les 7 Laux – La Belle Etoile
Saturday 5 February 2022: Chamrousse – Ski touring days
Saturday 19 March 2022: Les 7 Laux
*These discovery and awareness workshops will be conducted in conjunction with many partners: the Ministry of Sports, ANENA, the PGHM, the CRS Alpes, Grenoble Alpes Métropole, the Maison de la Montagne de Grenoble, the Departmental Committee of Alpine Clubs French of Isère, the FFME Territorial Committee of Isère, the Grenoble Guides Bureau, PETZL, the LPO Isère, the Department’s Natural Heritage service.