In France, the mountain attracts 10 million tourists each year, for whom 250 resorts have been developed. In winter, there are 55 million days of skiing, all types combined, well distributed over all age groups of the population up to 55 years old, but not between social categories, this leisure activity remaining expensive . After walking, downhill skiing is the most popular sporting activity in the mountains. An exclusively downhill sport, its imprint on nature is deep: deforested areas to provide wide slopes, ski lift installations – more than 3,000 in France –, but also snow grooming when it is not artificially made. In these times of energy restrictions and ecological transition, many people believe that this ski is part of the world before.
According to Skidata.io, the observatory of the 232 French ski resorts, the practice of winter sports generates 120,000 jobs, of which, according to the ministry, nearly half (55,000 on average each year) are seasonal. In this context, Pierre-François Adam, head of the Innovation and sustainable development division at Cluster Montagne, a network of actors in mountain tourism development, ensures that “Professionals are developing strategies to reduce the carbon footprint, in construction as in all mountain industries. Young people want to have jobs that respect the environment”.Because professionals, like tourists, love the mountains. “In the 1960s and 1970s, explains Luc, amateur skier, dentist in Montpellier, skiing was a breath of fresh air for our parents. They did not have the impression of participating in a concretization of the mountain. They simply transmitted to us the taste of skiing in winter and reunions with family and friends. »
Laure and Sylvain, teacher and engineer living in Lyon, want to retain the benefits of the mountains: “The mountain is health: clean air, the regular rhythm dictated by the day, physical effort, light… Alpine skiing holds a large place in our winter stays. We appreciate the sensations: bumps, powder, and sometimes a bit of speed when the slopes are clear. » And Clément, their son, doctor and volunteer firefighter, to add: “The mountain is the greatest gift they gave me after giving me life. » Should we therefore sacrifice all this?
Let us first recall that alpine skiing is not the cause of all the transformations of the mountain; the cessation of alpine skiing would therefore not result in a return to the state of nature. The maintenance of mountains, roads, paths and natural areas should still be carried out for other activities, winter and summer.
On the other hand, the re-examination of the modalities of alpine skiing seems necessary. Because the increasing sophistication of the facilities is disturbing: increasingly fast ski lifts and, at any time, artificial snow can replace that which has not fallen naturally. This last point is symptomatic of the progressive disappearance of the love of nature in favor of its exploitation. Sébastien (1), former director of a semi-public company in charge of a ski resort, lecturer in a master’s degree in ski area management, notes this: “Artificial snow consumes as much energy (pumping, production and fuel needed to groom it) as ski lifts. If we add the evaporation in pure loss of this natural water, it would be virtuous for the environment to prohibit it, at the risk that the absence of guaranteed snow discourages the amateurs. A courageous political choice! »
Over a week, energy consumption is estimated at 50 kWh per skier, or 5% of the consumption of a Paris-New York flight. In Switzerland, it is estimated that the energy consumption of resorts for snow cannons, ski lifts and catering represents the equivalent of a town of 30,000 to 40,000 inhabitants.
By swapping alpine skiing for ski touring, many of these nuisances can be eliminated without affecting the pleasure of skiing. Luc dares to share his dream born of the pandemic: “Before, I had never experienced the mountains like this. Exit the noise of the lifts and hello silence and animals. » For this to last and for many to benefit from it, he proposes to “keep a minimum of ski lifts to access the panorama of the peaks. Then to transform the slope fields into a ski touring area, simply maintained and marked out. With, here and there, a few well-chosen and equipped shelters. In short, another downhill ski, sportier, freer and so much greener! While keeping the structures of mountain tourism which makes the local populations work”.