Cross-country skiing replaced alpine skiing in France

That the pandemic would change sports habits became clear early in the epidemic. Quarantine forced people to look for a way out of this situation literally within the walls of their own apartments – yoga, breathing exercises, home simulators and online classes with trainers were used. At the same time, few dared to engage in physical activity outside the home, since it was fraught with a number of troubles at once – from the chance of being fined to the real threat of picking up a virus.

It was not only people who were deprived of the opportunity to fully train, but also the sports industry itself, which suffered. And the winter species found themselves in the most difficult position. Take the same alpine skiing, for which the closure of the lifts is comparable to the shutdown of oxygen. But it was precisely this extreme measure that the French government took on December 4, 2020 as part of its sanitary policy aimed at combating COVID-19. The resorts of France, leading in Europe in terms of the total length and equipment of slopes, have lost their main trump card in the struggle for physically active tourists – alpine skiing (only their French adherents are 5.6 million people).

However, the situation developed unexpectedly: the resorts were not empty, on the contrary, there were no vacant places in hotels during the New Year holidays. It’s just that tourists began to practice other sports, primarily cross-country skiing, the interest in which in the general structure of attention to winter activities previously accounted for a modest 5-7%. According to Euromag.ru, traffic to cross-country skiing resorts has grown by 20% this season compared to last. “At the start of the season, the excitement around cross-country skiing was a real surprise,” says Christophe Laveau, director of the tourism office of Val d’Isere, a popular ski station located 5 km from the French border with Italy.

Skis in short supply

The chaotically generated demand quickly exceeded the available supply, which is understandable: the number of skis for sale or rent is based on statistics from previous years, and orders for skis and equipment are formed in more than six months.

Owners of shops specializing in the sale of ski equipment tried to fill the gap at the last moment, but the suppliers’ stocks were practically depleted. Patrick Lepudry, owner of 14 specialized boutiques in the Courchevel resort, described the situation as follows: “At the beginning of the year, I had only about 100 pairs of cross-country skis, because usually their sale or rent is negligible.

I sensed the new trend in time and was able to order 50 more pairs, but it was simply impossible to get more. We rent most of the cross-country and hiking skis for 60 euros per day. Sales remain rare, as for most of our customers cross-country skiing is only a temporary activity, caused by very special conditions, they are not ready for the costs. “

In Val d’Isere, the increased demand for cross-country ski rentals has been resolved thanks to a pre-order system. “People tend to take skis for a few days and just store them, which is why we introduced a two-hour rental. This measure helped to correctly distribute the available stock. We applied the same tactics to the rental rules of the recently popular tourist skis, snowshoes and sleds, ”says a spokesman for the Val d’Isera Tourism Office.

For most tourists, all these activities were new. As a result, alpine skiing instructors also had to adapt and temporarily change their profile. Now they teach children and adults how to cross-country skiing, how to drive snowmobiles, accompany them during snowshoeing in the mountains, ensure the safety of routes, etc.

Tourism offices of all major French winter resorts also needed to respond quickly to the situation – to put aside the programs prepared in advance and urgently develop new ones, taking into account the mass enthusiasm for cross-country skiing, the remaining closed restaurants and other coronavirus restrictions in force throughout France.

According to Laveau, it was important not to focus only on cross-country skiing, but to provide people with a wide range of opportunities. This is how new sports or completely unexpected proposals appeared in French winter resorts, previously characteristic of summer vacations, such as family visits to cable car parks or riding an electric mountain bike – a fat bike.

Not only skis

These changes entailed transformations in the infrastructure of the resorts. In particular, in Courchevel alone, 87 km of trails were rammed for hiking, 11 special trails for snowshoeing were allocated and several routes for cross-country skiing were laid for athletes of different levels of training: from the five-kilometer Les Brigues – Chantery, which runs through the forest, to 17- kilometer Courchevel – Meribel Altiport with more difficult terrain.

The detailed maps of the area provided by the Courchevel Tourism Office help to understand the geography of the routes, but tourists can also use the services of guides and instructors. In addition, the emphasis was placed on previously secondary activities. “People now come to enjoy communion with nature, and not for sporting feats,” says Alexia Lene, marketing director of the Courchevel resort.

This season there are a large number of families among vacationers and, of course, fewer foreign clientele – many Parisians are discovering the resort for the first time, and the regulars of Courchevel are happy to try new types of activities. ” By the way, Lena herself is a native of Courchevel, a long-time adherent of downhill skiing, but this season she enjoys cross-country skiing.

From resort to resort, the offerings are similar, although there are minor exceptions. So, at the Megeve aerial school, you can fly over the snow-capped valleys and get piloting lessons. Other interesting options include the opportunity to ride a sleigh with a dog sled or take to the sky in a hot air balloon.

In Val d’Isere, hot air ballooning is prohibited (due to the strong winds that happen here), but the variety of sports activities is not affected by this. In addition to cross-country skiing, walking and snowshoeing and snowmobiling, you can try yourself in biathlon, ice skating, golf on the snow. Or practice acrobatic pirouettes by jumping on a Big Air Bag – this training, invented by Dutch snowboarders, is also suitable for skiers and allows you to train jumps with maximum safety. The Parcours Aventure cable car park, which usually functioned in Val d’Isere only in the summer season, has also become relevant now in winter – as, by the way, and horseback riding.

New activities are gaining popularity. On February 1, on the eve of the holidays, the French government announced an extension of the closing dates for ski lifts. This means that cross-country skiing is destined to remain the favorites of this winter, and sports inventions are starting to enter everyday life.

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