/ Ski Pistes

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mypyrex - on 17 Sep 2017
I know that to a greater or lesser extent all mountain orientated activities have some impact upon the environment. As far as that goes I suppose that many of us are guilty of contributing to the erosion of footpaths and the like.

However, having seen the great swathes of mountainsides in the Pyrenees and, more recently, the Alps, "prepared" I'd be interested to hear opinions about the environmental impact of the(specifically) downhill ski "industry".

I do wonder whether many of those who indulge solely in downhill ski-ing and no other mountain activity(walking, climbing etc) actually give any thought to what the pistes look like once they have gone home and the snow has melted.
BnB - on 17 Sep 2017
In reply to mypyrex:

The impact isn't pretty is it? The only saving grace being that ski runs tend to despoil rounded hills rather than jagged mountains. With some exceptions of course.
mypyrex - on 17 Sep 2017
In reply to BnB:

> The impact isn't pretty is it?
No, indeed not. As I mentioned I've seen so much of it in the Pyrenees. Last weekend, traversing from Tre Le Champ to Flegere on the TMB the visual impact as the Flegere pistes came into sight was quite ghastly.
Trangia on 17 Sep 2017
In reply to mypyrex:

I agree the lift gantries and infrastructure aren't attractive, and as a downhill skier I do feel a twinge of regret when I see them in summer. However they do give convenient and quick access into the higher mountains for summer walking and climbing.

Can you say hand on heart that you have never used a mountain railway, teleferique or chairlift to access the mountains around somewhere like Chamonix or Zermatt? I'll bet there are few "purists" who always walk up right from the valleys.

The ski industry is a huge one employing a very large number of people in areas which would otherwise be very poor.

From an ecological point of view this still doesn't make it right, but as a punter I am really in no position to criticise.

mypyrex - on 17 Sep 2017
In reply to Trangia:

Good comments, however if the infrastructure didn't exist then walkers and climbers would have walk that much further and plan accordingly.

As far as the economic impact goes the ski industry perhaps is nothing more than a convenient way of enhancing a local economy. If it didn't exist then those who have come to rely upon it would have to consider other(less convenient) options.

BTW I am as guilty as anyone else of using some of the infrastructure. I put my hand up.
Trangia on 17 Sep 2017
In reply to mypyrex:
> however if the infrastructure didn't exist then walkers and climbers would have walk that much further and plan accordingly.

That's why I have such admiration for the pioneers like Whymper & Co.

They were true mountaineers and had no guide books, no maps, no mountain huts, and none of our modern lightweight equipment or clothing.
Post edited at 12:00
mypyrex - on 17 Sep 2017
In reply to Trangia:

> That's why I have such admiration for the pioneers like Whymper & Co.

> They were true mountaineers and had no guide books, no maps, no mountain huts, and none of our modern lightweight equipment or clothing.

Absolutely. I looked at the statues in Chamonix of Balmat, Packard and Saussure and thought "how the hell did they cope in that clothing etc. Chapeau.
John Stainforth - on 17 Sep 2017
In reply to BnB:

I'm not sure why that should be a saving grace, unless jagged mountains somehow have more value than rounded hills.
John Stainforth - on 17 Sep 2017
In reply to mypyrex:

One of the problems is that the access tracks on ski hills are usually just bulldozer tracks cut into the hillside that cause big erosion scars. Ski resorts are really designed for the winter and look absolutely hideous in the summer - and then even the resort bases look soulless.
Chris the Tall - on 17 Sep 2017
In reply to mypyrex:

Been to the Dolomites in both winter and summer and to be honest I don't think the pistes there look too bad. Ok it may have a lot to do with the fact that there is a much lower concentration of pistes, and they tend to follow natural features, but my memory is that most of them look like meadows, quite lush and green, at least by September. Obviously grass that's been under snow for 5 months doesn't look great, and piste bashers and snow making facilities keep the snow on them for longer.

And maybe it helps that the Dolomites is more of all year round venue than many of the French ski meccas, although the rise of mountain biking means the machinery is getting more use now.

As to when I'm skiing, I do love getting away from the machinery, either by going off-piste or by ski-mountaineering (only done one day, but really ought to do more). But I guess I generally accept the machinery as a cost associated with getting into stunning locations. There are still vast areas of the alps, and even more so in the rockies, that haven't been turned into our playgrounds. Of course getting to these areas is hard - if it wasn't, they would also be affected by tourism. Cest la vie
captain paranoia - on 17 Sep 2017
In reply to mypyrex:

I confess that, apart from the lift infrastructure, I struggled to see where the pistes in Le Tour might have run (and I've skied there a few times). I couldn't recognise anything.

I could see the runs down from La Flegere, but they looked like grassy areas through the trees. Admittedly, that was from the other side of the valley.

I know that piste-building does change the landscape. But so does huge amounts of other human activity, including farming and forestry.
Toerag - on 18 Sep 2017
In reply to mypyrex:

The thing is, if the pistes weren't there it would just be coniferous forest* which is equally environmentally-unfriendly monoculture. I think the more important issue is water retention and erosion - if the lack of trees is causing accelerated erosion then they are worse.
*The majority of coniferous forest in the alps was planted during or after the natural mixed forest was harvested to oblivion during WW2. Foresters are now trying to bring back the mixed woodland, however they have issues with climate change and economic viabilty - conifers are much more valuable to a landowner than oak and beech, however conifers need lots of water and won't do well with global warming. It's tricky to know what to plant now to harvest in 80 years' time.
tallsteve - on 18 Sep 2017
In reply to mypyrex:

Interestingly my son's girlfriend is doing an undergraduate dissertation about ski pistes, having spent three weeks tromping around a major ski area this summer collecting samples and counting species. It would be bad of me to pre-empt her findings before she has written the report, but in summary - ski pistes aren't as bad as you might think!

Much of the "science" around ski pistes seems to be done by detractors looking to prove their point of view, or based on old information from the ski resorts of the 70s. i.e. bad science. I'm sure it'll be interesting reading.

As to the look of the things - the Alpine resorts are much prettier than the Scottish ones. I think this is due to a bigger landsacpe for them to get lost in, none of those nasty picket fences running everywhere, and the ability for the areas to recover faster in the better climate that Alpine spring and summers provide.
earlsdonwhu - on 18 Sep 2017
In reply to tallsteve:

The impacts are very varied and include things like exploitation of water resources for snow cannons, build up of salts used to keep access roads clear in local streams, higher flood risk due to more impermeable surfaces and soil compaction, reduced growing season due to attempts to extend the ski season by preserving snow cover, disturbance of (hibernating) wildlife especially by off piste skiing.... As well as visual pollution. As usual there is the economic benefit of the industry in areas that would otherwise be more impoverished. Also, the social benefits of maintaining mountain communities and lessening outmigration
Doug on 18 Sep 2017
In reply to Toerag:

The natural forest just below the tree line in most of Europe is conifer dominated - Norway spruce, Silver Fir, Larch or a variety of pines depending on region - as the climate does not allow trees such as beech or oak to grow (although in some places such as the Vosges beech does form the treeline). Although the trees may be mostly one species, the understory can be very varied, especially in Larch forests which let a lot of light reach the soil. In some places these forests have been planted but not just after WW2, in France many of the upland reforestation projects date back to the 19th Century and were started to tackle erosion.
yorkshireman - on 18 Sep 2017
In reply to Doug:

As others have said it varies greatly. I live in a village at the southern end of the alps - we're at 1200m and we have a few drag lifts that go up to 1550m with about 6 ski pistes. The area is all mixed forest so no pine tree monoculture and the pistes are really grassy and are used to graze cows and sheep during the summer.

The pistes are narrow and although noticeable it's not too intrusive although if it didn't exist I probably wouldn't want to create them now (despite being a skier/snowboarder).
Doug on 18 Sep 2017
In reply to yorkshireman:

I think there's less of a problem with ski pistes at (relatively) low altitudes as the soils tend to be fertile & the climate isn't extreme so even if the vegetation cover is damaged, recovery can be reasonably quick. In such places, pistes are often also meadows some of the time. The pistes are mostly in a wooded setting so much of the infrastructure is hidden when viewing from a distance.

But at higher altitudes above the tree line, any damage tends to remain and takes serious efforts & often decades for recovery - some pistes in Scotland badly 'constructed' are still a mess despite efforts to restore them.

>The pistes are narrow and although noticeable it's not too intrusive although if it didn't exist I probably wouldn't want to create them now (despite being a skier/snowboarder).

Are your trees spaced enough for skiing ? I love off piste skiing through the larch woods in places like the Queyras

yorkshireman - on 18 Sep 2017
In reply to Doug:
> Are your trees spaced enough for skiing ? I love off piste skiing through the larch woods in places like the Queyras

https://twitter.com/FrenchAlps/status/899718832264282112

You can see the two main pistes plus main button lift in the middle above the village, all the rest are hidden. They're wide-ish in places (maybe 30-40m) but some are just 4x4 logging track-width. The station is so quiet though that it never gets crowded. There is some off-piste skiing up the valley in some of the bowls and higher areas above the tree line but not much in the trees. Lots of XC pistes through the forest tracks though.

Lots of beech and larch also (I think that's Meleze right?) mixed in with pine trees - means that autumn looks stunning here as all the colours mix.
Post edited at 16:18
Lion Bakes on 18 Sep 2017
In reply to mypyrex:

Did you walk to the Alps or fly? Let he who is without sin cast the furst stone...
Mike Rhodes - on 18 Sep 2017
In reply to mypyrex:

Great to see that you seem to have managed the TMB without too many problems. At least you only had one day blighted by ski pistes. I have had to look at them on Flegere every week for the last 6 weeks!
mypyrex - on 18 Sep 2017
In reply to Mike Rhodes:

> Great to see that you seem to have managed the TMB without too many problems.

Great to see that you seem to have managed MOST OF the TMB without too many problems.
Pleasantly surprised at my fitness post lymphoma. No aches or pains after day two and I started wondering what I had forgotten to pack in my sack. It definitely lighter as I progressed.

The guide book gave a time of two hours from Rif Elena to the Col Grand Ferret. I did it in 2:20


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