Make way, there is an SUV coming! Ski mountaineer Lionel Tassan of Volopress was surprised to find that he was forbidden from practicing his favourite sport recently by bye-laws taken by the communities of Chabottes, Saint-Jean-Saint-Nicolas and Orcières in the Hautes-Alpes department.
Environmental pressure groups, including Mountain Wilderness, have long campaigned against motorized transport including heliskiing, snow scooters and SUVs in the mountains. This year the Croisière Blanche has again been in their sights but instead of the geeks in 4x4s being told to pack their bull-bars and jerry cans it is everyone else who has been banned from the area. According to M. Tassan, “it’s the world turned upside-down, many kilometres of ski de fond tracks have been commandeered and you’ve no right to access some classic ski touring routes such as the Coupa, Barle, col de Rouanette and Grande Autanne”.
The bye-law states that:
“it is forbidden for all walkers, skiers, mountain bikers and snow shoers and anyone who is not on motorized transport to use any of the routes in use by the 28th edition of the Croisière Blanche from the 25th to the 28th of January.”
Supporters of the Croisière Blanche, including the department’s Préfet M. Patick Strzoda say that it is essential for the local economy. They claim that the SUVers are strictly controlled, keeping to some 300km of snow covered tracks. However an investigation by a reporter working for the local TV channel showed some participants leaving the approved routes and straying into sensitive areas, including river beds. Protestors have also been the subject of revenge attacks, including tire slashing, although the local Gendarmerie found no direct evidence to link this with supporters of the event.
Although limited in duration the PisteHors.com legal beagle was surprised at the scope of the ban, especially considering that motor sports on closed mountain roads are normally forbidden in France. However the local economic interest may take precedence and this is clearly the opinion of the Préfet.