Posted on: 2023-12-18 09:31:35 by davidof

Ski resorts without ski lifts

A ski resort without ski lifts? It has already been tried in the USA with Bluebird which opened in 2020 and shut after three seasons. Now the Europeans are trying the same. “Homeland” is located at 1900 meters altitude at the alpine village of Montespluga. A near 3 hour drive from Milan along the east side of lake Como then up a long road towards the frontier with Switzerland. The hair pinned climb has coach houses every few turns, used to change horses before motor transport as exhausted animals pulled their carriages up the steep climb.

The aim of Homeland is to revitalize the village surrounded by 3000 meter peaks. It offers eleven marked routes. You’ll be able to hire ski touring and safety gear for the day for €65 or just skis, boots and climbing skins for €55.

Homeland is the brainchild of Tommaso Luzzana and Paolo Pichielo who run a Milan based events agency. Dedicated ski tourers they’d read about Bluebird Backcountry in the USA and thought they could do the same in Italy at a village they knew. Mountain 360 Guides was brought onboard to run ski touring introduction and mountain safety courses and the only hotel in the village will open during the winter months, a first since the 1960s when the village even had a ski lift.

Did the Europeans get here first?

In 2018 the SKIALP project was launched. Based around the Grand-St-Bernard pass and fully financed by the EU it offers 31 ski touring routes on the Italian side of the border and 10 in the Swiss Valais with shuttle busses to transport skiers as well as bivouacs for ski tourers, beacon checkpoints and a dedicated app. The project claims skiable snow from November to June. However this is not a pure play backcountry area. The village of Saint-Rhémy-en-Bosses in the Aoste has some ski lifts and special passes will be available to ski tourers to use the region's lifts.  For the more adventurous a new “haute-route” is proposed by local guides over 6 legs from Saint-Rhémy-en-Bosses in Italy to Bourg-St-Pierre in Switzerland. The project had a difficult start due to Covid 19.

Many European resorts already feature marked ski touring routes which enable beginners to get into the sport or for people on a week’s ski trip to try something different. Some ski areas have already tried to diversify into ski touring. Puigmal in the Western Pyrenees, which shut in 2013 but reopened for the 2021/22 season with marked touring and snowshoeing has had to close due to energy costs. The resort had abandoned snow making but had kept lifts running. Le Semnoz near lake Annecy and St Hilaire du Touvet in the Chartreuse have also shut down. Both areas are popular with ski tourers but could no longer afford to run ski lift infrastructure.

One thing is clear, the 100 or so ski tourers that Homeland attracts to the area may support a low cost operation: a hotel, ski hire, guides but won’t enable large downhill ski areas with their multiple hotels, restaurants and businesses to convert to a more sustainable model.

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