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Wednesday May 24, 2017 - Email this article to a friend

With the number of skiers declining & fears about climate change, resorts & tour operators are re-inventing themselves.

Ski areas are offering more to attract summer visitors.


Haven't there always been things to do and places to visit in the mountains outside the ski season?

Well, yes. 

But there is little doubt that even the purpose-built ski resorts and companies that have traditionally focused heavily on winter are now going for the summer market in a big way.

One goal is to bring skiers and snowboarders back once the snow has melted, so much of what's on offer is geared towards active adults and families.

Cycling is, without question, the biggest growth area and it can be found in all its forms: road biking, mountain biking, downhill biking, racing, freestyle, electric biking, or just watching biking (holidays taking in the Tour de France, for example).

The list of trips available is almost endless.

Road biking in the DolomitesRoad biking in the Dolomites - photo

PlanetSKI e-biking in the DolomitesPlanetSKI e-biking in the Dolomites

So, perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that the leading specialist travel agent Ski Solutions has been branching out from two planks to two wheels.

In the past two years it has acquired two cycling holiday companies - Cycling for Softies and Bents, which it has re-branded BSpoke Tours.

Miles Porter, the Head of Activities for the cycling brands, says they've started updating their programme and are now marketing not only to their existing cycling customers but those who book ski holidays through Ski Solutions.

He told PlanetSKI that the company had been keen to branch out "essentially to diversify and have a summer product".

"We have been very successful selling ski holidays and we think there is a crossover between people who like to go skiing and those who want more than a fly-and-flop summer holiday."

And it seems to be working so far.  Summer bookings last year were up by 25 per cent, and this year is following a similar pattern with sales currently 20 per cent higher than at the same time in 2016.

Lake Garda from TrentoCycling for Softies Süd Tirol & The Lakes tour


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From a business point of view, offering a product for which demand is growing as well as skiing (for which it is not) makes sense.

"We know the figures.  It's definitely been a stagnant market since 2008, so that's also part of the reason we decided to branch out," Miles Porter said. 

Ski resorts have taken the same approach.

"We have had a lot of  interest from tourist boards in ski resorts who want to work with us," he added. "They are really keen for us to feature tours in their area, so it's clear they're in the same situation."

Les Arcs summer 2016Les Arcs in summer

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Les Arcs
, one of the original purpose-built French ski resorts, now has almost as much going on in the summer as the winter, but it's been a long process.

"After a period of decline some fifteen years ago, we have stabilised our activity in the summer," the Director of the Tourist Office, Eric Chevalier, told PlanetSKI.

"Summer accounts for just under 20% in overnight stays of our overall activity over the year."

But he said summer in the mountains was still not "sufficiently known".

This year the resort is promising its "best-ever lift-accessed mountain bike trails" and  the "highest number of lifts open in the Tarentaise", with cycling for beginners to experts.

It has linked up with the mountain bike manufacturer, Commençal, to put on four days of bike and kit testing, competitions, concerts and other activities at the end of July.

But it's not just about cycling.

France Montagnes summer promotional imageSummer fun according to France Montagnes

Most resorts, including Les Arcs, offer a wide range of activities to attract the broadest possible clientele:  hiking, trail running, golf,  tennis,  zip wires,  rock climbing, rafting, music festivals, spas and more.

Vertical K2Vertical K2 Trail running challenge in Les Arcs

Last summer Les Arcs introduced its award-winning "Hero" passes which allow adults and children to choose the activities they want to take part with a range of prices to match.  We are told that summer turnover increased by 22 per cent as a result.

- The Tirol in Austria also has a huge summer programme

- There are a handful of glaciers in the Tirol for summer skiing

- The ski operator Inghams has an extensive summer programme

The mega resorts are catching on, but it's what many traditional alpine towns have being doing for decades, or even centuries.

Chamonix, with its climbing heritage, has always been busier in the summer than the winter.

And many of the most famous ski areas in Switzerland started out as summer alpine destinations as far back as the 19th century, long before skiing became a popular sport.

Switzerland receives more foreign visitors in the summer than in the winter, 56 per cent (in terms of overnight stays). 

Glacier walking, Aletsch, SwitzerlandGlacier walking, Aletsch, Switzerland

But traditional Swiss resorts are also expanding their summer activities.

And all ski resorts - particularly those at the lower altitudes - are seriously concerned about the threat of climate change.
The glaciers are receding and a scientific study recently warned that Europe's mountains could lose as much as 70 per cent of their snow cover by the end of the century, with winter sports possible only above 2,500 metres.

It may be the doomsday scenario but embracing summer is a good move.

"I love the mountains in the summer as much as the winter - well almost!" said the PlanetSKI editor, James Cove.

"They are staggeringly beautiful with so many more activities on offer and they are generally more relaxed and chilled out than in the winter.

"I always spend many weeks in the mountains in the summer and this year will be in the Alps and the Pyrenees as well as the Canadian Rockies."

All of us at PlanetSKI will be doing much more on summer in the mountains than we've ever done before, so watch this space!

See here for the main PlanetSKI news page with all the latest stories from the mountains.

For the Spirit of the Mountains - PlanetSKI: No1 for ski news

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