Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing … what if this was the year for Nordic activities?

The health situation and the closure of ski lifts, at least until January, accelerate the development of Nordic activities. Health, nature, the outdoors … these assets could guide the choices of the French for Christmas and the winter sports season.

The sun lights up the laughing comings and goings of a few children dragging sledges behind them. Just above their heads, on the edge of the forest, the silhouette of a group of walkers is silhouetted against the fresh snow. Further on, in the plain, a long ribbon of skiers, pair of Nordic skiers on their feet, winds between pines before disappearing behind the mountain.

It is the weekend of December 5 and a semblance of winter life is starting on the Nordic site of Glières, in Haute-Savoie, less than 20 km as the crow flies from Annecy. Authorized to open within the framework of the national confinement in force until at least December 15, the area of ​​cross-country skiing, snowshoeing … of the plateau, like other sites in France, was stormed for its first day of opening. “We are surprised to see so many people, pointe Maurice Manificat, member of the French cross-country ski team. It is a good thing for our discipline and perhaps also a real opportunity to be seized for the future. ”
Following on from a summer which has accelerated the already pronounced interest of the French in the mountains, could this winter, which will see alpine skiing condemned to start in January, be that of the Nordic disciplines?

Snowshoe hikers in the Vercors massif (Isère). Alexis Borg

Sanitary rules

Nordic France, which brings together the sites of the five French massifs at the national level, did not wait for the first snowflakes to promote the practice of cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. The national structure felt, from this fall 2020, that it had a card to play with regard to the health context.

“Access to sports and outdoor activities, a physical and mental health issue, is essential for the entire French population, diagnoses Thierry Gamot, president of Nordic France. In this context, the Nordic areas will be an asset in the resort areas, providing secure access to Nordic outdoor activities. “

If respect for health and physical distancing rules, or the absence of areas with a high density of people is the first argument put forward by Nordic France, health is the second pillar of its discourse. And it is this one that allows us to identify this growing attraction for Nordic activities. “With the confinement, there was a significant mental shock, decrypts Jean-François Devaux, consultant at the University of Lyon-1 within the UFR STAPS. People need space and Nordic skiing offers this possibility. It is a gentler practice than downhill skiing. Currently, there is an explosion in the practice of yoga and meditation, disciplines that fight against stress and promote health. Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or Nordic hiking are all part of the same dimension, emphasizing the relationship with nature. “

The former biathlon champion Marie-Laure Brunet, now a ski instructor and who works in the management of well-being and performance with companies, supports: “ With containment, there is a need to escape. Cross-country skiing is a sport accessible to all and economically inexpensive. The Nordic areas are located in privileged environments and far from noise. It is in these places that we can recharge. “

SEE ALSO – Covid-19: the French are not abandoning ski resorts

The double alpine and Nordic asset

Tourist offices have been communicating for several seasons on this dual aspect, nature and escape. The health crisis reinforces the discourse. “We continue to work on the great outdoors and the nature aspect of these activities, we retain in the structure of promotion of the valley of Clarée, in the Hautes-Alpes. On Nordic slopes, the atmosphere is cozy, far from the crowds… ”

“In the Jura, we have 400 km of slopes, we abound at the Jurassic Nordic Space. We evolve in large areas and far from queues. This is what people seem to be looking for today. “

The resorts renowned for downhill skiing but which also have a good cross-country skiing offer, confirm the enthusiasm. In Les Saisies, in Savoie, the ski lifts will remain frozen for the Christmas holidays. Professionals were able to observe through discussions with customers that they were destined to discover the Nordic region when they had originally planned downhill skiing outings.

“We can expect to have more people on the cross-country trails because the alpine ski areas are closed and people need to get some fresh air., suggests Michaël Tessard, director of the ski areas of the resort. One in two customers maintained their reservation for the Christmas holidays. And many told us that they came to learn or improve Nordic skiing. This is the occasion for a new impetus ”.

The material is democratized

This momentum, brands are supporting it today. “When we see the explosion in the practice of oudtoor sports this summer, we can imagine duplicating this model in winter”, initiates Stéphane Grosset, manager of Alpinum Events, an event agency based in the Alps. The sales figures for equipment in specialized shops tend to confirm this trend. “The Nordic is on the rise in recent years”, details Philippe Bovagnet, Nordic expert for Inovik, a Decathlon brand. He waits to consolidate the results of the first weeks of sales before quantifying this progression. “Before confinement, the figures were already good, he continues. Since the stores reopened, sales have picked up again. The trend is towards the development of the Nordic. “

Attraction for outdoor sports and well-being: these are the points that brands work on. These last five years, innovations have favored a material accessible to the greatest number of practitioners. “The practice has changed a lot, details Stéphane Mouton, Nordic expert of the Rossignol brand. We developed skis for the alternative style with synthetic skins where before we had scales. It slips more, it’s easier to handle and there are no more waxing worries. People are no longer afraid to go Nordic skiing. “ Philippe Bovagnet adds: “Skis with skins have given cross-country skiing a great boost. There is also Nordic hiking which attracts people now. Today, there are plenty of assets to make this winter one of Nordic activities. “ For the moment, the snow is there.

Nordic in practice

There are several package formats. The “National Nordic Pass”, which gives access to all French areas, costs 210 euros per year for an adult (70 euros for a young person).
This pass is available at the departmental level (approximately 120 euros) or at a station (approximately 60 euros).
The Nordic areas rarely sell half-day ski passes. You have to rely on a day pass that varies depending on the area; count between 5 and 10 euros for an adult.

  • Cross-country ski equipment and snowshoes

The rental of ski equipment can be done in sports shops or in cross-country ski centers, generally adjacent to the starting point of the slopes. The latter have prices ranging from 10 to 15 euros for a skier set (skis, boots, poles).
You can also rent snowshoes. The price per day is around 5 euros.

The ESF (French Ski School) and the ESI (International Ski School) both offer cross-country ski races. For a private lesson, it takes an average of 35 euros for one hour but the prices vary according to the number of hours and the type of lesson (skating or alternative).

Useful sites: French Ski School (ESF): https://www.esf.net; International Ski School (ESI): https://www.ecoledeski.fr/fr/; https://www.nordicfrance.fr


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