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How is skiing affecting the Environment:Tourism in Chamonix

Updated on November 21, 2015

Chamonix Background

Chamonix is a year-round resort near the Mer de Glace which attracts many tourists through its wide range of attractions at the resort. Many from all over the world come to ski, snowboard and rock climb etc.


1 million people come in the winter to see the sights of the snow covered mountains and also to ski on slopes ranging in difficulty. Chamonix offers more than just skiing with many attractions such as rock climbing which attracts 20,000 people per year ,even more come to spectate the annual Tour de France also an activity increasing in popularity is paragliding as the conditions are near perfect with a low altitude, warm air currents and steep sides make it ideal. Recently in Chamonix a new attraction has been made ,the sky walk which is a glass platform that enables the visitor to see all around you as well has helping inexperienced rock climbers experience the thrill of climbing high mountains. One of the big attractions is the Aguille de midi which is a walk on top of the mountain which is situated at 12,602 ft.; being able to go this high is an attraction in itself as most people will never have stood this high before.

Also Chamonix is renowned for its attractive buildings, shopping and restaurants. Chamonix’s attractive buildings are welcoming and combined with flags and a good general atmosphere allow the visitors to settle in and get the full experience of a mountain side village. Also with shops such as north face and ski rental equipment it allows tourists to be able to buy or hire ski gear as well as providing more luxury brands to attract even more tourists. Another marvellous attraction of Chamonix is the ability to walk inside a glacier as this cannot be done elsewhere and is quite mind boggling to witness in real life.

A view of skiers gliding down the picturesque landscape.
A view of skiers gliding down the picturesque landscape. | Source

Environmental Impacts

With Chamonix becoming more and more popular it will have adverse effects on the environment the biggest being pollution, it is a well-known fact that Chamonix is home to some of the highest air pollution levels in France with figures such as 17 micrograms per cubic metre (for PM10s, fine particulate pollution) which is significantly higher than the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard of 12 micrograms per cubic metre. The main cause of pollution at Chamonix is the pollution produced by the cars tourists have either brought with them or rented; the pollution is so bad because the polluted air stays at ground level due to temperature inversion. Also, due to the tourists, because the roads in Chamonix are narrow and not ideal for tourist traffic, they become jammed easily with cars and in peak times of the year become congested and produce even more pollution.

Another issue is that large areas need to be deforested to create space for ski runs and ski lifts, but trees are important in preventing soil erosion and avalanches. Which inevitably bites them in the back as the management team have to regulate areas which are prone to avalanches by using explosives to prevent them from occurring. Skiing off piste causes on average 10 avalanches a year which is a considerable amount when you take into account that 100 occur naturally. This happens because skiing disturbs layers of snow that are not properly stuck to one another, causing the avalanches to occur, as the layers slide over one another.

However in Chamonix the government are trying to combat these issues by encouraging visitors to use other forms of transport while they are at the resort instead of taking the car as they are offering free public transport.

Social Impacts

A problem arising from the tourists is that housing in Chamonix is very expensive with chalets being priced at upwards of 1 million pounds, this is because people from Britain have come to France to buy second homes which they may use for only a few weeks per annually. This means there is a lack of affordable housing for locals and people working there. So many workers are forced to live away from the town and commute into the city everyday but without dedicated/affective travel systems such as the London underground. Also many shops are orientated around tourists so generally will be more expensive and will make the living cost higher for those in the area. Also the availability of jobs is an issue for workers as many jobs are seasonal and workers may have to get 2 to 3 jobs a year as there is not much consistency due to the climate and conditions. There will also be social exclusion in Chamonix as people who have been living there as the introduction of expensive shops and restaurants will make the residents who have been living there feel as if they cannot go there as not many people are able to spend a lot on a regular basis.

On the other hand the government is trying to help combat these problems regarding housing to locals by giving workers housing in the area exclusive to them at a much cheaper price. Also there have been schemes set up to give training to younger people to enable to get them more jobs. Employers are trying to give more locals jobs instead of taking advantage of cheaper labour such as polish or eastern European nationals.

Economic Impacts

Since Chamonix is a resort for tourism this only allows for low paid seasonal jobs which makes it hard for the residents earn enough income to live in the area. However the money made from tourism is invested back into the town and will boost the local economy. As the town increases in popularity the prices for everyday necessitates go up such as groceries, clothes etc. This makes life harder for the locals as it raises the cost of living. Since there are many second home owners this makes the price of housing and land go up which will drive small businesses out of business so they can be replaced by larger businesses capable of paying the high rent. Also the land is being bought by hotel owners to make way for hotels and make land even scarcer.

A lack of snow could cause it to go into decline as conditions will not be acceptable to ski on so will deter tourists from coming as there are many resorts at a higher altitude with better conditions. Also ski resort is in need of constant repair and costly infrastructure and safety measures. Which can drain resources and money.

Although there are many negatives to tourists coming a positive is that they attract tourists all year round and from all parts of the globe ;this means they can invest it back again into the town and developing it to make it more sustainable and also boost the area’s economy.

Smog due to Chamonix's very high pollution levels
Smog due to Chamonix's very high pollution levels | Source

What is most important?

What is more important?

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How can we manage these impacts?

The town of Chamonix is trying to manage the tourism as well as the needs of the 15,000 + residents, and being able to cater to both of their needs. Also preserving the areas natural beauty is on their agenda as it is becoming more and more urbanised and retaining that sense of natural beauty is vital for them to be able to attract visitors.

The council of Chamonix is now encouraging young people to learn multiple skills, so they need not be dependent on one job throughout the year. Also, the council is subsidising some homes in Chamonix for people who work there, so they will stay. More jobs are being created for those whom live there. So this will enable the workers to stay in the area and keep the shops, ski runs running smoothly throughout the course of the year.

There are speed restrictions on cars in Chamonix, to reduce pollution. There is also free public transport for tourists to encourage them to use it, not their cars. €72 million have been spent upgrading the trains to and from Chamonix. There is free electric bike hire. The trains are unlikely to be used, as the buses work well. However plans are being made to improve these train networks into Chamonix to attract people to use them instead of cars. The speed restrictions may well make some cars less efficient, increasing pollution.

There is avalanche risk monitoring artificial avalanches are set off with explosions, to reduce the chance of an avalanche occurring when people are present. Even after this areas which are deemed too dangerous will be shut down to the general public which is bad for Chamonix as it will mean less people skiing which means less money.

To prevent avalanches disrupting traffic, avalanche-proof tunnels have been built when roads are near risk areas, so the snow would just pile up on top of the roof of the tunnel. The avalanche tunnels seem to work well.

However, all this costs money, which has to be either made up for by increased tourism or taxes, neither of which the residents of Chamonix want.

Enough management?

Has enough been done to manage Chamonix?

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Video giving a background of Chamonix

© 2015 Zain Ishtiaq


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