I have (lucky me!) been on holiday for the last two weeks. Skiing in the France. We spent the first week in Le Seignus d’Allos; a small, off-the-beaten-track resort in the Southern Alps, where we once ran our ski lodge. We’ve always rather liked the empty pistes, the cranky old lifts, the slightly ‘take it or leave it’ attitude of the locals and had a great week exploring our old haunts.
We then went up to the Northern Alps to join my brother-in-law and his family who were skiing in Tignes. The first time we’ve skied anywhere other than the Val d’Allos in over ten years and it was a bit of a shock! Tignes is something else. Part of the massive, super slick Espace Killy; snow sure, with year-round skiing on the Grand Motte glacier; 300 km of pistes and nearly 100 lifts.
So, why am I telling you about this, apart from the joy of revelling in my recent break?!
Well, it goes back to Bernard Donoghue (Weekly blog 20 March) and his tips for successful heritage sites.
We all (one expert piste skier; one all-mountain skier; one junior thrill-seeker and one slightly wobbly dare-devil 7 year old) preferred Le Seignus …
People. Stories. Emotional connection.
The visitor experience of Tignes was magnificent. Lifts everywhere you might possibly need them; beautiful snow; a feeling of being cossetted. Slick. Professional. Safe. BUT, is that really all skiing is about? What about sense of place, people and stories? What about risk and emotion?
In ‘our’ resort we know the stories of the mountains because we’ve spoken to the people who inhabit them. We know something of the history of skiing and about how the resistance operated in the war because our neighbours were there. We greet people on the pistes, in the ski shops, in the restaurants with cheek-kisses. Our children reminisce about their French school and their favourite parts of the mountains. Our neighbours reminisce “that they saw our children born” (qu’ils les ont vu naître).
We love that it’s undiscovered and slightly unloved. Ask anyone English ski-fan about the Val d’Allos or the Espace Lumière and they won’t have a clue. Everyone’s heard of Tignes and Espace Killy. We love that there are no queues; that the lifts are a bit temperamental; that the skiing is limited but challenging; that the locals still wear their (now slightly snug!) loud 1980s all-in-one ski outfits; that people stop to chat (well, to be fair, the children do get a bit annoyed with that!).
So, what does this teach us for heritage sites?
1. Grow the love of special places
2. People not stuff
3. Tell stories
4. Get the right balance between more people (£££) and spirit of place (♥♥♥)
5. Flashy kit isn’t everything …
Thanks for reading – back to work next week!