"Puliamo il mondo meets BeyondSnow in Balme (TO)"
The flagship activity of Puliamo il Mondo (Clean up the World) in Piedmont will take place in Balme as part of the European project "BeyondSnow: New Life for Old Winter Tourism Resorts."
What is the future of mountain tourism in times of climate crisis? How do we reckon with the risks (but also the opportunities) that rising temperatures pose to the Alpine mountain slopes?
In the Alpine region, average temperatures have already increased by about 2°C in the last century, and this trend is accelerating. Another 2°C increase is expected, even in the most conservative scenarios, by the middle of this century. The Alps are one of the so-called 'hotspots' of climate change, with changes that are roughly 50% more pronounced than what is measured or expected globally. These are significant changes capable of altering landscapes through changes in vegetation, as well as modifying water availability due to different patterns of rainfall and snowfall, and a progressive shift in the snowmelt season, resulting in a longer warm season, increased rainfall at the expense of snowfall, and a greater potential for erosion and hydrogeological instability triggered by precipitation.
These changes are occurring much faster than what would typically happen under natural variability, but fortunately, they are not so rapid as to prevent the implementation of climate adaptation actions. Many effects, however, have already manifested, catching operators and communities off guard, particularly with the crisis and closure of winter tourism resorts at lower elevations.
For Piedmont, the chosen project partner area is the Val d'Ala, encompassing the localities of Ala di Stura and Balme. The municipalities in Val d'Ala, part of the Graian Alps, are rich in springs and a wide variety of alpine habitats, making them an attractive destination for hiking and mountaineering tourism. In recent years, the appealing factors, especially in the winter season, have evolved: while alpine skiing has inevitably diminished, activities such as snowshoeing and ice climbing have gained popularity.
During the summers, however, there is a transient tourism that contributes little to the valley's development and has significant environmental impacts, including heavy weekend traffic and littering in picnic areas. The local administration, through courageous decisions like restricting motorized tourist activities, has chosen to base the future prospects of the municipality on preserved nature and the traditional landscape. This virtuous example has earned Balme the 'green flag' from Legambiente in 2023.
Dismantling obsolete and dilapidated structures is just the first step in a path that can and must still be imagined to avoid replacing the 'consumerist' tourism of the late 20th century with abandonment, along with the associated risks of degradation, loss of cultural and ecological values, and economic opportunities. The journey to envision a possible revival of Val d'Ala begins today with a public cleanup initiative in the highlands, open to residents, tourists, and mountain community operators.
Leading the BeyondSnow on tour stage were Alice De Marco, director of Legambiente Piemonte and Valle d'Aosta; Anna Rinaldi, Città Metropolitana di Torino official; Gianni Castagneri, Mayor of Balme; and Vanda Bonardo, President of CIPRA Italia. The project was presented, outlining its goals and objectives for a three-year collaboration among national and international partners, and initial suggestions were gathered.
Among the participants at the meeting were Gianpiero Perucca, Councillor of Ala di Stura, and representatives of various other local entities, with whom the project's journey was intended to be shared, starting with identifying strengths to leverage, as well as weaknesses and obstacles to overcome, if possible, or to avoid exceeding the limits, to protect the extraordinary ecological and environmental richness characterizing Pian della Mussa, Balme, and Ala di Stura.
"Our mountains are changing: very little snow, later snowfall, and wetter, heavier snow," says Alice De Marco, director of Legambiente Piemonte and Valle d'Aosta. "It's the end of an era, but it must be accompanied by a new sustainable way of thinking about tourism along with a new cultural approach. That's why it's crucial to support the good practices that are emerging in our mountains. Our association, as part of the BeyondSnow project, has the role of promoting awareness, organizing awareness and dissemination activities regarding the themes of ecological transition in alpine or pre-alpine territories, spreading good practices, and providing support to local authorities, local administrations, and communities in building a participatory path that discusses concrete, sustainable, and fair solutions. This event is one of the stages of the BeyondSnow on tour, the project's roadshow."
"The choice to identify the municipalities of Ala di Stura and Balme as case studies for the BeyondSnow project seems significant and well-founded," emphasizes Metropolitan Councillor Sonia Cambursano, responsible for productive activities, economic development, and tourism. "Analyses of the prospects of these two localities can find practical applications to ensure the protection and valorization of Alpine valley resources. In our metropolitan city, which firmly pursues integration between large urban areas and highlands, we need to move beyond a tourist development model in which the mountains are, depending on the case, either the distant and impoverished periphery or the metropolis's playground. Our mountains don't need fleeting tourists or, probably, remote workers who can work anywhere, whether in the city, by the sea, or in the mountains. What they need are people who live and work in the mountains even when tourists are absent – individuals who build tourism that cares about the environment and those who inhabit it, taking care of the territory, its pastures, cultivated lands, forests, watercourses, and services for the local population."