The Skiable Landscape

In this photographic survey, the Dutch photographer exalts the radical changes in the landscape of the French Alps over the last fifty years, as a result of the immense growth of winter sports tourism.

I'm not a skier. I live in a low, flat country. So far I had been in the mountains only during summer holidays. Of course I had seen pictures of mountains in wintertime, mostly in advertisements for ski holidays. These images usually presented small groups of skiers sliding through a peaceful winter wonderland, or young men making spectacular jumps in a bare mountain region where no man seemed to have ever been before. In the evenings they seemed to enjoy a luxury life in picturesque chalets, covered with thick layers of snow.

My first visit to the mountains in wintertime had nothing to do with winter sports; I just came to visit friends who had settled in the French Alps. More visits followed and it became unavoidable that one day I would find myself standing on the front de neige of a French ski resort, amidst cheerful skiers and noisy ski lifts.

From this first visit on I was — and still am — astonished by the industrial scale of what is supposed to be a leisure activity: the machinery that is needed to get all these people up and the ant-like crawling of the skiers coming down the slopes; entire cities built to house, feed and entertain them; and all this in a spectacular winter wonderland setting.

What also struck me is the strange mix of careful planning and architectural wild-west: some resorts are beautifully designed to fit in their natural surroundings, while others are nothing more than a clutter of chalet-style buildings that, notwithstanding their so-called traditional architecture, have no relationship with the original landscape at all.
Top: Goos van der Veen, <i>The Skiable Landscape</i>: Les Deux Alpes, Isère department, France. Above: Goos van der Veen, i>The Skiable Landscape</i>: Les Arcs, ski resort located in Savoie, France, in the Tarentaise Valley town of Bourg-Saint-Maurice
Top: Goos van der Veen, The Skiable Landscape : Les Deux Alpes, Isère department, France. Above: Goos van der Veen, i>The Skiable Landscape: Les Arcs, ski resort located in Savoie, France, in the Tarentaise Valley town of Bourg-Saint-Maurice
There is, and always has been, a lot of debate about the good and the bad sides of this mass tourism, about the burden that it is laying on the previously sparsely inhabited mountain areas versus the prosperity it brought to the region. It cannot be denied that skiing is a great pleasure for so many people, and allows them to break away from everyday worries. Nor can it be denied that the rise of the winter sports tourism gave the region's economy, severely lagging behind in the post-war years, a tremendous boost. But it also can't be denied that the infrastructure needed for this mass tourism hurts the delicate ecology and the landscape of the mountains, and that the change from agriculture to commercial service industry has almost inevitably affected or even destroyed many of the traditions that existed among the people who lived there.
Goos van der Veen, <i>The Skiable Landscape</i>, Avoriaz,  French mountain resort in the heart of the Portes du Soleil
Goos van der Veen, The Skiable Landscape , Avoriaz, French mountain resort in the heart of the Portes du Soleil
I strongly believe, that, as a photographer, I have to be humble. These are complex dilemmas, and I am not in the position to decide what is wrong or what is right. I can only observe, with a distant — albeit personal — view, and show the things that have struck me. It is the power of photography that it can intensify views, thus feeding thoughts, and keeping the debates alive.

With all this in mind I travelled through the French Alps for five separate weeks, in the winters from January 2010 till January 2012, and in the summer of 2010. My focus was the landscape, and how it was affected by the ski tourism industry. My vantage point was the idealistic views presented by the advertising photographs; the result is simply what I found, in all its beauty and all its ugliness.

I chose to name my series The Skiable Landscape , as it has been the ability to be skied upon that has been decisive for the fate of many mountain areas. Goos van der Veen
My vantage point was the idealistic views presented by the advertising photographs; the result is simply what I found, in all its beauty and all its ugliness

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