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Guides and climate change

Climate change is here. Since the start of the industrial era, in around 1850, the annual average temperature in Chamonix, and in the Alps more broadly, has risen by 2 degrees, which is twice as rapid as the average warming for the Northern hemisphere as a whole. The Mont Blanc Massif and the Alps are extremely delicate natural habitats and, as a consequence, are much more severely affected. The spectacular melting of the glaciers, a drop in snowfall, rock falls, and harm to the habitats of animal and plant species, all mean that mountain guides are on the frontline.

The strength of these phenomena constitutes an unprecedented challenge to adapt for mountain guides, who are faced with extremely rapid changes in their working environment. Today, a strategy based on an evolution in the seasonal nature of work brings a more tailored response. In this vein, summer activities are now increasingly being practised in spring. However, based on the current situation, in the years and decades to come the need to rethink how we practise mountain sports and create a new collective inventiveness will become unavoidable.

In 2021, as part of its 200th anniversary celebrations, the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix, in partnership with the Syndicat National des Guides de Montagne (France’s mountain guides’ union), the Chamonix mayor’s office and the Office Français de la Biodiversité published a summary document about the evolution of the profession of mountain guide in the context of global warming. ‘Mountain guides and climate change: a history of adaptation’ was written by Brad Carlson, a researcher at CREA (the centre for research on mountain ecosystems, based in Chamonix) and member of the Compagnie, Ludovic Ravanel, a researcher at CNRS (the French national centre for scientific research) and also member of the Compagnie, and Yann Borgnet, a researcher at the University of Grenoble and mountain guide. This fun document with great illustrations is aimed at a general readership, and is available online and as a free booklet from the maison de la montagne in Chamonix, the Aiguilles Rouge nature reserve visitors centre, in mountain huts across Haute Savoie, and tourist offices in Savoie and Haute Savoie. Now, this document is only available in French but will be available in English in summer 2022.