Enduring Benefits of Endurance Races

A map of the trail, which spans a section of the alps in both Italy and Switzerland (Source: Trace de Trail).
A map of the trail, which spans a section of the alps in both Italy and Switzerland (Source: Trace de Trail).

Sporting events, both major and minor, can have significant impacts on host communities. A recent study published by Stefano Duglio and Riccardo Beltramo in the journal Sustainability examines the social and economic impacts of CollonTrek, a mountain endurance race in the Italian and Swiss Alps. The results reveal that this minor event generates significant economic benefits for the host communities and the wider area, while indirect benefits include the extension of the summer tourist season.

CollonTrek is held bi-annually on the first weekend of September. The last race occurred in 2015, and the next will be held on September 8-9th of this year. Participants compete in pairs (they register in pairs and both participants have to cross the finish line), traversing 22 km on foot between Valpelline in Italy, and the Val D’Herens in Switzerland. The trail follows a centuries-old path through the Pennine Alps used by smugglers, ending in the municipality of Arolla in Switzerland.

The trail crosses a variety of terrains, from mountain paths, hiking paths, roads, and the Arolla Glacier. The path across the glacier accounts for about one-sixth of the race, making the CollonTrek more challenging. Participants require special equipment such as crampons— metal plates with spikes fixed to a boot for walking on ice— to cross the glacier.

Participants in the CollonTrek have to cross the Arolla Glacier using crampons (Source: MattW / Creative Commons).
Participants in the CollonTrek have to cross the Arolla Glacier using crampons (Source: MattW/Creative Commons).

Events like CollonTrek are considered minor events, as they generate relatively little media interest, limited economic activity (compared to major events like the Olympics or tennis grand slam tournaments), and do not attract large crowds of spectators. Spectators do not pay to watch the race, but economic benefits accrue to host communities due to expenditure on accommodation, food and fuel.

The researchers used a combination of official data from the CollonTrek organization and a survey of 180 athletes who took part in the 2015 race to evaluate the economic and social impacts of the race. The data revealed that €11,000 (about $11,637) of public funds invested by the host municipalities generated revenue of about €200,000 (about $214,000). Around a third of this amount accrued directly to host communities.

Indirect economic benefits arise because of increased visibility of the host regions. For example, foreign participants who made up more than two-thirds of the participants surveyed expressed a desire to return to the area for tourism in the future. This event also extends the summer tourist season into September, generating more tourist revenue.

The trail crosses a variety of terrains in the Pennine Alps (Source: Pierre Thomas/Creative Commons).
The trail crosses a variety of terrains in the Pennine Alps (Source: Pierre Thomas/Creative Commons).

In conversation with GlacierHub, Duglio explained that this increase in tourism activity also helps to sustain the livelihoods of these communities, reducing depopulation of the mountain regions and helping to maintain their way of life. The race also had the effect of improving community pride, as reported by local athletes who constituted nearly a third of participants surveyed.

Climate change could affect certain segments of the race, particularly as Arolla Glacier has been retreating over the past century. “Climate change will not have much influence on the [rest of the] race, even if the passage on the glacier gives a very particular attraction to this race,” said Christian, a member of the organizing committee. “This race segment will simply be reduced if the glacier shrinks.”

Duglio also stated, “The most important aspect [of climate change] that the organizing committee will have to take into account for the future is related to the participants’ safety both in terms of mountain paths and weather conditions. We do not think, however, that climate change will bring these kind of races to a stop, at least not in the coming years.”

The research, though limited to a specific event, suggests that minor sporting events represent a form of economically and socially sustainable sports tourism activity.

Registration for the race opened last Saturday, and as Christian informed GlacierHub, “The best way to understand the race is to participate. It is an extraordinary adventure.” Check out CollonTrek’s Facebook page for more information.

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