Navigation – Plan du site

AccueilDossiers111-1Geography of the Conflict Potenti...

Geography of the Conflict Potential of the Projected La Clusaz—Le Grand Bornand Ski Link Via the Tête du Danay

Amandine Troiano et Lionel Laslaz
Cet article est une traduction de :
Controverses autour d’une liaison. Géographie du potentiel conflictuel à travers le projet d’équipement du Danay (La Clusaz — Le Grand Bornand) [fr]


Cet article propose de s’intéresser à un vieux projet, qui ne constitue pas nécessairement une controverse « vive » mais qui fut remis au centre des débats par le SCoT Fier-Aravis en 2019. Il s’agit de la liaison entre les domaines skiables de La Clusaz et du Grand Bornand par le Danay, dans le massif des Aravis. Ce secteur actuellement non équipé permettrait d’afficher un vaste domaine relié, en mesure de concurrencer en partie d’autres dans les Alpes du Nord. Mais ce projet, outre les interrogations sur l’intermittence des discussions le concernant et sa faisabilité, suscite des contestations environnementales dans un massif considéré comme peu équipé jusqu’alors. Dès lors, il s’avère intéressant pour questionner la notion de potentiel conflictuel — dont cet article se propose de jeter les bases — et les risques de survenue d’un conflit environnemental si la liaison venait à se formaliser davantage. Outre la valeur heuristique de la notion, l’article permet de s’interroger de manière distanciée sur les formes de « fuite en avant » dénoncées par les opposants à ce genre d’extension, car d’autres projets d’équipements peuvent en découler. Cette même opposition est révélatrice d’un processus de territorialisation, replaçant la phase de consultation d’un document de planification tel que le SCoT comme un temps d’analyse des dynamiques conflictuelles et potentiellement d’évolution de la gouvernance locale. Le potentiel conflictuel s’exprime alors par la capacité d’entraînement ou de mobilisation que peut catalyser ce type de projet contre lui, structurant des collectifs jusqu’alors dispersés et peu fédérés.

Haut de page

Notes de l’auteur

This analysis is the result of a research carried out in 2021. Since then, numerous developments have affected the project to link La Clusaz and Le Grand Bornand, as well as the SCoT Fier-Aravis. For the time being, the project was officially abandoned in January 2023. Nevertheless, the results put forward in this analysis remain valid, and the notion of potential conflict also remains relevant.

Texte intégral

1The ski resorts of La Clusaz and Le Grand Bornand, and their eponymous municipalities, are part of the Thônes Valley Joint Local Authority (Communauté de Communes de la Vallée de Thônes, CCVT) in the Haute-Savoie département of France. Both resorts are in the Aravis Mountains (figure 1). Having been associated with skiing since the early decades of the twentieth century, they fall within the “first generation” category in Knafou’s (1978) typology of ski resorts. First-generation resorts are recognizable by the continuity between an existing village and its winter sports infrastructure, generally installed by local private investors.

Figure 1. Location of the Tête de Danay in the Aravis Mountains and the municipalities affected by the projected ski link

Figure 1. Location of the Tête de Danay in the Aravis Mountains and the municipalities affected by the projected ski link

© A. Troiano, 2021.

2The Aravis Mountains’ three ski resorts are currently separate, with each having its own ski area and a locally controlled tourism sector. Figure 2 shows each resort’s altitude, size, and snow-making capacity.

Figure 2. Characteristics of the ski resorts in the Aravis Mountains


Bottom altitude

Top altitude

Size of the ski area

Number of ski lifts

Vertical transport meters per hour

Number of ski trails

Kilometers of ski trails

Number of snow cannons

Percentage of the area covered by artificial snow

La Clusaz – Manigod

1100 m

2600 m

375 ha







Le Grand Bornand

935 m

2050 m

352 ha








950 m

1020 m

2 ha







© A. Troiano, 2021. Source: Presentation report, decision document, Fier-Aravis SCoT, 2019.

  • 1 Montagne Leaders, no 2080, September-October 2020.
  • 2 We adopted this season as our reference season because the Covid-19 pandemic cut short the 2019-202 (...)
  • 3 The map includes Manigod, even though it is not directly involved in the Danay project, because the (...)
  • 4 Data compiled by Agence Savoie Mont Blanc (regional tourist board), 2021.

3La Clusaz and Le Grand Bornand recorded 1.713 million skier days1 during the 2018–2019 season,2 14% of the total for Haute-Savoie. Their large number of tourist beds (commercial plus non-commercial) also indicates the thriving nature of the tourism sector: In 2021, the four villages had 63,993 tourist beds, with 23,909 beds in La Clusaz, 25,153 in Le Grand Bornand, and the remainder in Manigod3 and Saint-Jean-de-Sixt.4 The growth in tourism has led to an increase in-built density, largely through the construction of individual chalets in the Aravis’ villages.

4La Clusaz’s and Le Grand Bornand’s ski areas are currently unconnected, separated by a mountain called the Tête du Danay (1731 m.), which lies on the boundary between the two municipalities. Proposals to link the two villages/ski areas via the Tête du Danay have been put forward on several occasions but have never come to fruition. However, the project reemerged when the Fier-Aravis Territorial Development Plan (Schéma de Cohérence Territoriale, SCoT) was revised between 2015 and 2019. This most recent version of the project is included in the Fier-Aravis SCoT as a “new structuring tourism unit” (Unité Touristique Nouvelle Structurante, UTNS) aimed at creating a fully linked “Grand Domaine Aravis” ski area. The new lifts on the Tête du Danay, which is currently devoid of skiing infrastructure, would replace the shuttle bus between the two villages and, according to the project’s supporters, enable them to attract a more international clientele.

5Because projects to extend ski areas are now quite rare, they are more noticeable, more frequently criticized, and more strongly opposed, generally on environmental grounds, than during the days when they came “one after the other.” The requirement to include such projects in municipal and inter-municipal development plans (plans local d’urbanisme, PLUs) and in territorial development plans (SCoTs), set out in France’s Mountain Act of 2016, further increases their exposure, as shown by the appeals against the Maurienne SCoT (see Conclusion). At a time of intense debate over issues such as the “all-skiing” economy, skiing’s economic importance to mountain communities, climate change, and artificial snow, the Tête du Danay project encapsulates the question of how mountain areas should evolve.

6The present paper contributes to the field of political and environmental geography (Laslaz, 2017) and “geocontroversy” (Laslaz, 2005). It also provides insights into conflict phenomena, that is, “the characteristics and processes of an ensemble of conflictual situations in an area (people involved, types of manifestation, duration, intensity, media coverage, spatial frequency). The geographical study of conflictuality involves analyzing the social, spatial, and temporal dynamics of opposition in which a space is either the object, medium, or symbol of this opposition, or impacted by it (Cadoret, 2012). Without going into the structural or historical determinants of conflictuality, ski resorts have long had a tense relationship with the issue of environmental protection and have therefore generated innumerable controversies (Laslaz, 2016). Environmental conflict “describes a strong opposition between actors, expressed via different levels of violence, that are triggered by a facility, infrastructure, or protection policy (projected or implemented) that modifies a familiar (daily, weekly, seasonal) environment (in the wide sense) for actors who use the environment or who live near it. Hence, conflict is local and regional and implies a co-presence” (Laslaz, 2020). But conflict is not always expressed, tangible, and pre-existing; it may be latent, underlying, and ready to ignite at the merest spark. This is why it is interesting to study a situation’s “conflict potential,” that is, a conflict’s precursors and the risks of it occurring. The Tête du Danay project’s conflict potential was revealed during the public consultation process and by the creation of protest groups.

7How did the revised Fier-Aravis SCoT resurrect the project to connect La Clusaz to Le Grand Bornand via the Tête du Danay? And, going beyond the potential for conflict over the project’s impact on the environment and land use, how did it become a conflict between differing representations of what the projected facilities symbolize and thereby lead to a process of territorialization on several scales?

8We addressed these questions by combining analyses of public inquiry and other documents relating to the SCoT, with field work (photographs) and with the results of 14 semi-structured interviews with local actors (farmers, local councilors, municipal planning officer, départemental planning officer, citizens’ groups, etc.). The fact that we had difficulty obtaining the interviews, with potential interviewees refusing our requests, not replying to requests, or insisting they were held out-of-sight, also demonstrates the subject’s controversial nature. All quotations from the interviews have been anonymized.

The Tête du Danay Link, a Sleeping Dog Awoken by the Fier-Aravis SCoT

9The idea of creating a ski connection between the two resorts has existed for several decades. Combining the Tête du Danay link with a ski-lift connection to the valley floor has strengthened the argument in favor of the most recent project.

An Off-On Project That Has Weighed on Local Debates for Decades

10A link between the two resorts via the Tête du Danay “is already there” (citizen’s group, March 1, 2021). It takes several forms (walking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing) and uses a forest track created by the three municipalities (figure 3). But it does not have “the effect of a linked ski area” (planning department official, March 22, 2021) because “we’re not in the Three Valleys” (id.).

Figure 3. The Tête du Danay: a strategic point between the two ski areas

Figure 3. The Tête du Danay: a strategic point between the two ski areas

© A. Troiano, 2023.

11Proposals to upgrade the existing connection go back many years. From the first joint plan, translated into several languages for the 1966–1967 season, to the creation of the Aravis Ski Pass and shuttle-bus service in 1984–1985, the Aravis’ resorts have attempted to follow the trends triggered by France’s Plan Neige winter tourism development program. Although Le Grand Bornand’s mayor announced a “go-ahead in 1985–1986 and delivery in 1987-88” (Boutry, 1983–1984), the connection remained in abeyance until it was updated and included in the UTNS along the timeline shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Timeline for the revision of the Fier-Aravis SCoT

Figure 4. Timeline for the revision of the Fier-Aravis SCoT

© A. Troiano, 2021.

12The Tête du Danay project is reminiscent of the currently suspended proposal to link La Clusaz’s and Le Grand Bornand’s golf courses. Indeed, our interviewees sometimes referred to the project’s on-off nature, calling it an issue that “keeps rearing its ugly head” and a “seasonal event” (planning department officer, March 17, 2021), or as an idea that “keeps coming round” (citizens group, March 1, 2021). This citizens’ group was formed to oppose the SCoT’s overall tourism development program, decided in 2019, before the public inquiry on the revised SCoT was held (December 7, 2019, to January 8, 2020). This inquiry beat all records in France, attracting 2,963 submissions (physical and online). The citizens’ group invited the project’s opponents to a meeting in Thônes in January 2020, which was attended by 400 people, including representatives of environmental protection groups, whose opinions can impact government thinking and vice versa (Mountain Wilderness, 2019).

The Desire to Create a Fully Linked Ski Area in a Context Some People Consider Unsuitable

13The initial project included four ski lifts, two of which were on the La Clusaz side, connecting the Tête du Danay to the center of the village and to the La Balme sector of the ski area (figure 5). However, Saint-Jean-de-Sixt withdrew from the project, thereby ending the ambition of turning the village into the “gateway to the future Grand Domaine Aravis” (SCoT Fier-Aravis, 2019) (figure 3).

Figure 5. Positions of the projected ski lifts as seen from Pointe de Beauregard, 2021

Figure 5. Positions of the projected ski lifts as seen from Pointe de Beauregard, 2021

Solid red lines: the routes proposed for the connecting ski lifts. Dashed black line: the route of the projected lift from Saint-Jean-de-Sixt, now discarded from the project.

Photo and montage © A. Troiano, May 2021.

14Nevertheless, the remaining part of the project, connecting La Clusaz to Le Grand Bornand, reawakened the desire to “offer a more attractive product, notably with respect to the standards of international competition” (CCVT, 2019) “in a largely globalized tourism economy” (id.) in which “the area’s connectedness, that is its capacity to be linked and its capacity to integrate the network of exchanges, is an important condition for its development” (id.). The ski trails served by the new lifts would allow the resorts to create a ski product with 212 km of fully linked trails over a new high point. This would be “a major step up” for the resorts (Fier-Aravis SCoT, 2019) and allow them to “market a larger ski area” (councilor, March 23, 2021). Being able to market the resort as having a much larger ski area is one of the main argument arguments put forward by local councilors, who one interviewee described as being “obsessed” with reaching 200 km of trails (départemental planning officer, March 24, 2021), presented as the number necessary to attract the attention of tour operators. The race to provide ever-more kilometers of ski trails has been an integral part of ski resorts’ development strategies since the first fully linked ski areas were created in the 1980s.

Associating the Tête du Danay Link with the Projected Valley Lift from Thônes to the Plateau de Beauregard

15The decision to locate one of the Tête du Danay lifts in the village of La Clusaz enabled the project to be sold as promoting low-impact transportation, as it would make the entire ski area accessible from the projected valley lift from Thônes to the Plateau de Beauregard (figure 6). This option “fits into a global approach to transportation for the entire area (La Clusaz Municipal Councilor, September 13, 2018) because it would “remove the fossil-fuel powered shuttle buses between the three municipalities” (CCVT, 2019) and eliminate the burning of fossil fuels “both for the inter-resort bus network and for private vehicles” (id.).

Figure 6. View of the top of the projected valley lift at the Pointe de Beauregard, 2021

Figure 6. View of the top of the projected valley lift at the Pointe de Beauregard, 2021

Photo and montage © A. Troiano, May 2021.

  • 5 Since 2016 Auvergne Rhône-Alpes Regional Council has subsidized projects to build valley lifts to r (...)

16Hence, the project to equip a site currently devoid of ski lifts has been combined with a category of projects—valley lifts—that receives substantial public support, especially from the regional council.5 Moreover, the two projects were undoubtedly combined with an eye to using the low-carbon transportation argument to boost acceptance of the overall scheme.

Arguments Against the Project

17Opponents’ arguments against the project fall into three main categories.

Environmental and Agricultural Objections

18One of the main points of contestation is the project’s environmental impact, notably its contribution to low-impact transportation. While some people accept that the new link could contribute to “decarbonized sustainable mobility” (mountain and environment protection association, March 26, 2021), others describe this argument as an “ecological pretext” (mountain guide, March 22, 2021) and a “con” (id.). For the project’s opponents, the environmental argument for the link is just “another line in the discourse” (citizen’s group, March 1, 2021) and a “marketing tool” (mountain and environment protection association, March 26, 2021) to “pinch the neighbor’s clients via an extra differentiating facility” (citizen’s group, March 1, 2021). Opponents are extremely skeptical about the project’s real objective. On the one hand, a low-impact transportation system would involve closing the road, and this will not happen, so “if it’s just to take a trip in a cable car, they’re better off taking the bus, which has less impact” (ski instructor, March 22,02021). One of our interviewees felt that “the question is valid, but the answer is wrong” (départemental planning officer, March 15, 2021). In addition to transportation, opposition is also based on associated developments, such as new ski trails and a reservoir to provide both drinking water and to feed snow-making machines. These facilities, and the lift stations, would be built below the Tête du Danay, on flatter ground, which would impact local farmers by taking up “good land and the only meadow we have” (farmer, March 22, 2021). The Aravis is a relatively preserved corner of the French Alps whose farming sector was boosted by the granting of AOC status to reblochon cheese in 1958, and opponents take a dim view of the new cableway and its associated infrastructure (building and widening of ski trails, construction of new ski lifts and new accommodations, etc.).

Increasing Snowmaking Capacity to Secure the “Ski Product”

  • 6 Another projected reservoir (capacity 148,000 m3), on the Beauregard “plateau,” received extensive (...)

19As well as another ski trail on the north side of the Tête du Danay, the project includes a new 160,000-m3 reservoir (figure 7).6

Figure 7. Reservoirs in the ski resorts of the Aravis Mountains, 2021

Figure 7. Reservoirs in the ski resorts of the Aravis Mountains, 2021

© A. Troiano, 2021.

20Artificial snow, “just like the migration of ski areas to higher altitudes and the search for links [between resorts], is a way of capitalizing on the snowpack by extending the areas with guaranteed snow” (Paccard et al., 2011). Links to other ski areas are likely to be more important for Le Grand Bornand, which is more dependent on artificial snow, than for its neighbor, La Clusaz, whose higher, narrow, north-facing coombes hold snow for longer (Spandre et al., 2019).

21Studies taking into account artificial snow suggest that skiing will remain feasible until 2030–2050. Hence, local politicians argue that “it may be worthwhile investing in this type of infrastructure” (councilor, March 23, 2021), basing their arguments on these “scientifically proven facts”, because “you have to base them on something” (id.). The discourses of actors with different points of view show a clear disparity in the way they interpret research findings. To this must be added interannual variations because “global warming does not yet function as one would like” (extreme skier, March 22, 2021), and “the weather does not play into the hands of [those in favor of slowing down and stopping ski resort development] because there was snow this year” (id.). Such rhetoric leads to the idea that “we’ve still got years ahead of us with winters like that” (land and planning department, March 22, 2021).

Spiraling Development

22The projected Tête du Danay link, added to the other projects in the Fier-Aravis SCoT, whose UTNS are dominated by ski area extension projects, is seen as belonging to another age of tourism (figure 8). It is necessary to “resituate the debate in the overall debate” (citizen’s group, 1.3.2021) because “we’ll have more snow, but they won’t have any more water” (id.), a comment that indicates the public’s growing awareness of the issues involved (Marcelpoil et al., 2010).

Figure 8. Eight UTNS in the Fier-Aravis SCoT: signs of the strong desire to develop tourism

Figure 8. Eight UTNS in the Fier-Aravis SCoT: signs of the strong desire to develop tourism

© A. Troiano, 2021.

23The Tête du Danay project is criticized as being an “outdated vision” (citizen’s group, March 1, 2021) that “might have been relevant 40 years ago” (owner of a mountain hut, May 21, 2021), except that “here [at La Clusaz], they never wanted it” (citizen’s group, March 1, 2021). Projects to link ski resorts keep resurfacing because their proponents blame current problems or a failure to keep up with competitors on past failures to implement these projects: “That was considered at one time, but we didn’t do it. If things aren’t working, it’s because we didn’t do it” (member of the Comité du Massif des Alpes, March 26, 2021), so “we thought we should do it” (id.). It highlights the two resorts potentially divergent interests: The link is more important for Le Grand Bornand, but it would require the resort to build a new snow front.

  • 7 In July 2019 the public inquiry into the SCoT found that the project would not be able to meet its (...)

24The expansion of ski areas is often linked to the construction of new tourist accommodations. Puppato (2013) described this process as a “spiral,” because it imposes a certain economic model: “based on the sale of real estate to fill the local authority’s coffers so it can invest in major infrastructure… and an increase in the cost of ski passes to compensate for the reduction in the number of skiers… [which] inevitably leads to a spiral’ (id.). This debate also concerns SCoTs in other mountain areas, such as the Oisans SCoT,7 which has been blocked since 2019 due to opposition to the projected link between Les Deux Alpes and Alpe d’Huez and the number of new tourist beds envisaged.

25Some opponents of the Tête du Danay project see it as a “foot-in-the-door” (citizen’s group, March 1, 2021), as it will require an increase in the accommodation offer and the construction of new ski trails, culminating, step-by-step, in a global ski-area extension project, as envisaged by the Fier-Aravis SCoT’s eight UTNS (figure 8).

Controversies and Conflict Potential around a Project in the Balance

26This final section generalizes and conceptualizes the notion of conflict potential, illustrated by the spatialization of the conflict and the inadequate consultation decried by the project’s opponents.

Conflict Potential: A Proposed Theory

27Conflict potential (Laslaz, 2016) can be viewed in several ways. First, it can be seen as the opportunity a conflict gives for actors to come to the table and have a useful, performative social function, despite the cost. Second, in the same way that an object’s acceptability determines the likelihood of it being accepted, conflict potential indicates whether a conflict is likely to occur, as it assesses whether the social conditions, the antagonisms, needed for conflict are present. Indeed, the etymology of “potential” (from the Latin potentialis, from potentia8) reinforces the idea of something that may or may not develop. Also suggested by the word’s etymology, potential can refer to a conflict’s probable size in terms of power relations, the numbers of actors involved, the scales on which it takes place, and its probable consequences, depending on its intensity. This intensity is not restricted to the area concerned, but includes at least the five dimensions shown in figure 9:

  • The size of the spaces concerned, on a horizontal dimension.

  • The number of scales on which the conflict takes place, in a vertical dimension.

  • The number and/or extent of the objects involved in the conflict, which indicate its scope. In this case, the conflict involves both the Tête du Danay and the tourism infrastructure projects the link would generate in the area’s villages.

  • The forms of violence used, which are both intrinsic components of a conflict and its culmination.

  • The social density of the actors involved, that is, in addition to their number, their conflict potential (fourth meaning of this notion), defined as their ability to mobilize, to form networks, to oppose, and, possibly, to fight.

Figure 9. The spatial dimensions of conflict intensity

Figure 9. The spatial dimensions of conflict intensity

© L. Laslaz, 2016.

28The conflict potential of mountain resorts is the resultant of their social, economic, cultural, and political functioning—aspects that combine to form what Lahaye (2008) called the “pre-conflict environment”. The conflicts affecting resorts—over their existence, the values they project, their objectives—are real, but a simplistic reading according to which these conflicts “threaten” and weaken ski resorts is wrong. Indeed, conflicts are part of their nature and help improve the social interactions that animate them. More widely, “conflicts are not a disfunction of public actions but a general modality of their implementation” (Melé et al., 2003), a sort of regulation of its functioning. Melé (2013) later defined public action not as action by the public authorities, but as the sum of the actions bringing into play “all the individuals who consider themselves potentially affected by the consequences of a decision.” Thus, this concerns the numerous groups, both local and from further afield, that express their concerns and mobilize. Public action is the “product of interrelations between a limited number of organized actors,” according to a register that is no longer that of their hierarchy, as may have been the case in the past, but of exchange (Ollivier-Trigalo & Piéchaczyk, 2002), which expresses itself, notably, in information meetings or attempts at consultation.

29Environmental conflict and its potential reveal a local political geography that may provide a useful perspective from which to examine the Tête du Danay project, alongside “the obviously geopolitical question of the use, and therefore control, of the territory: What must it serve?” (Subra, 2018), and consequently whom and what it will benefit and according to what priorities. The answer depends on the balance of power between the actors and their respective interests in whether the project goes ahead.

30Therefore, the Tête du Danay project has conflict potential in terms of whether a conflict (especially environmental) will occur and through the resources created by this conflict. This conflict potential depends on whether the project’s end goal is a ski product or a transportation product, both of which have the potential to generate conflict.

31The growing conflictual dynamic can be summarized in a timeline (figure 10). This analysis shows the Tête du Danay UTNS to be “de-structuring” because its conflict potential highlights the duality of the perspectives for winter sports resorts, between further development and maintaining existing infrastructure, tourist practices, expectations, and acceptability, and also the ability to think beyond the “all ski” approach. From this point of view, supporters of this type of infrastructure highlight its bi-seasonal nature and its contribution to diversifying tourism, an argument the other side rejects.

Figure 10. Timeline for the Tête du Danay UTNS

Figure 10. Timeline for the Tête du Danay UTNS

© A. Troiano, 2023.

The Spatial Construction of Conflict and the Uses of Consultation

32Because environmental conflict involves confrontations between individuals and their perceptions of a space, it can be defined as “the intersection of conflicts of persons, representations, and perceptions that project themselves and materialize themselves in a territory and an environment, or rather in each social group’s conception of this environment” (Laslaz, 2016). These individual conceptions may be associated with a conflict of uses, with different interests and uses of the space in a co-spaciality implying a co-presence. Conflicts associated with controversial development projects necessarily have a spatial basis, in terms of the actors involved and in terms of the space over which the conflict arises.

33The spatial basis of conflict, and what that implies, could have been invoked during the consultation phase for the revision of the Fier-Aravis SCoT. Consultation is the “process actors engage in to jointly manage one or more shared goods, spaces, or territories or to influence actions and decisions that will determine the future of these shared goods” (Beuret, 2006). Subra (2016) defined consultation as “a group of practices and procedures that include a territory’s population and institutional actors (or just the latter) in decisions concerning them.” Consultation appears indissociable from conflict and the conflict process because “rivalries between actors do not stop with the first public meeting” (id.); rather, they “continue to pursue the same objectives: for some, the adoption of the project; for others, its abandonment or substantial modification” (id.). In the case of the Tête du Danay project, the conflict began during the consultation process, with opponents complaining of local councilors speaking at public meetings “as if everything was set in stone” (citizen’s group, March 1, 21) and of projects being drawn up “behind local people’s backs” (member of the Comité du Massif des Alpes, March 26, 21). However, some of the “people involved in the project” (id.), that is, municipal councilors who voted to approve the revised Fier-Aravis SCoT, told the public inquiry that there had been little consultation between them during the revision process before the SCoT was approved. Their avowals, which sound like a “mea culpa” (Observation n° 1276), indicate a lack of “intra-SCoT consultation.” Indeed, one local councilor said the vote took place “with no knowledge of the [the project’s] content and flaws, other than through a very evasive and highly incomplete presentation during a single council session during which [the councilors] had to vote straight away, with no time to reflect” (id.). This opinion was shared at the inter-municipal level: “we rarely go against the opinion of the municipalities, which brought us to the SCoT that we produced” (CCVT, April 29, 21). Hence, the CCVT tends to approve projects proposed by its individual municipalities without reviewing them critically (id.). This occurred explicitly during the consultation phases, but also implicitly, as shown by the large percentage of people who asked to express their opinions anonymously (30%) because “people do not feel free to speak” (citizen’s group, March 1, 21). Especially given that some council members “did not agree on [the consultation]… [with] other councilors who have more classic approaches… [who prefer] the old method” (councilor, April 29, 21) in which citizens are presented with the finalized project and do not take part in the decision-making process.

34Thus, the conflict potential revealed by the consultation arose from a process of appropriating space, which impacts the way this space is developed. Each actor in the conflict mobilizes representations and values and stigmatizes their opponents’ positions according to their differing visions of the general interest, inducing a power struggle: Bringing together individuals with similar values and representations creates a shared vision and a feeling of solidarity. The consultation may attempt to reconcile the various actors’ different interests and modify the project so as to orient the conflict potential toward a solution, which can range from a compromise to the project being abandoned. Nevertheless, given these different perspectives, it may be interesting to study each actor’s satisfaction with the chosen (or imposed) solution and to compare it with the strength of their investment at the start of the conflict (figure 11).

Figure 11. Conflict and its potential: from territorialization and divergent visions to a possible solution

Figure 11. Conflict and its potential: from territorialization and divergent visions to a possible solution

© A. Troiano, 2021.

35Hence, conflict is useful because it is a socio-spatial constructor and reveals a latent territoriality. It can even lead to “the introduction of innovative governance mechanisms” (Cattaruzza & Sintès, 2011). Conversely, if conflict is “ignored or left uncontrolled, it may reappear in other contexts as soon as the opportunity arises, with the risk of thwarting other projects” (Kirat & Torre, 2008). It “bounces from one project to another as long as it is not managed, and every new project risks being hijacked by the territory’s latent conflicts” (id.). Many of our interviewees referred to this aspect of conflict through their use of phrases such as “it’ll come up again” (extreme skier and famer, March 22, 21) to describe the Tête de Danay link and other SCoT tourism projects.


  • 9 Grenoble Administrative Court, April 9, 2021, n°2101609: “Suspension partielle de la délibération d (...)

36The opposing views of the projected Tête de Danay link mirror different perceptions of the changes affecting the mountains. The way these perceptions evolve will determine how mountain areas are used. Hopes of extending the Aravis Mountains’ ski areas are not restricted to the Danay area. One project involved installing lifts on a pass called the Porte des Aravis, whose south-east side is currently devoid of ski infrastructure, to connect La Clusaz to La Giettaz and therefore to the already fully linked Portes du Mont Blanc ski area. It was abandoned when control over La Clusaz municipal council changed hands following the 2020 local elections. One of the winning group’s promises during the election campaign had been to start preparing for the post-skiing era (figure 10). France Nature Environnement’s appeal against the Maurienne SCoT, which resulted in Grenoble administrative court suspending five of the SCoT’s eight UTNs concerning ski areas,9 illustrates the potential impact on ski-area expansion projects, including the Tête du Danay link, of the obligation to include such projects in planning documents. This legal requirement, introduced in 2016, allowed opponents to contest the projects before they were approved, rather than after, and therefore led to “preventive” rather than “reactive” conflictuality (Laslaz, 2004). More widely, it raises questions about how participative processes are run, especially in mountain areas (Laslaz, 2010).

La Clusaz town council, minutes of the meeting of 13 September 2018.

Haut de page


Antoine J.-M., Milian J. (eds.), 2011.– La ressource montagne : entre potentialités et contraintes, L’Harmattan.

Beuret J.-E., 2006.– La conduite de la concertation. Pour la gestion de l’environnement et le partage des ressources, L’Harmattan.

Boutry D., December 1983-January 1984.– “Le Grand Bornand à la croisée des chemins”, Aménagement & Montagne international, no 44, pp. 32–35.

Cattaruzza A., Sintès P., 2011.– Géographie des conflits, Bréal.

Charlier B., 1999.– La défense de l’environnement : entre espace et territoire. Géographie des conflits environnementaux déclenchés en France depuis 1974, PhD thesis, Université de Pau et des Pays de l’Adour.

CCVT (Communauté de communes des Vallées de Thônes), 2019.– Projet de révision du Schéma de Cohérence Territoriale Fier-Aravis, adopted in 2019 and approved in 2020.

Gérardot M., Prevelakis C. (eds.), 2012.– Dictionnaire des conflits, Atlande.

Kirat T., Torre A. (eds.), 2008.– Territoires de conflits. Analyses des mutations de l’occupation de l’espace, L’Harmattan.

Knafou R., 1978.– Les stations intégrées de sports d’hiver des Alpes françaises, Masson.

Lahaye N., 2008.– “Modélisation systémique de crises et conflits en environnement. Systèmes dynamiques complexes autour des enjeux de conservation de la biodiversité et des sports de nature dans le Parc national de la Guadeloupe”, XLVe Colloque de l’Association de Science Régionale de Langue Française, 16 p.

Laslaz L., 2004.– Vanoise : 40 ans de Parc National ; bilan et perspectives, “Géographies en liberté” series, L’Harmattan.

Laslaz L., 2005.– Les zones centrales des Parcs Nationaux alpins français (Vanoise, Écrins, Mercantour) : des conflits au consensus social ? Contribution critique à l’analyse des processus territoriaux d’admission des espaces protégés et des rapports entre sociétés et politiques d’aménagement en milieux montagnards, Geography PhD thesis, Chambéry, Université de Savoie.

Laslaz L. (éd.), 2010.– “Préface. Parcs nationaux de montagne et construction territoriale des processus participatifs”, Journal of Alpine research|Revue de géographie alpine, vol. 98, no 1. Online:, retrieved March 12, 2023.

Laslaz L., 2016.– Avide d’espaces, vol. 2 – Mémoire inédit : Protéger en montagne. Une polémogéographie des politiques environnementales au défi de l’acceptation sociale, habilitation à diriger des recherches, Chambéry, Université Savoie Mont-Blanc.

Laslaz L., 2017.– “Jalons pour une géographie politique de l’environnement”, L’Espace Politique, no 32 | 2017-2. Online:, retrieved March 12, 2023.

Laslaz L., 2020.– “conflit environnemental”, in Cynorrhodon (eds.), Dictionnaire critique de l’anthropocène, CNRS éditions, pp. 195–199.

Marcelpoil E., François H., Perrin-Bensahel L., 2010.– Les stations de sports d’hiver face au développement durable : état des lieux et perspectives, L’Harmattan.

Melé P., Larrue C. & Rosemberg M. (eds.), 2003– Conflits et territoires, Tours, Presses universitaires François Rabelais, coll.  « Villes et territoires ».

Melé P. (dir.), 2013.– Conflits de proximité et dynamiques urbaines, Rennes, Presses universitaires de Rennes.

Mountain Wilderness, 2019.– Avis sur le projet arrêté de révision du SCoT Fier-Aravis, 3 p. Online:, retrieved March 12, 2023.

Observations des registres de l’enquête publique du SCoT Fier-Aravis, 7 décembre 2019 – 8 janvier 2020.– Online:, 797 p., retrieved March 12, 2023.

Ollivier-Trigalo M. et Piéchaczyk X., 2002.– “Le débat public en amont des projets d’aménagement : genèse et codifications”, Métropolis, nos 108/109, pp. 72–76.

Puppato D., 2013.– “Un territoire aux limites de son développement. Le positionnement de l’Etat local sur le respect des grands équilibres en milieu de montagne”, in Joye J.-F. (eds.), L’urbanisation de la montagne Observations depuis le versant juridique, proceedings of the symposium of 24-25-26 May 2012 (Chambéry et Valloire), Université de Savoie, GRIDAUH, Institut de la Montagne. Université Savoie Mont Blanc, pp. 295–299.

Spandre P., François H., Verfaillie D., Pons M., Vernay M., Lafaysse M., George E., Morin S., 2019.– Winter tourism under climate change in the Pyrenees and the French Alps: relevance of snowmaking as a technical adaptation”, The Cryosphere, vol. 13. Online:, 23 p., retrieved March 12, 2023.

Subra, P., 2016.– Géopolitique locale : Territoires, acteurs, conflits, Armand Colin.

Subra P., 2018.– Géopolitique de l’aménagement du territoire (New edition), Armand Colin.

Troiano A., 2021.– Le projet de liaison entre La Clusaz et Le Grand Bornand par le Danay : les perspectives d’aboutissement d’une procédure d’Unité Touristique Nouvelle potentiellement conflictuelle, Master 1 thesis Géographies & Montagnes, Université Savoie Mont Blanc.

Woh N., 2022.– Les projets de retenue d’altitude, de la conception à la réalisation : une source de conflits révélatrice d’un processus de transition en cours ? Les cas de La Clusaz, La Féclaz, Praz de Lys Sommand et Les Gets, Master 1 thesis Gestion de l’eau et développement local (GEDELO), Université de Paris-Nanterre.

Haut de page


1 Montagne Leaders, no 2080, September-October 2020.

2 We adopted this season as our reference season because the Covid-19 pandemic cut short the 2019-2020 season and led to the cancellation of the 2020-2021 downhill skiing season.

3 The map includes Manigod, even though it is not directly involved in the Danay project, because the project is seen as a first step in a longer-term project to create a “Grand Domaine Aravis” ski area. In addition, there is already a ski-link between La Clusaz and Manigod.

4 Data compiled by Agence Savoie Mont Blanc (regional tourist board), 2021.

5 Since 2016 Auvergne Rhône-Alpes Regional Council has subsidized projects to build valley lifts to resorts and to install snow-making equipment. The council will cover up to 30% of the cost of these projects, with subsidies capped at €5,000,000 and €600,000, respectively.

6 Another projected reservoir (capacity 148,000 m3), on the Beauregard “plateau,” received extensive media coverage and generated substantial opposition, including a site occupation by Extinction Rebellion activists from November 15 to 30, 2021 (Woh, 2022) and demonstrations during in June 2022. A second site occupation by a protest group called CluZAD (September 24 - October 25, 2022) ended when when Grenoble Administrative Court suspended the prefect of Haute-Savoie’s decree of September 20 authorizing the clearing of the woods and the construction of the reservoir.

7 In July 2019 the public inquiry into the SCoT found that the project would not be able to meet its objectives (number of new or refurbished “cold” tourist beds, consideration of climate change).

8, retrieved March 16, 2023.

9 Grenoble Administrative Court, April 9, 2021, n°2101609: “Suspension partielle de la délibération du Syndicat du Pays de Maurienne approuvant le Schéma de Cohérence Territoriale (SCoT) pour la création de 5 UTN structurantes, suite à la demande du 25 février 2020 de France Nature Environnement.” These 5 UTNs are the link between the resorts of Albiez and Les Karellis (Montricher-Albanne), the creation of two ski lifts in the Valloire ski area, the link between the resorts of Valmeinier and Valfréjus (re-emergence of P. Schnebelen’s old “Croix du Sud” project), the extension of the Aussois ski area (only towards the Col des Hauts), and the extension of the Val Cenis ski area.

Haut de page

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. Location of the Tête de Danay in the Aravis Mountains and the municipalities affected by the projected ski link
Crédits © A. Troiano, 2021.
Fichier image/png, 391k
Titre Figure 3. The Tête du Danay: a strategic point between the two ski areas
Fichier image/png, 467k
Crédits © A. Troiano, 2023.
Fichier image/png, 139k
Titre Figure 4. Timeline for the revision of the Fier-Aravis SCoT
Crédits © A. Troiano, 2021.
Fichier image/png, 26k
Titre Figure 5. Positions of the projected ski lifts as seen from Pointe de Beauregard, 2021
Légende Solid red lines: the routes proposed for the connecting ski lifts. Dashed black line: the route of the projected lift from Saint-Jean-de-Sixt, now discarded from the project.
Crédits Photo and montage © A. Troiano, May 2021.
Fichier image/png, 856k
Titre Figure 6. View of the top of the projected valley lift at the Pointe de Beauregard, 2021
Crédits Photo and montage © A. Troiano, May 2021.
Fichier image/png, 1,0M
Titre Figure 7. Reservoirs in the ski resorts of the Aravis Mountains, 2021
Crédits © A. Troiano, 2021.
Fichier image/png, 352k
Titre Figure 8. Eight UTNS in the Fier-Aravis SCoT: signs of the strong desire to develop tourism
Fichier image/png, 854k
Crédits © A. Troiano, 2021.
Fichier image/png, 124k
Titre Figure 9. The spatial dimensions of conflict intensity
Crédits © L. Laslaz, 2016.
Fichier image/jpeg, 152k
Titre Figure 10. Timeline for the Tête du Danay UTNS
Crédits © A. Troiano, 2023.
Fichier image/png, 108k
Titre Figure 11. Conflict and its potential: from territorialization and divergent visions to a possible solution
Crédits © A. Troiano, 2021.
Fichier image/png, 47k
Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Amandine Troiano et Lionel Laslaz, « Geography of the Conflict Potential of the Projected La Clusaz—Le Grand Bornand Ski Link Via the Tête du Danay »Journal of Alpine Research | Revue de géographie alpine [En ligne], 111-1 | 2023, mis en ligne le 31 mai 2023, consulté le 25 septembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

Haut de page


Amandine Troiano

Diplômée du Master 2 Géographie & aménagement de la montagne — Université Savoie Mont Blanc

Lionel Laslaz

Maître de conférences HDR en géographie et aménagement — Université Savoie Mont Blanc

Articles du même auteur

  • Préface [Texte intégral]
    Parcs nationaux de montagne et construction territoriale des processus participatifs
    Preface [Texte intégral | traduction | en]
    National parks in the mountains and territorial construction of participative processes: some elements to frame the debate
    Paru dans Journal of Alpine Research | Revue de géographie alpine, 98-1 | 2010
Haut de page

Droits d’auteur


Creative Commons - Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International - CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Haut de page
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search