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Hard, Soft and Slow: Mountain Adventure Tourism

10/13/2015 01:09 EDT | Updated 10/13/2016 05:12 EDT
Jim Simmen via Getty Images
Trekking in Annapurna, on the way from Ghorepani (Poon Hill) to Ghandruk.

There are lots of different terms for Adventure Tourism. A well-needed study done by Naidoo et al. in 2015 investigates baby boomers and adventure tourism. People born between 1946 and 1964 are considered the Baby Boomers and they apparently represent the largest participating age category in adventure travel. The study of 384 persons revealed that they are least attracted to high-risk adventure experiences, which constitutes 'hard' adventure, such as mountaineering, parasailing, whitewater kayaking, or extreme snowboarding. These travellers like their adventure 'soft'. They want to hike, canoe, ride horses, and camp. The biggest 'pull factor' is a beautiful natural environment.

The study concludes that adventure travellers within this predominant group are motivated firstly by a desire to have fun and relax from stress; secondly they want to escape the daily routine and experience something new, with new sensations...

This visitor profile may to some extent explain why we are witnessing the growth of 'Slow Adventure' Tourism. What is a slow adventure? Do adventures have to be fast to be fun? Where do you find one?

Generally slow adventures are offered in remote or fragile environments, like mountains. There is an ecological aspect to it, to preserve and conserve the beauty of the environment. This links to Baby Boomers' reported need for beautiful and unspoilt.

Think 'rough luxury', rather than paved roads and services everywhere. The luxury arises from intimacy with nature, an experience few urban people have, in a remote and extremely beautiful environment. Taking inspiration from Slow Food, this kind of tourism is about a high quality, personalized, handmade experience. You leave the world of mass production, pollution and stress far behind, and the first thing you do is slow down... Then you might go trekking for several days on mules in the mountains, following ancient paths without roads or other people.

There is a personal development aspect to slow adventure too, where the Baby Boomers' need for 'new sensations' may be fulfilled. The University of the Highlands and Islands in Scotland is working on an inspiring initiative supported by the E.U. to study and promote slow adventures in seven northern countries: Slow Adventures In Northern Territories. See the film on their website to learn about Slow Adventures.

Professor Peter Varley, at UHI Scotland, the lead partner in this E.U. project, explained what it is like:

"Slow adventures allow participants to experience life outdoors - some talk about feeling like it is how life used to be, and how the simple things are so rewarding in these situations -- the satisfaction of sleeping under canvas and hearing waves on a beach or the stags roaring in the night -- these elemental feelings cut through the frenetic messiness of the urban everyday, and settle folk, momentarily, in the simplicity of nature."

In the mountains of Central Italy I spoke with Roberto Canali who runs a mule trekking slow-adventure business. He also has some llamas because their wider hooves are better suited to trekking in deep mountain snow. Roberto takes many visitors with children mule trekking and recently did a four-day mountain trek with one adult and three children aged, five, eight and nine. This party said:

"We ascended about 1,500 meters with joy and with no haste; sometimes we were tired but never stressed. We had the feeling of not being alone in this wild and unknown territory because of our three mules; Daphne, Linda and Pinocchio. They were our companions in adventure, they gave us a feeling of security and transmitted a sensation of patience and peace."

Slow adventures still have to evolve further, hopefully following the Slow Food movement whereby food is a vehicle for social change and a process of learning.

For instance, will the day ever dawn when the Anglo-Saxon prejudice of expecting to speak English everywhere is challenged? To have a genuine experience of an environment or distinctive culture means at least having 'taster' language sessions to inspire slow adventurers to learn the language at home and return. Until then slow adventurers can only participate in relatively commercial experiences with trained interpreters and business operators.

But as the Italians say: 'Piano, piano....'

Slowly, slowly, that may change...

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