Highs on a hill: Inside the 2022 fitness festivals

Those who visited Chamonix last month might have been surprised to hear a reverberating pulse echoing from Planpraz, a picturesque plateau just below the top of a mountain accessible by cable car. Under normal circumstances, these kinds of sound waves at 2000m height can come with an avalanche warning. But this time, the buzz was electric, not tectonic: the echoes of a live stage presented by Canadian outdoor brand Arc’teryx.

The energy came from a crowd of 1,500 mountain enthusiasts who had spent the previous week at Arc’teryx Alpine Academy, a week-long mountain extravaganza that brings the hedonistic air of the music festival to the wellness arena. As the sun sets, sun-soaked, sweaty and party-ready festival goers climbed to the top to be swept away by hip hop and R&B from a roster of international artists. “They had tired muscles, big smiles and a thirst for beer,” according to Stéphane Tenailleau, director of marketing for Arc’teryx and the brains behind the festival. “The DJs are on the decks until 2 am. Every night there’s a chance to burn off your last few calories on the dance floor… We’re taking [the experience] to new heights.”

The Midnight Runners Boot Camp takes place at the Love Trails Festival © Anna Rachel

The Rapha Pennine Rally

The Rapha Pennine Rally © Dan Monoghan @Cadenceimages

Fitness vacations are undergoing a rebranding and in 2022 endorphins are the main act. Forget the traditional yoga retreat – there’s no snoozy Eat Pray Love moody mornings or matcha here. This summer, those looking for a collective high can head to the wilds of the Faroe Islands (Átjan Wild Islands Festival), the shores of Devon (Arriba Abajo) or the trails of Tring (Salomon) for a gorpcore experience. -meets-Glastonbury.

Meanwhile, Arc’teryx has launched its concept this year to include climbing academies in Vancouver and backcountry ski festivals in Wyoming, marked by film screenings, photography workshops and concerts. Other brands are offering smaller iterations: Rapha’s Pennine Rally is a 500km point-to-point cycle from Edinburgh over the Pennines to Manchester, culminating in beers and food, while Japanese outdoor brand Snow Peak and Outdoors Store have teamed up with The Good Life Society for a weekend of fly fishing, egg and spork races and campfire cooking.

“It’s about challenging stereotypes about what fitness and wellness can be,” says Theo Larn-Jones, founder of Love Trails, a four-day running festival in Wales that offers everything from from paddle boarding and surfing to dinner banquets. He will launch it in Madeira at the end of this year.

The Ruckraft Retreat Above Below in Devon

The Ruckraft Retreat above below in Devon © Sophie Radcliffe

And outdoor activities “have been really booming lately,” says Will Watt, co-founder of Above Below, a three-day swim marathon in Devon in which attendees pack their possessions into a raft and breaststroke along estuaries and coastal bays before each camping. night. “People are starting to understand that challenging your body and brain gives you a natural high…as opposed to other activities that leave you feeling less than great afterward.”

Healthy hedonism is a real draw. Organizers are careful to fuel the more conscious lifestyle: Many on-site bars are now stocked with zero percent beers and plant-based foods. Norway even plays host to Morning Beat, an alcohol-free yoga festival headlined by trance DJs. “It’s not all or nothing,” says Henry Knock, a 42-year-old London-based freelance photographer who has shot campaigns for Adidas, Barbour and Manchester United. A self-proclaimed “partier”, he has spent decades dancing in the fields. But this year, he bought a ticket to Love Trails, his first fitness festival. “I can let my hair down but still enjoy my new passion for running,” he says. “As I got closer to 40, I became much more conscious about my health.”

Keswick Mountain Festival in Cumbria

Keswick Mountain Festival in Cumbria

morning yoga

Morning yoga © Mikael B Örtenheim

Knock, who usually runs in the city, is looking forward to trying trail running for the first time. And many festivals offer a refreshing change of pace from the status quo: 10K runners are encouraged to try and sprint up a mountain; urban boulderers can tackle sheer rock faces; and lido swimmers can dive into the coastal waves.

Under the supervision of expert guides, festivals can provide experiences one is unlikely to attempt alone. “They give you the confidence to try something new,” says Larn-Jones, who offers “add-on” adventure days where happy campers can run 20km routes before coasteering or abseiling along the Gower Peninsula. . Meanwhile, in Chamonix, Arc’teryx attendees were able to book into more than 40 “clinics” from an overnight camp in the Mont Blanc massif with Slovenian climbing champion Luka Lindic to rescue training, including how to get your partner out from a crack. “These are ‘money can’t buy’ events that you can’t easily find on the market,” says Tenailleau, who has enlisted the expertise of more than 30 world-class athletes and sponsored guides to organize sessions.

Trail maintenance at the Arc'teryx Alpine Academy in the Chamonix Valley

Trail maintenance at the Arc’teryx Alpine Academy in the Chamonix Valley

Regular music festivals don’t offer such experiences. According to research from the Harris Poll, 78 percent of millennials would rather spend on an event than on a possession. Arc’teryx says it has a younger clientele (30% this year are under 30, an increase from 2019), while Love Trails says about 60% of its campers are young women. The festival atmosphere offers them relative safety outdoors and the opportunity to make new friends.

“People can come and find their tribe,” says Larn-Jones, who notes that many campers arrive alone. Similar to running or swimming clubs, which have gained popularity, fitness festivals provide access to a sense of community.

The epic Instagram setup of these events is another USP. The Átjan Wild Islands trail running playground in the Faroe Islands features scenes straight out of a Tolkien novel, where wild mountain roads meet green valleys. The islands are not easily accessible, yet this year 90 percent of festival-goers will make the pilgrimage from abroad.

Guided hike from Salomon

Guided hike from Salomon

“The landscape is terrifying,” says Tenailleau of Chamonix’s mountainous landscape, which adds to the appeal of Arc’teryx Academy. The alpine village of him is flanked by jagged peaks. “We could have rented a room… but any novice is impressed by the Bossons glacier, which looks like a river of lava flowing down the valley, and the radiant dome of Mont Blanc.”

Imagine that scene in Planpraz when the sun goes down. Body beating from the bass; newfound friends letting loose; Mont Blanc twinkling in the distance. Up there in the fresh air, flanked by the gloomy mountains, you feel insignificant. But spiritually, you belong. Moments pass. You lose yourself in the ethereal experience. Just as mother nature and the DJ intended.

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