Refuges Sentinelles : Mountain huts as observers and actors of change

Ongoing project

Reflab/Refuges Sentinelles aims to understand the relationship between transformations in the natural environment and human activities in the high mountains. Basing its research around high-elevation mountain huts, which are at the forefront for observing environmental and social change, Refuges Sentinelles takes a multidisciplinary, collaborative and participatory approach and contributes the CNRS’s Zone Atelier Alpes Sentinelles des Alpes programmes

© Philippe Bourdeau
The Vallonpierre refuge (Ecrins massif) is involved in the Reflab project © Philippe Bourdeau

The compounding impact of environmental and cultural changes is leading to evolutions in the practices and hut clientele. Initially considered simple accommodations, huts are becoming destinations in their own right, and laboratories in which niche innovations contribute to the emergence of development models in line with the more general issues surrounding diversification and transitions in mountain tourism. At the same time, the profession of hut caretaker is becoming more professionalized and diversified, requiring pedagogical skills and specific knowledge about history and heritage.

Placed at the heart of the Refuges sentinelles system, mountain huts are used as hubs for measurement, observation, work and exchanges between natural and social sciences. Main areas of research focus on visitation and the practices and professions related to tourism and mountain sports, as they relate to meteorology, climatology, biodiversity, geomorphology, risks and safety.

Research is carried out through surveys, collection of quantitative and qualitative data, in situ observations, collaborative workshops, etc. At the end of each season, an interprofessional debriefing allows for the pooling of observations and bringing together the views of researchers and other stakeholders.

The programme, coordinated by the Pacte laboratory (UGA) in partnership with the Ecrins National Park, involves sports federations, professional structures, tourism offices and local municipalities. Refuges Sentinelles would also be impossible without hut caretakes, who are involved on a voluntary basis. A large number of professional and academic partners, including several Labex ITTEM member laboratories (Edytem, Irege, Lessem, Pacte, Sens) are also involved in the programme (see the project brochure for a complete listing).

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