Those who visited Chamonix last month may have been surprised to hear the echo of the pulsation reverberating from Planpraz – a picturesque plateau just below the summit of the mountain accessible by cable car. Under normal circumstances, such sound waves at 2,000 m above sea level can come with an avalanche warning. But this time, the buzz was electric rather than tectonic – echoing a live stage set hosted by Canadian outdoor brand Arc’teryx.
The energy came from a crowd of 1,500 mountain enthusiasts who had spent the previous week at the Arc’teryx Alpine Academy – a week-long mountain extravaganza that brings the hedonistic air of a music festival to the wellness arena. As the sun sets, festival goers – sun-kissed, sweaty and ready to party – climb to the top to indulge in hip hop and R&B from a roster of international artists. “They had tired muscles, big smiles and a thirst for beer,” says Stephane Tenailleau, director of marketing at Arc’teryx and the brains behind the festival. “The DJs are on the decks until 2am. Every night there’s a chance to burn off your last few calories on the dance floor… We’re taking it [the experience] to new heights.”
Fitness holidays are undergoing a rebranding and in 2022, endorphins will become the main act. Forget the traditional yoga retreat – no naps Eat, pray, love mood or matcha morning 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 (Above Below) or the trails of Tring (Salomon) for a gorpcore-meets-Glastonbury experience.
Arc’teryx, meanwhile, rolled out its concept this year to include climbing academies in Vancouver and backcountry ski festivals in Wyoming—interspersed with film screenings, photography workshops and gigs. Other labels offer smaller iterations: Rapha’s Pennine Rally is a 500km point-to-point cycle from Edinburgh down the Pennines to Manchester, culminating in beer 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 cookouts.
“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 stand-up paddleboarding and surfing to banquet dinners – he launches in Madeira later this year.
And outdoor activities “have really boomed recently,” says Will Watt, co-founder of Above Below, a three-day swim in Devon where visitors pack into a raft and breaststroke along estuaries and coastal bays before camping. night. “People are starting to realize that challenging your body and your brain gives you a natural boost … instead of other activities that leave you feeling less than good afterwards.”
Healthy hedonism is a real thing. Organizers make sure to feed a more conscious lifestyle: many on-site bars are now stocked with zero percent beer and plant-based food. Norway even hosts Morning Beat, an alcohol-free yoga festival headlined by trance DJs. “It’s not all or nothing,” says Henry Knock, a 42-year-old freelance photographer from London who has shot campaigns for Adidas, Barbour and Manchester United. A self-proclaimed “party boy”, he 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 indulge in my new passion for running,” he says. “As I approached my 40s, I became much more health conscious.”
Knock, who usually runs around town, wants to try trail running for the first time. Many festivals offer a refreshing change of pace from the status quo: 10km runners are encouraged to try sprinting up a mountain; urban logs can be tackled with rocky rocks; and swimmers can take a dip in the coastal waves.
Under the supervision of expert guides, festivals can provide experiences you are unlikely to attempt on your own. “They give you the confidence to try something new,” says Larn-Jones, who offers “extra” adventure days where lucky campers can run 20km routes before heading up the coast or down the Gower Peninsula. Meanwhile, in Chamonix, Arc’teryx attendees could book more than 40 “clinics” from an overnight bivouac in the Mont Blanc massif with Slovenian climbing champion Luka Lindić to rescue training – including how to get a partner out of a crevasse. “They are ‘money-can’t-buy’ events that are not readily available on the market,” says Tenailleau, who has enlisted the expertise of more than 30 world-class athletes and sponsored guides to run the sessions.
Regular music festivals do not offer such experiences. According to a Harris Poll, 78 percent of millennials would rather spend on an event than a possession. Arc’teryx says a younger clientele is coming – 30 percent this year are under 30, up from 2019 – while Love Trails says about 60 percent of campers are young women. The festival environment offers them the relative safety of the outdoors and the opportunity to make new friends.
“People can come and find their tribe,” says Larn-Jones, who notes that many campers show up on their own. In a similar way to the popular running or swimming clubs, fitness festivals provide access to a sense of community.
The epically Instagrammable settings of these events are another USP. The wild Átjan running playground in the Faroe Islands boasts scenes that look straight out of a Tolkien novel, where wild mountain trails meet green valleys. The islands are not easily accessible, but this year 90 percent of the festival participants are scheduled to make the pilgrimage from abroad.
“The landscape is neck-twisting,” Tenailleau says of Chamonix’s mountainous landscape, which adds to the appeal of the Arc’teryx Academy. Its alpine village is surrounded by jagged peaks. “We could only rent a hall… but every first traveler is fascinated by the Bossons Glacier, which looks like a river of lava flowing down the valley, and the glittering dome of Mont Blanc.”
Imagine that scene on Planpraz when the sun goes down. The body pulsates with the bass; new friends are released; Mont Blanc twinkles in the distance. Up there, in the crisp air, surrounded by shadowy mountains, you feel insignificant. But spiritually you belong. Moments pass. Lose yourself in an ethereal experience. Just as Mother Nature – and DJ – intended.