When Rock the Pistes first launched in 2011 it was a music festival like no other and today its status remains the same. This year the festival celebrates its tenth edition, a testament to the fantastic selection of acts that have performed over the years and also the Portes du Soleil in its own right. After all, if it weren’t for this interconnected group of resorts across France and Switzerland, a festival like this wouldn’t exist.
For those unfamiliar with the event, you don’t need a ticket for Rock the Pistes; all you need is a lift pass, skis or a snowboard and the ability to read a piste map. You can’t really compare it to other on-snow festivals because there are no others like it. “Rock the Pistes is totally unique,” organiser Michel Girard, president of the event planning committee for the Association Internationale des Portes du Soleil tells us. “And what makes it so unique is that it’s in a different resort every day. One day it’s in Morzine, the next in Champéry, the next in Châtel….” Each day’s headlining artist plays to an audience directly on the pistes. You’ll arrive at the top of a chairlift to be greeted by a full stage set-up with the likes of Babyshambles, Klaxons, Rag‘n’Bone Man or Caravan Palace performing. Seeking out each venue is all part of the fun.
Rock the Pistes is a home-grown festival, organised by the aforementioned Association Internationale des Portes du Soleil, the organisation that promotes the ski area. The idea for the festival came about when Michel and his team were tasked with organising a winter event that utilised all the resorts in les Portes du Soleil, encouraging visitors to explore its different sectors. “Music worked well because it corresponded to a week-long festival,” he explains. And it paid off.
Every March, people flock from all over the world to see the series of high altitude concerts, which have an intimate, casual and family-friendly atmosphere. “The concerts are big but they’re not too big,” Michel states. “The bands often say ‘it’s the most beautiful place to perform in the world’, and we try to make sure the festival reflects the nature of the setting.” Michel’s colleague Emilie Bourcier, head of marketing and communication at the association, agrees. As an event that takes place in the mountains, it’s important to make sure it has as little impact on the environment as possible. “Everything is set up by the resort staff and taken down on the same day,” she explains. “It’s really important to leave no trace and each resort puts everything back exactly as it was.”
“The concerts are big but they’re not too big,” Michel states. “The bands often say ‘it’s the most beautiful place to perform in the world’”
Other eco-factors of the festival include returnable, reusable cups at the bar, recycling bins and composting toilets. Performers are also asked to remove any potentially polluting aspects from their sets, like glitter cannons. It all takes a lot of organisation and communication. “It’s very complicated to organise the logistics and technical aspects,” Michel says. “That’s the hardest part, because we’re moving lots of staging and equipment between resorts in a short space of time. But everyone involved in the festival works really hard and does their bit. In that sense Rock the Pistes belongs to all of us.”
“Every year the festival brings les Portes du Soleil together,” Emilie adds. “That’s really important. All these resorts that are independently managed get to work together on something, and the outcome is really great.” Both Michel and Emilie have a big list of highlights from previous editions of Rock the Pistes, from bands to the weather. Rag’n’Bone Man in Avoriaz in 2017 is a particular highlight. “It’s wild, it’s beautiful, there’s a great atmosphere, 90% of the time it’s sunny,” Michel says, “and if it snows, even better!” In fact, throughout the festival’s entire nine-year run, only one concert has had to be cancelled and that was because of dangerously high winds.
“Every year the festival brings les Portes du Soleil together,” Emilie adds. “That’s really important. All these resorts that are independently managed get to work together on something, and the outcome is really great.”
So how has the festival grown throughout its ten-year stint? “We’re better at organising it now!” Michel laughs. “We get better every year.” More and more people choose to ski in the Portes du Soleil specifically because of Rock the Pistes, rather than seeing it as an extra, exciting addition to their holiday. Consequently, the team have got plenty of surprises in the works for the tenth edition of the festival, including plenty of throwbacks to its first edition. In fact, the first act to be announced was Deluxe, who played at the first Rock the Pistes and were so well received they’re back this year for round two.
“We get better every year.” More and more people choose to ski in the Portes du Soleil specifically because of Rock the Pistes, rather than seeing it as an extra, exciting addition to their holiday. Consequently, the team have got plenty of surprises in the works for the tenth edition of the festival, including plenty of throwbacks to its first edition.
But perhaps the most important thing, which is apparent throughout our chat with Emilie and Michel, is that not only has Rock the Pistes helped put les Portes du Soleil on the map in terms of innovation and tourism, it highlights how unique this collection of resorts is and it brings people together for an incredible experience. Whether you’re working on the festival, performing or skiing to a resort you’ve never explored before for a concert, you’re experiencing something you won’t experience anywhere else. Here’s to another ten years.
Find out more about Rock the Pistes at rockthepistes.com