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Outdoor sports in France - statistics & facts

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic closed all indoor spaces for many months. Without a gym, a pool or a yoga studio, athletes and sport enthusiasts have had to adapt their habits. In addition to sports apps that have developed strongly in 2020, the French have rediscovered the joys of sports outdoors, in nature.
The French Ministry of Sports characterizes outdoor sports as physical activities that take place outdoors in an informal area and involve a more or less high risk depending on the practice. This category includes sports as diverse as surfing, cliff climbing or skiing.

Walking and mountain sports

The first long hiking trails or Grande Randonnée (GR) were created in France in the late 1940s. Several tens of thousands of kilometers have been traced across France since. Hiking was among the most practiced outdoor sports in France in 2018. Although the GR are co-managed by the French hiking federation, the practice of hiking is mostly autonomous, because very few hikers walk with a club or association. More intense than hiking, trails are becoming trendy. Mountain races organized all over France are registering a growing number of participants. In 2020, more than 30,000 people registered to participate in the famous Mont Blanc trail race.

Water sports

Sailing has long been the number one water sport in France. In 2020, more than one million pleasure boats, including 200,000 sailboats, are still registered in French waters. Since the 1970s, other sea and river sports, some of which come from the United States, have emerged in France, attracting increasing numbers of devotees. There are nearly 680,000 surfers in France, occasional or regular. The region Nouvelle-Aquitaine is the epicenter of the surf culture in France, more than half of the French surf clubs are located in this region.

Winter sport

In 2019, 13 percent of the French stated they go skiing that year, a rate much lower than their Swiss and German neighbors. However, together with Austria, France is the country hosting the most skiers in the world. This is a positive balance sheet for the so-called white economy, but the COVID-19 crisis has stopped all the ski lifts in France. With the dependence on alpine skiing, many ski resorts fear closure in France. At the end of May 2021, the government led by prime minister Jean Castex announced the so-called plan Montagne aimed at diversifying the tourism offers in France.


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