|Last week, outside the chalet|
Les Arcs and the other large, high-level ski resorts of the Alps, will be hoping for a big thaw, rise in temperatures and closure of low-lying pistes and lifts before the French school holidays begin next week. A few more days of rain followed by a warm sunshine would be perfect! Lift ticket sales have remained static for the last couple of seasons, but there's every sign they might be lower this year because of all this snow, as well as the general economic malaise to which the ski industry is becoming susceptible.
This doesn't make sense, I hear you saying. Surely snow is what makes money in a ski resort, the 'white gold' as they used to call it in the glory days of the 60s and 70s. Well, the problem is that in a 'good snow' winter the indigenous population will head for the lower, family-friendly resorts that are dotted around Savioe, the Alps and other mountainous regions of France. These resorts may be quite low, typically between 1200m and 2000m, with only a handful of lifts and pistes, but the price of the lift pass, accommodation and nourishment will be significantly lower. Most people taking children on a skiing holiday don't actually need 600km of pistes and 200 lifts to have a good time. Small ski stations in the Jura, Vosges and Massif Central make a point of offering an authentic, welcoming ski experience, focussing on good value and 'traditional' holiday values.
Ironically the 'mega-resorts' have invested massively in snow making networks to protect their revenue in 'bad snow' years. For example, at Les Arcs more that 40% of the pistes are covered, and a few years ago the huge Adret des Tuffes reservoir was constructuted in the Arc 2000 valley to provide 400,000 cubic meters of partly gravity-fed meltwater to the snowmaking network.
Abandoned in 1995
At the peak of the 'credit crunch' (the winter of 2008/9) Les Arcs saw a 4% fall in lift pass sales. Not much perhaps, but if that goes on for 10 years it would be the end of the business. Not that the smaller resorts themselves are in anyway immune from the same economic pressures. Yesterday's local paper carried an article about 'Ghost Ski resorts' (english version on PisteHors.com)', adding Drouzin Le Mont to the lengthening list of village resorts closed or abandoned in the last few years. The best know example of these is Abondance, in the Portes de Soleil domaine. Briefly rescued by an American millionaire a few years ago, the future of this pleasant cheese-making village as a ski resort is once again looking dubious.
|Drouzin - likely to close down|
Economic, political and social issues (couch potatoes don't do skiing....) are still the major factors determining the success or otherwise of a ski resort. This view is echoed by Laurent Reynaud, director of the French ski areas association (quoted in the article cited above):
" The fragility of ski resorts is not just down to climate change but also their structure. Those who had the foresight not to invest in cable cars and gondolas are doing okay. Managing costs is the key. Take the small resorts in the Vosges for example, equipped mostly with drag lifts: they are maintaining their market share.”
Perhaps Les Arcs had better watch out!