Bourg St M Town Hall, Dec 2017. Has "Architecture of XX Century" status, alongside cinema & Arc 2000 cable car station. Click on photo for more

Sunday, 29 April 2012


There's a conference this weekend all about the future of the ski industry - covered in Le Dauphine.

Here are some of the key points - with a few extra links where I've been able to find them.
1.  The space available for skiing can't be extended, limited by the existence of the national parks and the growing environmental lobby.
2. The days of mega-expansion are gone.  These days it's more about renewing the lifts, rationalising the existing ski areas, investing in artificial snow, and making sure the resorts can show they've been taking steps to reduce their impact on the environment.
3.  In a mature market, it's now about share of wallet - ie winning market share from other resorts.
4.  In the Southern Alps, the big recent debate has been all about expanding upwards, to the 3000m barrier.  It looks like Orcieres has given up on the Pic de Rochebrune, but Risoul is still dreaming of setting up a freeride area close to 3000m.
5.  There are more concrete plans now to do just this at Montgenevre, which is now making active plans for the Chaberton project - including four new chairlifts and 35km of pistes.  This has prompted controversy about the environmental impact.  For the resort, which doesn't have a particularly impressive vertical descent, this is all about competing against the rival Italian resorts to which it's linked by the Milky Way area.
6.   Similar situation over at La Rosiere, which is also looking to expand to close to 3000m in the Mont Valaisan area, again in a bit to make sure it compares well with its Italian neighbour over the border in La Thuile.
La Rosiere, looking back towards Villaroger and Arc 2000

7.   Size matters:  In the Mont-Blanc area, l’espace Évasion boasts 440 km of pistes.  However, they lack the link in the chain which would enable skiers to travel between Les Contamines and St Gervais.  Contamines has been suffering due to its isolation and a new lift to make the link betwen the two is planned for 2013.
8.  Things are moving also on the Savoie/Haute Savoie border.  In the Espace Diamant (see report on Crest Voland here), Les Saisies is planning to expand its area into the combe de Ballasta.  Its neighbour Praz-sur-Arly is looking at a new link with Megeve and the Espace Evasion.  With nearly 650km of pistes, the two areas would be hot on the heels of the Portes du Soleil.
9.  There's not one of these projects which hasn't caused controversy.  At Collet d'Alevard, works on the Clapier chairlift have stopped.  Similarly at Ste-Foy-Tarentaise plans to put 3 new charlifts into a new area at the combe du Clou have been put on ice.
10. Coming back to the issue of linking ski stations - the expectations are that they will increase revenues by anywhere between 10-35%.  The Les 2 Alpes - Alpe d'Huez link may or may not happen (for the moment, the resorts are only at the stage of spending €20,000 to study the idea).  If it doesn't, it may join other big schemes which were planned at one point, but which are now pretty dormant - for example La Clusaz - Grand Bornand and Valfrejus - Valloire.

THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: How they voted in Round One

The first round of the election results are in.  Savoie is hardly a bellweather state - it is traditionally more to the right, and that's what happened last Sunday.

France-wide, the figures were (Savoie in brackets):
Hollande 29% (24), Sarkozy 27% (29), Le Pen 18% (19), Mélenchon 11% (11)
Full results here.

Haute-Savoie is more of a stronghold of the right.  Here, Sarkozy scored 34%, with Hollande trailing on 20%.

Sarko with ESF moniteurs at La Clusaz (Haute Savoie).
He says he's not "as good a skier" as Carla.
And anyway, he hasn't skied since being at the Elysée...
people would think him crazy if he broke something..

The main pattern to emerge is that, the further you up the Tarentaise valley, the higher the vote for the current President.  That is to say there is a correlation (I don't think it's causation....) between altitude and the share of Sarko's vote:

                              Chambéry     Albertville      Moutiers     Bourg SM     Val d'Isere
                                  (245m)           (328m)           (481m)         (810m)           (1850)
Sarkozy                         25                  27                   32                 34                 58
Hollande                         30                  26                   23                 18                12
Le Pen                           14                  20                   19                 16                 11
Melenchon                      14                 13                    12                 11                 7

This is not a new phenomenon, I hasten to add.  Here's how Savoie voted in round 2 of the 2007 presidentielle, for example.

PS Both Hollande and Sarkozy are very keen to remind folk that they are great sports fans.  Sarko loves cycling, and his dream is to win an Alpe d'Huez stage.  Hollande loves his football, and is a big Rouen supporter.  More here.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

THE BUSINESS OF SKIING: The verdict (so far) on 2011/12

It's the final week of the season.  La Plagne is reporting 300cm on top, 125cm at the bottom.  There's been 45cms of fresh snow in the last 7 days and 96/128 pistes open. Despite a dry February and March, 2011/12 has generally seen snow in abundance, and this has to be the best end-of-season for years.

What has this meant for the ski industry?  Many French resorts have been struggling, given the mature state of the market, the high cost of skiing and the ongoing effects of the crisis.  In Switzerland, it's been worse, with the strong franc and an increasingly competitive Austria leaving even star resorts like Saas Fee with a headache.  The official line is that visitors from the eurozone are down, but this has been partially mitigated by the rise in Swiss visitors (for example in the small resorts of St Gall).  The stark reality is that Valais has seen a 6.4% fall in foreign tourists, Grisons 5-6% and at Engelberg 8-12%.

The new(ish) Arpette lift at Les Arcs

If you're interested in all this, the best people to follow on Twitter are: @ausommetfr, @adepierrefeu and @skibatblog, which highlighted this report from Les Echos.  To summarise:

  • 150,000 people work in the industry
  • Overall, French ski resorts are reporting a 2% rise in skier numbers - after a 5% fall during the poor season that was 2010/11
  • It's been a good season for "low cost" resorts like Brides-les-Bains and upmarket resorts like Courchevel (which reports a 6% rise)
  • Between the two, the middle-of-the road resorts are doing less well
  • One reasonably new "innovation" which is doing well are the 4-hour tickets
  • Overall, not too bad.  Now on to see if they can do anything to improve summer visitor numbers.  Which is quite another story

This general view is echoed by the hoteliers.  Their association describes the season as "OK but nothing to write home about".

One to watch will be the results of the Compagnie des Alpes, who have a near monopoly of the big resorts.  These come out on Thursday 26th April.  There's some background here.

In the southern French Alps, which serve a different market to the Northern resorts (Belgium, E and S. Europe, Italy), the initial verdict has been that things are "plutot satisfaisant", which is hardly a ringing endorsement.  

And a pretty similar pattern over in the Pyrenees.  The late start to the season caused problems.  For example, Piau-Engaly lost 30,000 skier days by not being able to open until 18th December (compared with 26th November in 2010).  February was good, but then the weather was warm in March and then snowy just as they were closing....

Monday, 9 April 2012


Not long now until the first round of the French Presidential Election.  Here's how France voted in round two back in 2007:

Sarko v Sego
Savoie is traditionally more to the right and voted in favour of Sarkozy by 57:43

Indeed, the only town I can find which voted for Royal is the capital itself, Chambéry, which went against Sarko by a 49:51 margin.  The full results, broken down by departement and commune, can be found here.

With one or two exceptions, the communes serving ski resorts backed Sarkozy by a greater margin than the Savoie average.  Here is a selection, ranked by % voting for Sarko:

Landry  51
Moutiers  55
Albertville  55

Bozel (Courchevel)  56

Aigueblanche (Valmorel)  57
Beaufort  60
Aime (La Plagne)  61
Bourg St Maurice-Les Arcs  60
Seez (La Rosiere)  61
Champagny  62
Peisey-Nancroix  65
Tignes  66
Macot-la-Plagne  68
Villaroger  70
St Martin-de-Belleville  73
Brides-les-Bains (Meribel)  74
Crest Voland  79
Val d'Isere  80

Saturday, 7 April 2012

SEASON 2011/12: Some Stats

Although there wasn't a huge amount of snow during the second half of the season, the huge falls between mid-December and mid-January make this one of the best for some time, and there are great conditions in the Northern Alps for the last few weeks of the season.  It's not clear yet how good the season has been from a business point of view - but the good snow cover has clearly helped.

At one point, Les Arcs claimed to have the highest snow-depths in the world, and it was competing against Tignes/Val d'Isere as to who could open the access roads the quickest.

Place Miravidi, Arc 1800

Here are some useless statistics from the 2011/12 season in Les Arcs:

1 new skilift (the Mont Blanc at 1600)

Snowboard ratio: 13% of slope users at Christmas, 9% this Easter

61% of slope users are wearing helmets

No of ESF instructors seen wearing helmets: 2

Property news: 
27,500€ for a studio at Plan Devin, Arc 1600
224,000-764,000€ for your new Edenarc residence

Edenarc Phase 1
Snow depths:
5 Jan: 145cm lower, 300cm upper
5 Apr: 115cm lower, 244cm upper 

Number of Twitter followers at 6 April 2012:
@LesArcs: 1,212
@LesArcsEN: 298 (the English language version)