Interview: “It’s not a catastrophe which is going to happen overnight.”

Are the major players of the ski industry really taking into account the stakes tied to global warming and the economic crisis?

A response from Jacques Guillot, vice-president of the National Association of Mayors of Mountain Resorts. He is also mayor of

Chamrousse, a resort in the department of Isere.

– It’s a factor that we must incorporate into our thinking, but we are still relatively reassured and optimistic. It’s not acatastrophe which is going to happen overnight. Look at this year, the whole array of resorts is covered in snow, including those at low altitude.

– Last year, there was indeed fear: the resorts at lower elevations had more trouble during the season.

– Yes, indeed. If the… what we call the cold fronts generate precipitation which isn’t snowy, or, if there is snow, which makes it melt, it’s a worry we have. So today, indeed, the investment in… the studies showing… there are mountain resorts which today, these investments have completely retained their value. With others we’re asking ourselves questions. On the other hand, we’re adapting as well to the snow ‘crop, to the work on the slopes, and then, another thing which is important is that all the ski lifts today are made to bring our customers back up to the top, but are also for those who, as in some cases, can only practice skiing at the mountain peaks, for example.

– Is there really discourse on the sustainable development of… in terms of transportation, trying to minimize a bit the impact of this recreation, in fact of this activity, on the environment?

– Yes, I believe that, there too, we mustn’t judge someone’s intent. Skiing is no more of a ‘bad student’ than other industrial activities or recreations. It’s an important economic activity, the ski industry. In the French GDP, tourism is important; so quite simply, it’s that today the impacts are more closely looked at, more apprehended than previously. As far as the ski lifts, we’re in a bit of a phase I’d say of renovation of the ski lift back to the first generation. There are ski lifts which date back to the 50s. So, the objective is to have larger lifts and to reduce the number of lifts at each station. That is, often you’ll have a large lift which will carry up 3,000 people an hour newly commissioned while three others are being decommissioned. So, the impact is lower, which allows for skiable areas, that which is taken by the ski lifts, without having to go look for additional areas. So, that is, of course, part of sustainable development.

– Have you suffered to some extent from the effects of the economic crisis? Perhaps not yet, but have you felt it these past few years? Buying power also, which is a little lower and which results in people perhaps not having the means to pay for six days of skiing, for example?

– I think there are two things in France which are important. These are, first: the diversity of our mountain ranges and of our resorts results in one always finding, according to his budget and his wishes, quite simply, the vacation of his choice within his price range. So, that’s the interest of the French mountain ranges. You can go to a very posh and very expensive resort, or a small resort where you’ll live in a cottage, which will be completely suitable. That, that’s the first point. The second, about the economic crisis, well, at the moment we’re a bit of an exception, but we acknowledge it today. Skiing this year hasn’t had any downturn linked to the economic crisis. On the contrary, we’ve had a seasonal boost, thanks to the snow and then also perhaps to the equipment changes that the resorts are making, which during the Christmas holiday was more in line with the February holiday. Well, I’d say, even greater in terms of visits, with budgets that we might have thought would have gone to other things, used either for culinary jobs or ski rental jobs or others which would be declining. This is not the case today in a very, very large majority of resorts. Perhaps, in the month of January there was a bit of a damper on the high-end resorts, where customers are coming but maybe not having the same length of stay that they had in previous years.

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