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SKIIING

French ski resorts reopen after 2020 Covid write-off

French mountain resorts are starting to open for the first time since Covid made last season a write-off, with winter sport enthusiasts and sector professionals hoping that no fresh virus wave will spoil the fun.

People ski down a slope near a cable car at Val Thorens ski resort, in the French Alps
People ski down a slope near a cable car at Val Thorens ski resort, in the French Alps, as ski resorts begin reopening this weekend. PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Val Thorens, Europe’s highest winter sport resort at 2,300 metres (7,500 feet) and hugely popular with Britons, was the first of France’s Alpine resorts allowing skiers back on the lifts and slopes on Saturday.

Others will follow over the coming weeks.

“Amazing, we’re the first,” said one skier testing the slopes with a group of friends. “It’s a bit cold, but we’ll be fine,” the skier added.

READ ALSO Masks and health pass: Covid rules in France’s ski resorts this winter

Some 10,000 people descended on the station on Saturday, local media reported, with the snow in good shape and favourable weather.

France’s resorts are the world’s third-most popular skiing spots in the world, after those in the United States and in Austria, and an economic lifeline for many regions.

“This year will be important for us, crucial even,” said Olivier Simonin, in charge of ski lifts in Val d’Isere which is to open next Saturday.

“Our future is at stake and we can’t imagine not having a winter season, so we did everything possible to make sure we’d have one,” he told AFP.

Last winter, Alpine skiing was almost impossible in France as ski lifts were shut to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Hotels were allowed to open and other winter activities such as snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing were authorised, but the lack of downhill skiing caused a collapse in income.

“We’re so happy to be able to restart the ski lifts and get back to doing our jobs at 100 percent,” Val Thorens ski patrol member Emmanuel Laissus told AFP.

Franck Feyeux, a cabin lift driver, added: “We’ve been impatient for customers to return, a lot of people’s livelihoods are at stake.”

The tiny station of Porte-Puymorens, meanwhile, was the first resort in the southwestern Pyrenees to reopen, with others in the region to follow suit by early December.

“Demand is incredible,” Porte-Puymorens resort director Eric Charre told AFP. “The economic engine is restarting.”

Covid-related demands on skiers are relatively light at the resorts, with mask-wearing required in queues and on board ski gondolas.

But the government has already warned that it could tighten the rules, notably by introducing a health pass obligation, if Covid cases rise strongly.

The health pass, required in French restaurants, cafes and many cultural venues, certifies that a person is fully vaccinated, has recently recovered from Covid, or has tested negative for the virus.

READ ALSO: Will travel to and from France be open this Christmas?
READ ALSO: Masks and health pass: Covid rules in France’s ski resorts this winter

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SKIING

‘Slower lifts’: What ski resorts in France will do to save energy this winter

Skiers in France may have to contend with higher prices this winter season, as resorts take measures to deal with rising energy prices.

'Slower lifts': What ski resorts in France will do to save energy this winter

French ski resorts, like most industries are not exempt from the energy crisis, as they attempt to plan for the winter season amid rising prices and potential shortages. 

Called upon to reduce their energy consumption by 10 percent, the resorts are looking into ways they can cut down on energy consumption. 

As a result, skiers may have to accept things from slower chairlifts to pricier tickets as stations attempt to save energy.

How the resorts will be affected

For over a third of ski operators, the energy issue is even more pressing, because they are in the midst of renegotiating their energy supply contracts. Normally signed every three years, some resorts have found themselves at the end of their contracts with rates reaching record highs. 

For the SATA group, which manages the lifts of Alpe-d’Huez, Deux-Alpes and La Grave resorts, current rates, depending on the resort, could double, a group spokesperson told AFP. So a resort with a €10 million energy bill could find it having to pay €20 million this winter.

Meanwhile the Domaines skiables de France (DSF) – the umbrella group in charge of French ski resorts – told AFP that electricity bills, which normally accounts for three to five percent of their costs, could triple or quadruple. 

How skiers could be impacted?

Slower chairlifts and some closures

According to BFMTV, several resorts are considering slowing down their ski lifts, as well as closing others if there is already another lift that serves that slope. The head of DSF, Alexandre Maulin, told BFMTV that this proposal would only “add one minute of climbing time for the skier” and that it would likely “not be noticeable.”

Adjusting opening hours

Resorts are considering opening later in the morning and closing earlier in the evening to cut back on energy usage.

Christmas lights, water temperature and hot tubs

In total, the ski area only accounts for about 20 percent of the resort’s energy, so cuts will be necessary beyond just the slopes themselves. Resort-goers may have to make due without Christmas lights in some resorts, like Avoriaz near Chamonix. As for indoor pools, temperatures could be lowered by up to 3C, and hotels and private chalets may be asked to turn off some exterior lighting and make jacuzzis optional. 

Increased prices:

Finally, several stations are preparing to increase the prices of ski passes. “We are lucky because our energy contract is still running, but we have to face a global increase of our expenses,” explained the head of communications for the La Clusaz resort to BFMTV. For Avoriaz, the price of a day pass will go from €43.5 to €47. France bleu reported that other resorts – including the Val Thorens station and several Vosges resorts in Alsace will also increase prices.

Will there be ski resort closures?

Skiers can rest assured that the sport will still be possible, and that stations are set to remain open all winter, according to Alexandre Maulin. 

“We are not going to reduce services,” Maulin told BFMTV. 

The DSF head explained that that measures impacting opening hours would mostly be activated during off-peak times and outside of school vacations, with the overarching goal of “limiting inconveniences.” 

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