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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
This photograph taken on March 15, 2022 in La Mongie ski ressort shows sand from Sahara that fell overnight covering the snow. (Photo by BASTIEN ARBERET / AFP)

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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ENERGY

Reader Question: Why has the price of fuel for log-burners doubled in France?

The cost for one tonne of the wood pellets used to power wood-burners or stoves has doubled since the beginning of 2021.

Reader Question: Why has the price of fuel for log-burners doubled in France?

Question: We have a poêle in our home in south west France and we have noticed that the price of the wood pellets has rocked in recent months – is this an issue all over France? And why?

Although French consumers are largely shielded from the rocketing prices of gas and electricity seen in many European countries, there is one heating method that has not escaped rising costs – wood-burners.

Many French homes have either open fires or log-burners known as poêles, and the most efficient thing to burn in these are specially created wood pellets known as either pellets or granulés de bois

How much do they cost?

On September 20th, Eric Vial, the director of Propellet, the national association of wood pellet heating professionals, told Actu France that the price has almost doubled since last summer.

“Today, a tonne can be bought for about €600. At the beginning of 2021, it would be €300, €350”, Vial told Actu France on September 20th.

The pellets are usually sold in either DIY stories, specialist outlets or hypermarkets and of course the retail prices vary, but in most cases stores have had no choice but to pass the cost increases on to customers.

Why the increase?

Wood pellets have increased in price for several reasons, namely increased demand and higher production costs.

First, demand for wood pellets increased significantly this year. It also came earlier than it normally does, as people began preparing for winter earlier. Many customers placed order before the start of production for 2022.

“The supply is restricted compared to the demand,” explained a spokesperson for Propellet to La Depeche.

The increased demand amid concerns of energy shortages this winter came alongside a general trend of more installations of pellet-burners in France, as installations are supported by the government in an effort to reduce pollution and dependence on fossil fuels. Households can benefit from State aids and subsidies to install new or refurbish old heating systems.

READ MORE: Heating homes: What are the rules on fires and log burners in France?

Between 2020 and 2021, sales of pellet stoves have increased by 41 percent and sales of pellet boilers by 120 percent.

Stores across the country have been forced to limit sales with demand outpacing supply. One such shop is the Weldom store in Fleurance, near Toulouse, who found themselves out of stock in late September. Store owners told La Depeche that they have “a lot of demand at the moment” and if the re-stock delivery “does not arrive, it will be a loss for the store.”

Prices are also rising is due to increased production costs.

According to Propellet, production expenses first increased during the pandemic when plastic and metal elements needed for the creation of pellets were more difficult to find. Currently, the issue facing the industry is the price of electricity. 

Vial explained Actu France that “To manufacture pellets, you need electricity. Because of what is happening in Ukraine, [the price of electricity] has increased a lot.”

According to Christian Lejeune, the manager of the sawmill in Grand-Est, several companies that supply wood pellets are more directly impacted by the war in Ukraine. “They imported their supplies from Ukraine or Belarus,” explained Lejeune to Republicain Lorrain.

Unlike electricity and gas, wood pellets have not fallen under a government price shield to protect consumers from price increases related to inflation. 

READ MORE: LATEST: France to set maximum 15 percent gas and electricity price rises for 2023

Some local politicians, such as the MP for the Ardennes area, Pierre Cordier, have begun pushing for wood pellets to be covered by a price shield, as well as for action to be taken to protect against possible shortages. 

The Minister of Environment, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, responded to Cordier’s requests on September 13th, saying that the government has “taken measures to promote the production of pellet and not be in a supply impasse.” 

The details of such measures were not yet communicated as of September 26th, but according to the Prime Minister’s press conference detailing the extension of the energy shield for electricity and gas, households that use wood-burners will also benefit from the cheque energie, depending on their level of income.

Is there concern about a shortage?

Propellet told La Depeche that “we are not yet in a situation of shortage” instead they are concerned about “temporary strains.”

The association of wood pellet heating professionals expects that the situation will have “smoothed over in the coming months” but this will depend largely on the weather. A colder winter would increase demand.

In the event of a harsh winter, France might need to import wood pellets from other countries, which could prove problematic, as the situation for many other countries is “similar” to France in that there is increased consumer interest in purchasing wood pellets, according to Vial. 

The sector hopes to double its production capacity by 2028, and to distribute an additional one million tonnes between 2021 and 2024. 

On September 22nd, TotalEnergies inaugurated a new pellet bagging and bulk centre.

The plant, which was set up in partnership with the organisation Sea Invest, is intended to boost supplies by increasing the site’s processing capacity from 25,000 metric tons to 50,000 metric tons within three years. Pellets produced will be distributed in a 200 km area around Rouen.

What about firewood?

Consumers have also found themselves paying more for firewood due to a rise in demand – prices have gone up 20 percent since June, according to BFMTV.

When asked about the rising price of wood, the prime minister said that her administration would “look carefully at why wood has a high cost” adding that she believes it “can be produced on our territory.”

“We have forests in France so it will also be interesting to look at whether some people are not taking advantage of the crisis to increase prices,” said Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne.

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