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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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PROTESTS

French bakers protest over surging power prices

Dressed in aprons and brandishing baguettes, hundreds of bakers demonstrated in the streets of Paris on Monday to warn that the country's beloved bread and croissant makers were under threat from surging electricity and raw material costs.

French bakers protest over surging power prices

“We feel like there’s a huge injustice,” said Sylvie Leduc from the rural Dordogne region who had travelled to the capital for the protest. “We know how to run a business, that’s not a problem, but we’re faced with increases that are just impossible to pass on to customers.”

The protest was yet another sign of the anger and incomprehension felt by many French people over the sudden price hikes linked to the war in Ukraine, as well as the Covid-19 pandemic that hit global supply chains.

Bakers were already struggling with higher butter and flour costs, while the price of eggs has also spiked because of a national bird flu outbreak that has hit many French farms.

The final straw for many of the country’s 35,000 bakeries has been the annual renewal of their electricity contracts, with suppliers suddenly asking for astronomical monthly payments in 2023.

READ MORE: Boulangeries across France face closure as energy bills skyrocket

Leduc’s husband Jean-Philippe said their power bill had increased six-fold in January, meaning they could hang on for only a few more months before being forced to close — unless financial help arrived. 

“Thirty years of being a baker and it’s going to finish like this? I could never have imagined it,” he said, shaking his head. “We don’t want hand-outs, we just want to be able to live from our work.” 

For the French, their local bakery is about more than simple food shopping: they serve as a symbol of the national way of life, while providing a focal point for many communities.

“The day starts with a baguette!” former presidential candidate Jean Lassalle, an ardent defender of traditional rural French communities, told AFP at the rally.

“These people are the ones who get up the earliest in France and they’ve had enough.”

‘Bakeries in Danger’

Given the emotional attachment to French bread, the government of President Emmanuel Macron has sought to highlight the help on offer for small business owners.

Macron welcomed bakers to the presidential palace on January 6, telling them: “I’m on your side”.

He outlined various government schemes which could help bring down electricity bills by 40 percent for eligible businesses.

But many of those demonstrating said the different systems put in place were either too complicated, too slow to deliver help, or  available for only the smallest bakeries with less than 12 employees, for example.

Some carried banners reading “Bakeries in Danger”, while one man pushed a wooden coffin on wheels with a skeleton inside dressed in a baker’s apron and trousers.

Many said they had always accepted the long hours, lack of sleep and gruelling physical labour out of the love for the profession, but felt compelled to hit the streets now.

“I’ve never seen bakers protest before,” said Joelle Reimel, 56, who said her monthly power bill for her bakery 50 kilometres (30 miles) southwest of Paris had increased from €2,500 a month to €14,000.

“We don’t have time to demonstrate normally. We’re up at 2am and go to bed at 8 in the evening.”

Pension protests

The protest came after one of the biggest demonstrations in decades last Thursday when more than a million people protested against an unpopular pension reform that will raise the age of retirement to 64 for most people.

Macron’s opponents have sought to pin the blame for electricity rises on him and European Union rules which mean power prices across the bloc are linked to the price of gas, even if the electricity is generated from other sources.

Anti-immigration and eurosceptic leader Marine Le Pen has assailed the “refusal of Emmanuel Macron to break from the absurd European rules on the electricity market.”

Macron has acknowledged that European electricity pricing rules are “flawed” and has promised to reform them.

For Lionel Bonnamy, the fate of France’s bakeries is also about the country’s economic model, which has long sought to protect small shopkeepers and artisans — what he called the “economic fabric” of the country.

“If we carry on this way, everything will look the same, uniform, big business,” said the award-winning baker from Paris.

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