Each year the premier league resorts of France, Austria and the United States battle it out to see who has sold the most skier days. After two years on top France saw a drop of 4.5% over last season with “just” 55.3 million passes. The USA has taken the championship with 56.2 million skier days. Things were worse for Austria which came in third with a 6.3% drop.
It is a long way from the pre-financial crisis days where restaurants were full, the sun shone and French ski stations sold 58.5 million passes. Snow professionals blame a number of factors. A rise in VAT has increased prices all round, weather was not great last winter with temperatures 2.3C above average and the usual bugbear of the school holiday calendar, especially the Easter holidays which contributed just 2% to the figures compared to 10% in 2010 and probably cost France its first place.
The bad news should be set in a general economic context of near zero growth in France, salary freezes in both the public and private sector and record unemployment. Taxes have also increased enormously (the income tax take has gone from 50 to 70 billion in just 4 years). This leaves hard pressed households with little free cash for luxury holidays. The reform of school hours has also blocked Wednesday for many young kids although some Savoyard schools have taken the initiative to free up the winter timetable by starting the autumn term early. The weather may have been unsettled, especially in January and the end of the season, but it brought extremely good snow conditions above 1500 meters and even lower resorts were able to operate more or less normally.
The Pyrenees sold about the same skier days as 2013 but there was a 3% drop for the Savoie, 4% in the Haute Savoie, 5% in the Southern Alps, 12% in the Drome and Isere, 15% in the Jura and 30% in the Vosges. The latter two areas were affected by lack of snow. Luxury resorts did better, a 2% drop overall and Chamonix actually increased skier/days by 2.5% and turnover by 5% (71 million euros). Chamonix has now beaten la Plagne as the first ski lift operator in France for the second year in succession.