For Chiles Chabert "the most important animal in the mountains is Man and he himself needs protection". Chabert, boss of the ESF and Rhone-Alpes regional vice-president in charge of the mountains was reacting to a large demonstration to defend the Vans mountains close to Grenoble from developers. I think we can guess where Chabert's heart is.
The ski resort of Chamrousse, which boasts 90km of ski runs, has long had its eye on this high mountain valley. Putting a ski lift in would increase the top altitude of the resort by a massive 200 meters. However due to the nature of the ski area it would still be impossible to ski from the top of the Grand Van to the bottom of the ski area at 1400 meters at Casserouse in a single run. Vertically challenged Chamrousse has long envied the 1000 meters of skiing at nearby les 7 Laux. The 7 Laux has a reputation of being a "real skiers" area as opposed to Chamrousse which is left to beginners and tourists.
The Vans offer an introduction to ski touring to skiers from Grenoble and surrounding areas. Chamrousse has played the ski touring card. Offering a special pass to access the Vans and beyond using the ski lifts and putting in an access route that avoids ski runs. However this winter the mayor has fallen out of love with uphill skiers after they expressed concern about the Vans development. In a fit of pique several events were cancelled; to the benefit of arch rivals les 7 Laux.
Apart from the area just above the lacs Roberts the sector is low avalanche risk. Much appreciated by even experienced locals on higher risk days. The development is not just a case of putting in a single ski lift. The project would require massive terraforming in a rocky and narrow valley in order to be skiable. It would cut through two nature reserves. The lift would also give access to the Bottes valley and, via a short off piste couloir into the Sorbier valley. In short order ski tourers would face the risk of free riders in three popular valleys. Given the recent hostility shown to ski touring one can imagine the activity would soon be restricted or even banned. This winter the mayor sent Gendarmes to fine ski tourers climbing via the areas ski runs.
The project itself is backed by the French state bank the Caisse des dépôts which is also behind the Compagnie des Alpes who run many of France's major ski areas. The CDD has promised to loan Chamrousse 70 million euros to develop the ski resort.
Local backcountry enthusiasts organized a demo last Sunday forming a huge heart at the top of the valley. They are calling on Chamrousse to voluntarily withdraw the project, taking into account all mountain interests, not just those of a ski resort. Apart from local news organisations and TV the story has even reached Paris and the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Journalist Fabrice Nicolino wrote an article entitle "Chairlifts to the summit of the skies":
"Honestly you can't read everything so Charlie, who works without complaint gives you this little news nugget: Philippe Cordon wants to screw the beauty of the Vans. Cordon is the mayor of Chamrousse, a laughable Potemkin village where snow is rare, like everywhere in the mountains. The Vans is a valley that is miraculously intact, a Natura 2000 site. Lakes and wetlands, alpine pastures, splendid pines. But who cares about all that? The valley is higher than Chamrousse and Cordon wants to install ski lifts to extend his ski domain. A wonderful quote from this visionary "History wants us to equip the Vans". Higher and higher with the support of man made snow. It is what we call pissing against the inevitable winds of global warming. Soon there will be ski lifts everywhere to 3000 meters. The devils of antiprogress, Mountain Wilderness are organising a demo to protest at the summit of the Vans this Sunday."