Le Corbier History

Ski-Areas > Northern Alps > Savoie (73) > Maurienne > Le Corbier > History

St Germain des Neiges

Le Corbier was the dream that would become the nightmare of Jazz Musician Christian Guerin. Having studied music at the Conservatoire, Guerin made his money playing in the 50s Jazz bands of Claude Luter and Sydney Bechett. It was 1963, the yé-yé music craze was in full swing and Guerin was without work. A friend told him of the mercurial Maurice Michaud? who had plans to build ski resorts all over the French Alps as part of the French Government's Plan Neige. Two weeks later Guerin found himself in Michaud's office in Chambèry. A fateful meeting that would lead to the musician's eventual ruin. Michaud explained that they were making an inventory of all the potential sites, using a small plane to survey the mountains. The area between la Toussuire and les Arves, in the community of Villarembert, had been earmarked for a small station, at most 4,000 beds. Guerin was captivated by the idea of building a station on a human scale and of recreating the café atmosphere of Paris' St Germain in the mountains.

yé-yé girls Sylvie Vartan and Françoise Hardy

Yé-Yé girls Sylvie Vartan and Françoise Hardy

At the time Villarembert had 109 inhabitants, the average age was pushing 60, there were no bars or shops and the school was about to close. Most people scraped an existence from the soil. There was a single road in very poor condition. Water was still drawn from the village pump. Before the war there had been a plan for a ski station, but nothing came of it due to lack of money. After the war, neighbouring Foncouverte had built La Toussuire. Guerin and his radical ideas were welcomed into this atmosphere of petty rivalries.

Despite this it took three years of talking to finally get the project underway. Every Friday he would take the night train from Gare de Lyon in Paris to St Jean de Maurienne before spending the weekend trying to convince the locals to commit to the ski station. The jealousy with Foncouverte obliged him to concede that the new access road would bypass la Toussuire and that the locals could invest in the ski lifts and have priority over jobs in the station.

The 4 km access road was started in October 1966. Pierre Dumas?, a local politician, with an eye on the forthcoming elections asked for the work to be accelerated despite the fact that Guerin hadn't yet acquired the land on which the road or station would be built. It was only in July that Guerin got the exclusive rights to develop le Corbier for 30 years. Without planning permission work began on a hotel to be opened at Christmas, 45 beds, 3 shops, 3 restaurants and a nightclub. The ski slopes were to be served by a chair and 2 drag lifts. All of Guerin's friends and family were encouraged to put up capital. Land was acquired at 50 centimes per m2. There were no contracts, no accountants, everything was done on a handshake.

On the 30th December 1967 the station opened. It seemed that the whole of St Germain was there to celebrate.Robert Hossein, Jacques Dutronc, Roger Hanin, Jean Christophe Averty, Jean Louis Trintignant, Pascal Danel, Dario Moreno, Anne Marie Peysson and Michelle Mercier. Jazz music, provided by Luter's band, blasted out over the slopes . In a further coup, Guerin persuaded Jean-Noël Augert, a young ski champion from rivals la Toussuire to race for le Corbier in a televised ski competition called Interneiges. Week by week, in front of millions of viewers, the Corbier team battled through to the finals and victory. You couldn't buy such good publicity, the future seemed certain.

Jean-Noël Augert - competing in ski slalom

Jean-Noël Augert in action

But Guerin had reckoned without the caprices of French workers and intellectuals. In May '68 the whole of France was paralyzed by a general strike as workers and students took to the streets to battle the police and the establishment. Petrol and soon food were in short supply as barricades were put up outside the left bank universities close to Guerin's old haunts on the boulevard St Germain. Work on the first apartment block ground to a halt despite the apartments having already been sold. Finally President De Gaulle was forced to yield to the strikers, work resumed. Clients however were impatient. Double time had to be paid but the family and friends had no more cash. The UCIP bank, in which Drouot, a French insurance group had a major stake, advanced 4 million Francs. For this contribution the bank obtained a 28% stake in the Société d'Amenagement du CORBIER (SAC).

The highlight of the winter of 69-70 was a week dedicated to Jazz, other visitors from St Germain came: Pierre Prévert, Guy Marchand, Eddy Barclay, Roger Vadim and Françoise Hardy. They were brought on a train chartered from Paris. But the finances of the station deteriorated and finally became critical in June of that year. Their associates deserted the sinking ship. Christian Guerin and his father were forced to sell their shares in the SAC for a nominal value. 3 Million Francs in real estate and shares were seized. This cleared the worst of their debts but they were ruined. Black listed by the banks projects to develop Montgenèvre and nearby Montricher and Albanne with the Rothschilds and Jean Lefebvre unraveled. Christian Guerin's marriage couldn't withstand the disaster. With the new owners the halcyon days of St Germain des Neiges passed into history

<< | Le Corbier | Le Corbier Off Piste >>