Despite problems with road access and closed lifts due to the avalanche risk Pyrenean ski resorts have something to smile about at the end of the 2012/2013 season. A season that saw 30 year records for snowfall broken. Some areas had 10 meters of snow over the winter and all ski runs open for the entire season.
Isabelle Pélieu, Director of Hautes-Pyrénées Tourisme Environnement (HPTE) says that turnover will be slightly up on last season despite losses at Cauterets. Pylon 10 of the gondola that links the village to the ski area at Lys was damaged in mid-February due to the quantity of snow. Despite a replacement bus service the number of skiers visiting the resort were down.
The season started earlier than last year, at the start of December although the high Pyrenees resorts often open in the second half of November. The poor weather had an affect on visitor numbers. Cauterets saw huge snowfall in February with 550 cm at the top of the pistes, a world record for a ski resort at that date. This meant a huge amount of work digging out buildings, car-parks and ski lifts as well as clearing access roads. One village was cut off from the outside world for over a month. However the quantity of snow has made a good impression on skiers. January didn't see a single weekend with sunshine. Outside of the holiday period local skiers headed to stations with the best weather and easiest access.
970cm of snow fell on Pla-d'Adet at 1700 meters at St Lary Soulan. The resort saw 650,000 skier days, slightly above the 600,000 last season. In February there were up to 15,000 skiers daily on the pistes. The local ski school say that ski lessons were particuarly hard to organise given the weather conditions. "We did a lot more hours this season, but our instructors are tired out, a lot of snowfall, cold and wind", comments Francois Forgues the director of the school.
Jean-Henri Mir mayor and cousin of Olympic ski champion Isabelle, says "We've seen some changes in consumption patterns, less people in restaurants, people are being careful, more focussed on skiing. We saw good occupancy, particular for quality accomodation. However I've spent 450,000 snow clearing this year compared, 3 times a normal winter".
Luchon Superbagnères broke the 2008/9 record for skier days with 4.3 million euros turnover. However they are learning from lessons from the exceptional snowfall this season. The Céciré sector will have new avalanche control. Closure of this area cost the resort 65,000 euros.
At St Girons the turnover was 1.5 million euros, 300,000 euros more than last season. 65% of the turnover was during the February holiday period and 25% at Christmas. That illustrates just how few skiers are around off season. The ESF ski school gave 4,300 hours of lessons, 1,300 more than last season and had to turn down 500 hours of work due to lack of staff. The resort is fairly remote so isn't always the first choice for skiers. There were some black spots, lack of parking due to ineffective snow clearing and long queues to buy lift passes.