Les Houches to remain closed for the 08/09 Season?

The contracts to run the ski domain of both SEPP (Bellevue lift) and the LHSG company that runs the Prarion lift (Compagnie du Mont Blanc + Cachat family) have been recommended to be cancelled by the government commission at the tribunal of Grenoble, potentially making it legally impossible to open Les Houches for skiing this winter.

The Les Houches ski area has had concessionary issues with its ski domain for many years. The current situation is that the ski area sits between two communes, Chamonix and St Gervais, and two main families (Hottegindres of SEPP and Cachat of LHSG) one of whom (LHSG) has a principal partner/investor based in Chamonix (The Compagnie du Mont Blanc).

Each year disagreements on the division of revenues has resulted in delays in knowing when, if and how the Les Houches ski passes would be available to clients, often until nearly opening day. The director of the Office of Tourism in Les Houches, Didier Josephe, laments this situation, saying that it makes it impossible to do pre-season promotions and advertising aimed at clients. This reduces the potential winter revenues for everyone involved with the ski area.

This year SEPP (Bellevue lift) did not allow LHSG, which runs the Prarion lift, to cross any of its land to reach LHSG pistes, effectively stopping LHSG from operating. The Compagnie du Mont Blanc were aware of this tactic last Spring and have already thrown in the towel, telling clients that Les Houches would not be on the ski pass for this season. Instead they have struck a deal with Verbier in Switzerland to allow Mont Blanc Unlimited season pass holders unlimited ski days at Verbier as compensation. They are also continuing to develop relations with the Courmayeur ski area in Italy.

Now, the contract to run the ski domain of SEPP (Bellvue lift) has been recommended to be cancelled by the government commission at the Grenoble Administrative Court. Normally the conclusion of the commision is followed by judges, therefore we await the contracts of both groups to be officially annulled, and this would lead to the impossibility under French law to have enough time to renegotiate the contracts before the start of the winter season, effectively closing the hill for both lifts.

The Mayor of St Gervais was interviewed on Radio Mt Blanc saying he had asked the Prefecture what sort of help they were going to give to the towns since they have basically taken away their livelihood in this move ...

The Dauphiné Libéré has speculated that the Compagnie du Mont Blanc and LHSG have actually welcomed this action because although it will be bad for this winter, it seems to bode well for the future.

In the Dauphiné Libéré, they suggest this will lead to the formation of a Sivu (Syndicat a vocation unique or Union into a single operator). A Sivu is thought by many to be a more practical legal body for the ski domain, allowing the communes to have one authority to deal with running the domains.

Further Information

SEPP’s view of events - link in French

Posted by on Tuesday, 23 September, 2008 at 03:58 PM

It seems far fetched that a resort like Les Houches would stay closed but we’ve seen it before with Artouste and Ceuze so it could just happen. Maybe it would put an end to this insane feud?

I saw Houches’ attorney Xavier Chantelot in a beach bar on the south coast a couple of weeks ago, I should have asked him what was going on between the Diggers and the Ewings, but he looked to be having a nice holiday.

Posted by davidof on  Wednesday, 24 September, 2008  at 09:43 AM

The part played by the “commissaire du gouvernement” in each administrative court is an unusual one. He is a judge but is separate from the trial judges. After the lawyers for the parties have submitted their pleadings to the trial judges the commissaire expresses his own legal view on the issues raised by the parties and advises as to the judgment he would personally render if he was a trial judge. He does not represent the government’s legal viewpoint. The trial judges then decide, in view of what the lawyers said and the commissaire’s conclusions, what decision they will hand down. The trial judges are in no way bound to follow the commissaire’s opinion and it is indeed quite common that the trial judges take an opposite view to the commissaire’s. It is not over until it is over whatever the Daube says.

Posted by  on  Wednesday, 24 September, 2008  at 07:05 PM

Local businesses are obviously very concerned now about the season if this happens (especially shops and chalets in Les Houches) ... you can be sure they will put whatever pressure they can onto the local governments but of course it’s not necessarily in their hands now ... I guess we need some drama to follow in November when the weather is generally too cold and rainy to climb and not cold enough to ski!

Posted by  on  Thursday, 25 September, 2008  at 11:50 AM

Delicate situation all round. The family that owns the Prarion télécabine along with the Compagnie du Mont Blanc is the Balmat family (not the Cachats).

Posted by Marie on  Thursday, 25 September, 2008  at 02:35 PM

Yes, that family name (Cachat) was misreported in the original Dauphine article and corrected to Balmat the following day.

Posted by  on  Saturday, 27 September, 2008  at 04:11 PM
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