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

Patrick Dole, the Mayor of les Houches has said “that he has the legal means to keep the Houches lifts open”, he makes an interesting point about having a duty to “ensure the continuation of the public service” of the ski lifts. The Grenoble court are due to announce their decision around mid-October.

Dole strongly criticises both the Compagnie de Mont Blanc (and its shareholders the Compagnie des Alpes) saying that they want to get their hands on the Houches’ ski domain and accuses the SEPP of playing into the CMB’s hands. However he agrees with the “commissaire du gouvernement” saying that the ski area is in need of reorganisation.


Posted by  on  Sunday, 05 October, 2008  at 10:54 PM

So will this mean the no Kandahaar this year and the relocation of the usual Les Houches visitors to the GM and elsewhere...is Cham not becoming enough of a zoo without additional artifical pressures like this being heaped on the other domaines?

Although I would love to see an FIS DH down the Bochard

Posted by  on  Thursday, 09 October, 2008  at 02:45 PM

Good question, it seems as if the two town halls concerned will run the domain regardless of the legal issues. I guess the main problem will be public liability insurance for the ski area but the mayors believe they have the legal tools to open.

Still as Firechick says, it is not a great situation from a marketing standpoint and must make event organizers nervous.

Posted by davidof on  Thursday, 09 October, 2008  at 03:00 PM

The Kandahar race was not scheduled for this year (or next season either) due to a FIS World Cup race scheduled at the same time in Val d’Isere ... so at least this is not affecting the town’s reputation and capability for hosting world cup events.

More likely Brevent/Flegere, Courmayeur or Le Tour will appeal to Les Houches regulars.

One of the best things about Les Houches is the fact that the restaurants there are independent and good - they are not part of the Compagnie du Mont Blanc concession of tasteless, institutional and overpriced restaurants run by ‘Serac’. A second great thing is that the resort is open when all else in Chamonix is shut for high winds, because Les Houches is better protected from the winds. 

The best substitute for a day at Les Houches with cruise-y skiing and good food during bad weather would be Courmayeur Italy - the restaurants in Courmayeur are fabulous and all independent as well and the skiing is similar - trees line many pistes so that in poor weather the resort is still ‘skiable’.

Local ski clubs who use Les Houches for training are more impacted than tourists if the area doesn’t open, as tourists often make use of more than one ski area during their visit anyhow. The Les Houches ‘open or not’ question should not stop anyone from booking Chamonix or Les Houches for a ski holiday because there are a lot of other choices provided on the Chamonix passes.

Courmayeur (as close to Les Houches as Argentiere in drive time) is on the Mont Blanc Unlimited pass. Last year was the first year of this arrangement and transport was a bit of an issue - discounted tunnel passes were made available but this required the visitor to have access to a car. This year regularly scheduled ski buses are to run between Courmayeur and Chamonix (new service as of this season) as well as still offering the previously available heavily discount tickets for driving through the tunnel.

Additional announced in-resort transport improvements are shuttle buses dedicated to run solely between Le Brevent and La Flegere ... the two areas are linked by a lift at altitude, and this will allow skiers to park at either station and descend wherever they like knowing there is easy and convenient transport back and forth to the car parks. The new lift at Le Brevent will have 3 times the uplift of the old system, and should make queuing no longer a problem - and construction is progressing on schedule for opening day in December.

But fingers crossed that Les Houches is reorganized sanely in time for next year to avoid the drama and so it can be put back on the ‘Unlimited’ passes ...

Posted by  on  Thursday, 09 October, 2008  at 07:26 PM

Just highlights how ridiculus this country can be....

Posted by Chopper on  Monday, 13 October, 2008  at 01:26 PM
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