We’ve already reported on the exception Christmas conditions in the Southern Alps but other areas are also reporting a good start to the current ski season. The mighty Compagnie des Alpes is hoping that the Vanoise Express linking les Arcs to la Plagne, which returned to service just before Christmas, will boost their profits. More importantly they have another 4000 beds dotted around their resorts, notably in la Plagne. However good snow across the six French mountain ranges, particuarly in smaller resorts may mean the desertion of cost conscious skiers from the CdA’s ski factories. CdA have suffered in previous good snow years.
They are also following a storming 2007-2008 season with overall profits up 28.8% and a record 13.7 million skier days, up 6.8% on 2006/7. The CdA will pay a dividend of 1 euro per share to its 4000 shareholders in 2009. Something that will probably be quite rare this year. However the group have experienced resistance from ski resorts, notably in the Haute-Tarentaise, to the introduction of the Holiski roaming pass.
All this building seems to be creating further pressure for expansion of ski areas. Val Cenis and Termignon completed their linkup this season despite strong opposition from environmental groups. A new Pomagalski gondola lifts links tiny Celliers to the Valmorel ski domain. Local politicians have promised ski tourers and walkers that the Lauziere mountain range will be protected from further expansion but these legal safeguards have still not been put in place. Readers will remember that a protected area in Val d’Isere was “deregistered” when the resort wanted to put in a ski lift on the col de l’Iseran. It is hard to see the economic justification for building a 4.4 M€ lift from Celliers, with its two small hotels and 100 inhabitants. Watch this space. Montgenevre claims to have the largest lift building program in the French Alps with the installation of two Poma Telemix (mixed chairs and cabins) ski lifts serving the Chalmettes and Serre-Thibaud sector. This is accompanied with 10km of new ski runs. The investment has cost 21 million, financed by the resort itself with loans from a number of banks including the troubled Dexia group. However a further battle royale is shaping up over the equipment of the 3130 meter Chaberton mountain, a sort of virility symbol for the resort. The mountain has been the subject of plans in the past but the resort hopes it has worn down the opposition.
In the Savoie the tourist board thinks that the Christmas holiday period will see an increase of turnover “in double figures”. This is in part due to a shift in the Belgium holiday period which meant a busy New Year. Saint-François-Longchamp says turnover for the period is up 12-14%. They are seeing a lot of local skiers since the start of the season. Valloire was “fully booked” for New Year week and has good reservations for January. La Toussuire, part of the les Sybelles ski area, also says turnover is up 12-14%. In the Bauges, le Margeriaz has seen a 20% increase with lift pass sales up 50% at the start of the season. The resort was amongst the first non glacier ski areas to open in France.
La Féclaz, popular with cross country skiers and the village Entremont en Chartreuse (le Desert and le Granier) have also reported good numbers but warn that the Christmas holiday is just 20% of their turnover. The key February holiday period represent half of total turnover. As we’ve frequently reported mid-mountain resorts have suffered over the last two seasons and many are in a poor financial state. La Féclaz had an eye-popping 1 M€ debt in 2007 and were teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. They have a payroll of 100 staff in February as well as the ski school instructors.
There is good news further north. In the Val d’Arly reservations were up at low lying Flumet (900 meters) compared to last year and at la Giettaz had 100% occupancy over New Year although they didn’t notice any change for Christmas week. Arêches says their figures vary from year to another. Christmas occupancy was at 65% to 70% against 70 to 75% for 2007. However the resort was full for New Year compared to 70 % in 2008. For February there are fewer reservations compared to last year at the same time but this follows the trend of late bookings, skiers have been waiting for snow which has been delivered in quantity this week. Nearby les Saisies was full for the New Year and 80% for xmas compared to 75% in 2007. February is looking good too with the station almost full from the second week.