Artouste Stares into the Abyss
Artouste-Fabrèges, the smallest of three ski stations in the French Atlantic Pyrénées hidden deep at the end of the Ossau valley is fighting for survival due to a chronic lack of money. The problems are particuarly ironic because snow has fallen in abundance over the last few days.
The municipality of Laruns, who owns the ski station situated at 20km, will probably announce the closure of the area at a council meeting this coming Monday due to lack of funds. The ski resort consists of 9 ski lifts and 13 runs between 1,400 and 2,100 meters. This leaves them the option to reopen in 2006 but the reality is that few moth-balled ski stations have come back from the dead. The ski resort of Artouste-Fabrèges has been badly indebted since it was opened in 1967. The micro-resort was already threatened with closure at the end of the 1970s. It is estimated that today the resort loses around 500,000 euros per year.
Laruns co-managed the resort with the EPSA (Etablissement public des stations d’altitude), a public body run by the General Council but that agreement expired on the 31st of October. EPSA runs the two other stations in the department, Gourette and Pierre-Saint-Martin. The tiny community of Laruns, it counts just 1400 residents, has been searching for another partner. It held discussions with Altiservice, part of the Suez group, which runs Saint-Lary, Luchon and Font-Romeu but these are now on hold.
Altiservice proposed investing around 15 million € to upgrade the infrastructure, enlarge the ski area and build more beds. PisteHors.com readers may remember that the ski resort of l’Alpe du Grande Serre went bust in the 1990s due to lack of accommodation and dependence on day skiers. The lift system is in urgent need of funds, according to the Skipass.com website the Lours chair dates from 1967, the Sorbiers from ’78 and the eggs from ’82. A small chairlift costs around 1.5 million €.
Altiservice wishes to double the number of ski passes sold from 55,000. Talks have foundered over the financial guarantees Laruns would have to provide which were judged “too onerous” by the Mayor André Berdou, a socialist. M. Berdou continued “we’ve reached the end of the line; we are no longer able to develop and correctly maintain the ski area”. Benoit Clocheret , the MD of Altiservice was surprised by the breakdown of negotiations. “André Berdou… called me on Thursday to tell me he wanted to suspend negotiations… his decision was made after the technical and financial conditions had remained unchanged for 5 months, we’d even improved our offer. My position is the same, I’m ready to run Artouste but only if the technical and financial side is solid. What I can’t do is risk the company and its reputation by signing a contact that will result in failure.”
Not everyone in Laruns agrees with the Mayor. Shop owners, employees and local skiers are up in arms. Last Sunday they organized a demonstration in Laruns. The point out that neighbouring Gourette with 25 pistes and 300,000 ski passes sold is not suffering from the same problems. They recently spent 20 million euros to remodel the ski area and install snow canons. Protestors say that Artouste is the weak link in an economic chain that links businesses in the Ossau valley. They see what they perceive as the communes lack of long term commitment to the resort as one of the main problems with attracting outside investment.
Posted by davidof
on Thursday, 11 November, 2004 at 09:50 PM
The decision was taken at a council meeting at Laruns on Monday night to close Artouste for the 2004/2005 season. 600 protestors including shop keepers, season workers and chalet owners demonstrated outside the town hall during the meeting. A spokeswoman for the group said they were very dissapointed and were now waiting to see if businesses would get any compensation.
Posted by davidof
on Tuesday, 16 November, 2004 at 08:56 PM
Negotiations with Altiservice seem to have finally born fruit and Artouste should be back on the Pyrenean map for the coming season. Good news indeed.
Posted by davidof
on Monday, 10 October, 2005 at 03:50 PM
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