Good snowfall in January and February has lead to excellent visitor levels for French ski resorts, particularly during the six week February holiday period. According to the figures taken between the start of the season and the end of February, French ski stations increased turnover by 20% in comparison with the same period last year.
Jean-Charles Simiand, a spokesman for the body representing French ski lift operators (SNTF) commented that “it has been a long time since we’ve had a real winter sports season with lots of snow from Corsica to the Vosges”
However things are maybe not quite as rosy as M. Simiand would like. A reform to the French school holiday system between 2004 to 2007 will concentrate more tourists into a shorter period with the Christmas holidays beginning mid-week. The school holiday arrangements in France are principally for the benefit of ski stations and not for academic reasons, a system that has existed since the start of mass winter sports tourism.
The snow, while abundant in February due to cold temperatures was very patchy this year. An early spring, daytime temperatures in Grenoble have been around 20C since the beginning of March, will curtail the season for many low lying resorts.
A number of stations had trouble opening properly for the important Christmas and New Year period with heavy rain up to 2000 meters. Despite large investments in snow cannon (1km of pistes costs around 400,000 Euros to equip and artificial snow making for a medium size ski station costs around 150,000 Euros for the season) the unusually mild Christmas temperatures meant this equipment stood idle. Snow canon can only operate when the air temperature is less than 2C. The first real snowfall came on the 3rd of January.
The real stars this year were Corsica with the best snowfall for 20 years, the Southern Alps and, once again, the Pyrénées (+25%). With another excellent winter season, over 3 weeks of snow at 800 meters, the Pyrénées had trouble improving on last seasons figures. In themselves the best for a decade. If anything there was too much snow, with the road to La Mongie, the largest ski area, closed for 8 days at the start of the holiday season.
For the Southern Alps (+30%) the heavy November snowfall with a number of subsequent falls was a godsend after the last season’s disaster. Most of the stations above 1500 meters should be able to finish a normal season after the Easter break.
The Massif Central (+82%) didn’t miss out, over 2.5 meters on the summits in mid-February and 1 meter at 900 meters. The range also saw a rare fatal avalanche when a group of snow shoers from the Club Alpin Français were caught.
Snowfall in the Northern Alps (12%), comprising ¾ of the French ski area spread over the Savoie and Isere, is once again mediocre with the best conditions concentrated into the few weeks between mid-January and the end of February. In the Chartreuse the stations of Saint-Hilaire du Touvet increased its turnover from 122,000 E compared to 38,000 E last year and Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuse from 828,000 E to 1,22 M E
The Vosges (+166%) and Jura (+63%) achieved excellent figures, despite a snowfall concentrated principally over the holiday period.