In the same week that French President Jacques Chirac has been telling the British to contribute more to the EU budget while refusing change to the subsidy paid to French farmers a new drain on the EU budget has surfaced: Snow Cannon Aid. With the bulk of the money going to ski stations, which according to studies on global warming, have poor long term prospects even some French are fuming.
French ski resorts have invested 46 Million € in snow cannons this year, an increase of 26% compared to 2001 according to a report by the Service études et aménagement touristique de la montagne (SEATM). Whilst investments in the Northern Alps have been largely self financed those in the South have benefited from regional and EU aid to the tune of 85%!
An additional 7 Million € has been used to create reservoirs to supply the canons and a further 18 Million € has been spent on improvements to the ski runs, for example removing or compacting rocks and planting grass. These changes make it possible to ski on only 20cm of snow.
The investment is split between 48% for the North and 37% for the South, however the Northern Alps represent 75% of the ski days in France against a mere 10-15% for the South. The lack of snow over the last couple of years in the South has seen a drop of over 20% in ski days compared to the average.
The aid figures have shocked many people. Bernard Nicolas, a spokesman for SEATM responded that “In the Southern Alps, if there wasn’t skiing, the valleys would be deserted.” In Switzerland everyone who profits from a ski area: hirers, hotels and restaurants must contribute to its finances. Over the last couple of decades regional aid to ski stations in the Alpes Maritimes has run to thousands of Euros for each tax payer. These surprising figures have lead some people to question the wisdom of this policy.