Courchevel The End of Innocense

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Part II: 1955 - 1960

Maurice Michaud? had been educated in one of France's elite Ecoles Polytechnique and he had also been an engineer with the Savoie highways department. He shared the same passion for the mountains as Chappis, he had already climbed the difficult la Meije peak a number of times. A pipe smoker, Michaud also suffered from a stutter, although some people thought he exaggerated this affliction to give him more time to think when asked difficult questions. He was also a man of action, not someone to let technicalities and rules stand in his way. People who me him, especially women, found him direct, sometimes to the point of rudeness. Always controversial, the journalist Danielle Arnaud went as far as to dub him The Snow Dictator.

Michaud recalled the early days where deals were done "half in the office, half in a bistrot. Because I spent all of my time dealing with irregularities I realised it would take forever by orthodox means. To turn the mule track into a road we went almost as far as stealing land. If a landowner didn't cooperate we waited until his back was turned and 'hop' we sent in the bulldozers. Everything was sorted out over a glass of wine, because I knew everybody in the area." The access road, begun in the summer of '46 was ready for the first skiers a year later.

Courchevel gave Michaud an outlet for his energy while letting him to stay in the Savoie area. In the post war years there was a real shortage of money. As the Director of Departmental Reconstruction he had the idea of investing in Courchevel by attracting money from people who'd had their properties bombed. He persuaded hoteliers in the Channel resorts to use their war damages to build in Courchevel. The construction of ski lifts was financed by diverting money for the Savoyard Electrobus project, justified by Michaud because the lifts were just another form of public transport.

Michaud's methods didn't sit well with Laurent Chappis. "In the beginning we were preoccupied with the skiing. Michaud wanted to build a station to rival those abroad, in France we had nothing. But by 1958 my ideas had changed. My structure plan didn't seem that well thought out, the Front de Neige was a mistake, the best zones were reserved for the elite."

Increasingly economic ideas took preference over those of ecology and esthetiques. Chappis was more and more confronted by a non-respect of their town planning objectives. A hotel that added an annex covering part of a ski piste, a bar-refuge built on top of the Saulire without a permit and that grew each season. Trees felled without permission. The search for profit took priority over the general interest. Denys Pradelle? wanted to improve the mountains, not build towns, in 1959 he left Courchevel to work with his team on the creation of the new Vanois National Park. Laurent Chappis was asked to report on the site of the future les Menuires. His study corresponded to his own ideas, "I wanted to build a station that integrated with the site where no building was more than 4 stories... I wanted the mountain to dominate". Michaud didn't agree "he gave me an order, he wanted a building 300 meters long with 17 stories. I refused, I found his ideas illogical. Maurice told me, if you are going to be like that it is finished between us, and so it was, not just professionally but socially."

Courchevel allowed Maurice Michaud to develop a number of ideas:

  • The land for the resort and ski domain needs to be bought in one go in order to stop speculation
  • A resort should have a single promoter
  • The state should pay for infrastructure, access roads, utilities etc
  • Beds needed to be built quickly to offset the development costs of the resort

By 1960 Michaud too had moved on. With his knowledge from the development from Courchevel he spent the next decade running the French Government's Winter Sports planning, the so called "Plan Neige". Flying over the Alps and Pyrenees in a small plane he looked for virgin sites from as far afield as Flaine in the Chablais to Azur 2000 (never developed) close to Nice. But his direct no-nonsense style made him powerful enemies.

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