Courchevel Triumph of the Peasants

Ski-Areas > Northern Alps > Savoie (73) > Vanoise > Courchevel > Courchevel History > Triumph of the Peasants

Part III: 1960 - Present

After the battle over the naming of the new station the people of St Bon realised that they had been bypassed by events. Sure they had jobs, minding lifts, cleaning in hotels and such like but only 9 of the 157 original families had managed to set up a real business.

They looked around for a higher profile candidate to be their mayor and asked Pierre de la Gontrie to fill the role. He had fallen out with the General Council over the developments in Courchevel. It was his chance to defend the interests of the community and take his revenge on the department who still ran the ski resort.

St Bon started to develop Moriond, without any overall vision and with purely private initiatives. The result was a disaster. Huge ugly buildings were thrown up next to the road with no parking spaces. There were permanent traffic jams on the access road to 1850. Ski lifts, still run by the department, were not as profitable as beds and didn't keep pace with developments. Courchevel had 100 km of runs with 35 lifts, and they weren't always working. Gilbert Mathieu summarized the situation in damning piece "la Loze, half an hour, la Saulire three quarters of an hour, les Verdons, nearly one hour, these times aren't those needed for a skier to descend the most popular pistes of Courchevel but the time standing in a queue... apparently the department is using the money made from the resort for other purposes. They risk killing the goose that lays the golden eggs"

In Mathieu's opinions the infrastructure should be run and developed by someone else. Joseph Fontenet?, who now headed the General Council, recognised the problem but recalled that when in 1945 almost all the terrain above 1800 meters was acquired people thought this was profligate. The problem was the development outside of the original structure plan and the blame lay with the council in St Bon. By 1969 Courchevel was accommodating 200,000 skiers a year, 7.5% from abroad and had 13,000 beds with 2,000 new beds added per year.

There were also criticisms from the Government's Financial Controllers. Courchevel was slammed for selling land too cheap, 80 Francs / m2 for appartments and 1000 Francs per m2 for shops. Land that had already been acquired at twice the going rate. But if that price hadn't been offered the station would never have gotten off the ground. Investors at Val d'Isère maybe had to pay five or six times as much for land but that was a star resort whereas no-one thought Courchevel would work.

In 1964, a two year 2 year halt on developments due to overcrowding on the pistes was called with a freeze on new links between Courchevel and St Bon until the St Bonnais saw reason and agreed to an overall plan for the resort and its new satellites. A deal was done in 1969 and in 1971 the Savoyard General Council transferred Courchevel back to the community of St Bon while keeping the operation of the ski lifts.

St Bon, with its 1800 residents now had to run a station with over 20,000 beds. They decided to renovate the buildings. Steadily the resort has been transformed into what some of the original architects have described as a pastiche of a Swiss village. Swiss Chalets responded to the needs of that region, they built in wood because it was cheap whereas in the Tarentaise such buildings, even the word 'chalet' was completely unknown. It is a corruption of Savoyard architecture.

Laurent Chappis has gone even further "why not go back to wooden skis, back to clogs? to traditional dress? In these traditional chalets you've got everything modern, computers, CD players but you still have to have a little carved wooden balcony, I don't get it, its architectural prostitution."

The aviator Michel Ziegler, a former mayor and developer of the altiport defends the changes. "We were in an economic war, and if you want clients you have to ask what they want. What they want is snowy pine forests, traditional wooden chalets with stone tiled roofs, real fires and small windows to make it cosy inside, you can say it's stupid but its what people want. The buildings don't exist to please architects but clients. People were delighted with our changes even if I myself admit that some buildings have a fairytale quality to them. But for our guests it is about escapism living a dream". Bigger properties also mean more revenues for St Bon.

Denys Pradelle wasn't opposed to the changes but thought that too much has been sacrificed for money. As the author Gildas Lepretre has observed, we've gone from the youthful hopes hopes for the future to a closed society hidden behind faux Tyrolean facades.


D'Utopia a Gold City, special edition of Alpinism and Randonée by Claire Tyl

Courchevel, naissance d'une station nouvelle de sports d'hiver by Jean-François Lyon-Caen

L'invention de la station de sports d'hiver à la française, D.R.A.C. Rhône-Alpes

L'Epopée de Courchevel, Gildas Leptrêtre , published by la Fontaine de Siloé, 1996

La Neige Empoisonnée,, Daniel Arnaud, Arnaud, 1975

l'Anarchitecte. Laurent Chappis rebelle de l'or blanc. Philippe Révil, published by Broché, ISBN: 2-911755-65-0

"Ma montagne... du reve a la realite", 50 ans d'etudes d'urbanisme en montagne par Laurent Chappis, published by Facim.

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