Ski resort of Céüse threatens closure

Céüse, for a long time known as the ski resort of Gap, is on the brink of closure today. Last night the staff were told that this tiny ski resort of just 35 km of runs would not reopen this winter. The reason, a dispute between the new operator and the communities of Sigoyer and Pelleautier over water resources.

snow canon
Snow making at the heart of the dispute

After a decade in the doldrums Céüse (Céüze) was put up for sale last year. Transmontagne, the ski area of les Sybelles in the Maurienne and local man Jean Michel Garcin all put in bids. M. Garcin is the former president of the ski lift company of Saint Chaffrey (Serre Chevalier 1350) and had fond memories of Céüse where his parents ran a restaurant. M. Garcin established the SIVU linking local communities Manteyer and La Roche des Arnauds and this took over running the resort for 2006. It was seen by many locals as a white knight. The Conseil Général has even promissed 2 million euros of investment over three years.

snow canon

Last winter the resort doubled its turnover, admittedly this was compared to the difficult winter of 2004/5. The lifts were open from Christmas to the end of March. The SIVU planned to install snow canons and build a new chair lift to access the top of the domain. The area also needs 200 000 € of investment to bring the runs up to modern safety requirements. However the SIVU has said that it will not invest this money until it resolves its dispute over water.

Proponents of the snow canon project say it is modest, just two runs and the area is rich in water resources. The plan is to pump water from below ground at a point near the bottom of the Marsaillais drag lift. This water currently drains into an area at the opposite side from Sigoyer and Pelleautier.

Sigoyer and Pelleautier say that the snow canon project will affect the level of the water table and their supply. Many resorts have started with modest projects only to cover a large proportion of the ski area with snow canons. Disputes about water are becoming increasingly common in the Alps. The village of Vaulnaveys-le-Haut in the Isère is in dispute with Chamrousse over that resort’s plans to increase the coverage of artificial snow making. The mayor of Chamrousse says that there is an agreement with Vaulnaveys to supply 200.000 m3 per year but that in fact the community takes double that volume due to leaks in its water pipes. The SIVU at Céüse is similarly dismissive of Sigoyer and Pelleautier claims, saying that they have built two much housing recently without ensuring an adequate water supply.

snow canon

The Hautes-Alpes are fertile ground for local political rivalries. A decade of disputes at Serre-Chevalier brought that resort to the edge of bankruptcy until major investment and an effective take over by the Compagnie des Alpes. Risoul and Vars are also locked in battle and there is talk of a Compagnie des Alpes takeover in Risoul if the current operator leaves the resort. Transmontagne or even Remy-Loisirs would be more likely candidates.

The Hautes-Alpes Préfet has commissioned a study on the impact the proposed snow canons will have and is expected to give his response by the end of September. Céüse is worried that a public inquiry to discuss a modification to the resort including a reservoir could last until January 2007. Too late, claim the SIVU which has now threatened closure. The drama is reminiscent of the crisis facing Saint Pierre de Chartreuse in the spring. Saint Pierre similarly threatened to pull the plug unless it got 4 million euros in funding. It remains to be seen which side will blink first at Céüse.

SIVU: Syndicat Intercommunal à Vocation Unique, a legal structure that links two or more communes for a single purpose

Posted by davidof on Wednesday, 20 September, 2006 at 06:24 PM

Meanwhile over in Megeve 500 specialists from over the world are attending the 2nd International Conference on Water Management in the Mountains. Maybe they could give Céüse… or Céüze some help?

Posted by davidof on  Wednesday, 20 September, 2006  at 08:59 PM

Céüze, skied there on and off through a couple of seasons a while back. Small, but some great off piste, and when it snows, the bowl often gets - and keeps - its snow well after surrounding peaks. But with temperatures rising, periods of drought becoming more and more commonplace, Céüze has been suffering of late, although they had good cover last winter. I should call it Gap-Céüze 2000 as it was rechristened a few years back - not because the resort is at 2000, unfortunately… 2000m is the highest point, a 20m climb from the top of the Corniche drag.

Posted by Pete Garwood on  Wednesday, 20 September, 2006  at 11:04 PM

One thing I forgot… if it does close, it will be tough for the close-knit, very un-Tignes like community. Friendly, welcoming locals in the tradition of mountain villages of times long gone. I sometimes stayed in the sole hotel restaurant there, the “Gaillard”, run by Mme Gaillard herself, at the foot of the pistes. A comfortable 2*, and the restaurant always served up food at least equal to the best I’ve had in a ski resort; never could work out how they managed such quality at ludicrously low rates.

Posted by Pete Garwood on  Wednesday, 20 September, 2006  at 11:15 PM

Just a couple of weeks away from the start of the season and it is still not clear if Céüze will open this winter. As we reported above the resort manager decided to shut the station pending assurances that he could install snow canons and a reservoir. The Prefect has given his permission but it is now too late in the season to start work. Local politicians say that the resort is vital for the economy and want to force the resort to open and suggest two legal mechanisms either “un recours gracieux” from the Prefect or a decision by the Administrative Court in Marseille. Our legal expert says that the Administrative Court is the best hope and a decision could take a matter of days although the court may decided it is not competent to judge a matter between a mayor and the organisation that he had delegated authority to.

Posted by davidof on  Friday, 24 November, 2006  at 12:22 AM

“Céüse (Céüze) is finished” according to Roger Para, member of the General Council. The SIVU (Syndicat à vocation unique) which runs the resort close to the town of Gap has thrown in the towel. The resort will never reopen. The authorization to build a reservoir for snowmaking has been cancelled by the Marseille Administrative Court after an action taken by the town halls of Sigoyer and Pelleautier, concerned about their water supplies.

Céüse didn’t open this winter due to lack of snow and following a dispute between the SIVU and Jean-Michel Garcin who runs the ski lifts and the owner of most of the land Emile Allemand.

Posted by davidof on  Sunday, 27 May, 2007  at 11:25 AM
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