Go ahead for the Val-Cenis Termignon link

After what has been a battle royal between mountain and environmental groups and the French Environment Minister on one side and strong lobbying from developers, local parliamentarians and the Minister of Works on the other the link between Val-Cenis and Termignon as well as an extension of the ski domain into the ecologically sensitive Cléry valley, sole habitat of the extremely rare plant Carex glacialis Mackenzie (glacial sedge), has been given the go-ahead.

The Turra and snow making at Val-Cenis

Opponents of the project are apoplectic and have launched a legal action to stop the Turra UTN (Unité Touristique Nouvelle) as it is known. Jean-Pierre Courtin of Mountain Wilderness, France has accused the government of a ”an institutional and ecological lie”. Victory in the notoriously weak Grenoble Administrative Court is far from certain, Mountain Wilderness and FRAPNA (Fédération Rhône-Alpes de Protection de la Nature) have already lost a number of cases.

Property Speculation

The Maurienne valley is currently in the grip of property speculators due to a tax law aimed at revitalizing rural areas. The ZZR (zones de revitalisation rurale) gives tax breaks to property developers. The law is so advantageous that Club Méditerranée has shut two of its existing sites in the Savoie to expand into areas covered by ZZRs. The mayor of Lanslebourg, Jean-Pierre Jorcin claims that the Haute-Maurienne has fallen ”a long way behind and has suffered through the 20th Century”, he sees the possible arrival of Club Méd as sign that the area is finally on the map. In the valley as a whole the number of tourist beds has increased from 76,000 in 1997 to 122,000 in 2006. Termignon has doubled in size and the villages of Lanslebourg and Lanslevillard are now joined by 5,000 extra tourist beds. Does the valley risk making the same mistake as other ski areas? The new buildings at Termignon have been described as ”ugly” and ”out of context” with the local architecture. At the same time as this massive expansion the number of French taking ski holidays has stagnated or even declined.

100 km of ski runs

Michel Bouvard, local Member of Parliament for the right win majority and Vice-President of the Savoie General Council (conseil general) thinks that British tour operators are the area’s salvation. He is adamant that the Val-Cenis link will be a boost to the Maurienne which is seen as the poor relation of the Tarentaise. He says that to attract British and other tour operators a ski resort must have 100km of ski runs.

Carex glacialis Mackenzie
Carex glacialis Mackenzie

The extension of the ski areas didn’t seem to stand a chance. When the small ski resort of Termignon was given the go ahead back in 1985 many warned that it would never achieve financial stability. An “interministerial committee” allowed the development but given the fragile nature of the Arc forest and the ecologically rich but sensitive nature of the two high mountain valleys of Cléry and Sollières placed the covenant that ”the development of the ski resort will never be permitted to expand into these areas”. This was echoed as recently as 2002 when Val-Cenis was allowed to develop 40,000 m2 of new apartments to balance the finances. Permission was granted on the understanding that no new ski runs would be developed and that the extra capacity should not be used as an excuse to link with Termignon.

The fears about Termignon’s finances have proved well founded. The tiny ski resort loses 300,000 Euros per year. A huge burden for the local communities. Groups opposed to the project say that the link is not the answer and that the development is effectively ”running faster just to stand still”. They say that it is an absolute necessity for low altitude ski resorts to get out of a ”downhill skiing mentality” and aim towards durable, long term development with year round tourism not just over a couple of months in the winter.

Conversion on the road to Termignon

In 2005 Val-Cenis and Termignon presented a project proposing a link via the rich Arc forest and for extensions of the ski domain the sensitive Cléry and Sollières valleys. The prefect in charge of the Alps, Christian Frémont, rejected the plan on the 22 April 2005, reminding the promoters of the interministerial covenant. He was also unsure about the financing of the project. It seems that Frémont may not have been on the same page as his political masters. Although an action by the ski resorts against the prefect was rejected by the Minister of Works he only stated that there could be no equipment of the Cléry and Sollières valleys. This opened the possibility that the link through the Arc Forest was up for negotiation. A new version of the plan without the two lifts in the Sollières was presented. The Savoie General Council also offered two million euros of aid. Under intense lobbying the prefect made a U-turn authorizing the plan but under condition that the link via the Arc was via forest trails with no new ski runs created, that the extension into the vallon de Cléry was made without terracing and that the pylons were brought to the site by helicopter rather than truck.

Michel Bouvard says that over half the Haute-Maurienne already lies in protected areas such as the Vanoise national park. The groups opposed to the project, FRAPNA, the French Alpine Club (CAF), Vivre en Maurienne and Mountain Wilderness say that the extension isn’t just about the environment but calls into question the resolution of the French state to protect ecologically important areas in the face of intense lobbying. With the protection of the Sorlin glacier that separates the Sybelles ski domain in the Maurienne from l’Alpe d’Huez on the table next year and fresh talk of a link by the Alpe d’Huez ski director it is a big question.

Further Information

Carex glacialis Mackenzie
Alpe d’Huez Link

Posted by davidof on Thursday, 16 November, 2006 at 12:11 AM

The latest news is that the link will be built in two stages.

2008/2009 : Link between Val Cenis and Termignon using a high speed six seater chair and a fixed 4 seater chair.

Winter 2009/2010 : Combe de cléry equipped with a 4 seater chair and 2 drags.

Not all the planning permission is in place and some local feedback is that the new apartments at Termignon on the front neige are not that high quality and have trashed the look of what was a well preserved Maurienne village. If you’ve bought one of these places let us know your views.

Posted by davidof on  Friday, 02 November, 2007  at 05:47 PM
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