Anxious wait for winter

Even though the western and central Pyrenees are seeing the best snow conditions at the moment in France the situation is still worrying with a number of resorts delaying their starts. In the region Piau, Luz and Cauterets will open parts of their domains tomorrow. Superbagnères is more typical, it has delayed opening until the 15th.

snow making
Snow canons still silent in the warm conditions

The Spanish national holidays on the 6th and 8th of December have meant that the Pyrenean resorts typically open earlier than their Alpine cousins. Spanish winter sports fans have a reputation as free-spenders. The resorts have been spoilt over the last five years with excellent conditions from November. The return to a more normal winter is a bit of a shock with many holiday makers now canceling their trips. Apartment rentals and hotels have been worst hit. Resorts are also worried about the warmth of the ground with autumn temperatures +3C above average at 1000 meters. The 30cm of fresh snow expected tomorrow may soon melt unless it is followed by cold temperatures and more snow.

Over 75% of the turnover in ski-resorts comes during the main European winter holiday periods of Christmas, New-Year and February so there is no reason to panic. The picture is not so positive for French season workers including lift operators, piste patrollers and resort staff. They are employed on “zero hours” contracts which are only valid during the real opening period of the ski lifts, not the dates announced on the website or marketing. In the Pyrenees they have also been hit by the abolition of cheap locals’ lift passes. The situation is slightly better for foreign, especially British and Dutch season workers. They are recruited and trained pre-season and are on defined contracts. Even if working hours are long and conditions sometimes hard.

The warm weather has hit a number of businesses. We spoke to Peggy at Chamrousse; formerly with the tourist board she works at one of the 1968 Olympic resorts many restaurants. “We opened on the 2nd of December, last week you could ski to resort but the snow has all melted. We have been here before, it is still very early and as you can see we have a lot of walkers taking advantage of the clement weather.” Tour operators are also suffering. Today we were able to reserve a fully catered seven day stay in l’Alpe d’Huez for two for just £170 including flights and transfers from London. An industry insider, who asked not to be identified, told us that they obviously make a loss on £85 ski holidays but a certain number of flights, transfers and beds have to be reserved pre-season so it is better to recover some of the money. They also use “upselling opportunities” such as accommodation upgrades, insurance, ski pack and après sales to claw back some of the loss. “It is also a good breaking in session for new and returning staff, people can hardly complain about some rough edges to an all inclusive £85 holiday, can they?”

Posted by davidof on Tuesday, 05 December, 2006 at 02:29 PM

The tail end of the season has supplied me with some of the best skiing in recent years.  All concerned (including those on “zero hour” contracts) can only hope that any delays to a resort opening is added to the tail end.

The abolition of locals ski passes is a strange move.  Does anyone know of a reason, other than financial of course?

Posted by Ski Reviews on  Monday, 11 December, 2006  at 12:29 PM
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