Are Southern Alps ski resorts ready for winter?

Last week we covered the drought in the south of France and how this may affect ski resorts over the winter. While the Northern Alpes have had a snowy start to the ski season, some resorts opened earlier than normal, the situation further south is more worrying. There was fresh snowfall at the end of October but temperatures have since been high. The col d’Agnel (2630m) has 25cm of snow on the ground, 15cm fell over the last 24 hours but further south at the Col de Restefond there is barely 10cm and the zero isotherm is around 2700 meters. The situation regarding water stocks looks better but two clouds hang over the ski resorts of Céüze near Gap and the Val d’Allos.

Dévoluy has had a hard summer. Part of the defunct Transmontagne group it is now being run by Maulin. Many property owners have not been paid rents on their apartments. The area managed to open for 127 days, just one less than the year before but it saw -12.62% less skier/days and turnover dropped 13%. It has built a second reservoir of
100,000 m3 to add to an existing reservoir of 80,000m3. 30 % of its ski areas, that is 37 km of runs are covered by 149 snow canons. Water comes from wells shared with the water supply but the resort does not have priority over other users.

Réallon extracts 10 m³/hour from a river and 33 m³/hour from a well. The station has 22 snow canons, including 3 installed this year, covering 4 of the resorts 16 runs.

Les Orres has an artificial lake of 35 000 m³ which they refill between 8 and 12 times during the season. The lake is now full and the resort already has the canons running. They’ve installed 10 new snow canons over the summer bringing the total to 130 covering 60% of the ski area. Although the resort was open 5 days less last season compared to 2006 the resort increased the number of skier days by 12% and only suffered a 0.83 drop in turn over in what was a difficult year.

Ancelle has been filling its reservoir all summer from a stream and it is almost full with 60 000 m³ of water. The resort has 120 snow canons covering 12 of the 15 runs.

St Léger les Mélèzes has a reservoir of 16 000 m³ coming from run-off from drinking water reservoirs. It is currently full and the 50 snow canons cover half the ski area.

The situation is less positive at Chaillol 1600 which has just 18,000 m³ of water and needs another 12,000 m³ before the winter. Its supply is shared with farmers during the summer.

Orcières runs its snow canon from a natural lake which is currently full and has a capacity of 450 000 m³ from which the resort can draw down a third. The resort has 49 snow canons.
At Laye the resort has a project to draw water from a spring to boost its snow making capacity.

Puy St Vincent, like the other resorts in the Briançon area had a good season in 2007. It increased turnover by 4.34% despite a slight drop in skier/days. Snow making covers 30% of the ski area fed by a 10 000 m³ reservoir which is full and another of 27 000 m³ which is currently below capacity. The resort has some big but extremely controversial projects bringing it into a headlong collision with environmental groups, back-country enthusiasts and locals represented by the Amis de la Vallouise. It is planning to equip the Crête run with snow canons and build a new reservoir of 40,000 m³. On the horizon are new runs from the Pendine ridge with runs in the Vallon de Narrerroux and Plateau de Tournoux.The area is in the grip of property speculation (and many absentee foreign owners) with 3300 new beds built since 2001, 18.5% of the total in the whole of the Pays des Ecrins area. Many of the new beds were run by the bankrupt Transmontage group leaving owners with unpaid rents. Opponents of the developments say the resort is following an outdated policy of downhill skiing and cannot compete with the ski resorts of the Compagnie des Alpes (CdA) which now has an outpost on the doorstep in the form of Serre Chevalier. It risks losing its unique charm while following a policy that will be unable to bring long term economic development to the area, they continue.

In contrast to the rest of the region, and most of France, Montgenèvre had a storming season with a 24% increase in turnover despite opening one day less. The area is something of a microclimate with the dry air ideal for snow making at higher temperatures. The resort increased the number of skier/days by 16%. Jean-Christophe Hoff, the managing director of the ski area attributed the good results to a large number of local skiers and also to the fact that 40% of the ski area is covered with snow making fed by two reservoirs both of 80,000 m³ but one is shared with the village. During the summer the resort has equipped the Rhodo black run with snow making. Montgenèvre, traditionally an early starter, will open part of its ski domain on the weekend of the 24th-25th November, the first resort in the southern Alps. For the occassion it will hold the Gliss’ Tests featuring 12 major ski manufacturers.

Serre-Chevalier has four reservoirs with 354 snow guns. It had a stable season in 2006/7, a 2.54% increase in turnover should be set against inflation of a similar order. It actually opened 12 fewer days compared to the 2006 winter.

Vars has snow making over 50% of the runs and is already running its snow making. The area has two reservoirs which are currently full and has equipped a further 6km of runs over the summer with 65 snow canons.

Pra Loup was also part of Transmontagne but has now joined Devoluy and la Joue du Loup as part of the Maulin group which also runs les Sybelles. Last season was not great with a 13% drop in turnover and a 7% drop in skier days. 40% of the ski area is covered by snow making thanks to 22 canons and 120 lances. They are fed by two linked reservoirs of 160 000 m³ and 15 000 m³ which are currently full. The resort is linked to troubled Val d’Allos although the link can suffer from poor snow cover. Val d’Allos suffered an 18% drop in turnover last season and both 1500 and 1800 are in bad financial shape. Remy-Loisirs, which were contracted to run the ski domain, pulled out in June. Many saw Remy’s actions as a negotiating tactic and they will be back for next season on a 1 year contract on more favourable terms. The group has certainly proved better than Transmontage at managing mid-mountain ski areas. Val d’Allos has also been caught up in property speculation with the old “bunker” demolished and replaced by luxury apartments. It benefits from tax breaks as part of a ZZR (Zones de revitalisation rurale). The department of the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence is sparsely populated (139,561 in the 1999 census) with little industry and even less money to subsidise ski resorts although money does come from European Development funds. The ski resort is still better off than Ceuze which failed to open last winter and which recently had its plans to build a reservoir for snow making stopped by the Administrative Court in Marseille.

Le Sauze Supersauze has 80 lances and 10 snow canons. There is no reservoir but water is taken from a stream where up to 10 000 m³ can be stocked and renewed during the winter.

Further Information

Céüse closure

Posted by davidof on Thursday, 22 November, 2007 at 12:27 AM


I read your site quite often, mostly i find the articles interesting and really good. But i wonder why you are always that pessimistic about the southern alps? Every year you write about the lack of snow, the closing resorts and the bad conditions. But personally, living in Argentiere la Bessee in the middle of the Ecrins range, l think last couple of winters where quite good, and last winter was way better over here then in the northern alps…
So i wonder where do you find your informations? And why are you so negative about an aera where the conditions are really often, really really good.
For exemple see this serie of pics all taken last winter in Puy Saint Vincent and Pelvoux:

And today you wrote about the lack of snow, but this morning i skinned up the Rocher Noir above Puy Saint Vincent in about 60 cm of fresh snow, so i think we’ve got a really good start of the season....

Rogier van Rijn

Posted by Rogier van Rijn on  Thursday, 22 November, 2007  at 09:22 PM

Hi Rogier,

There is a water shortage in the Southern Alps at the moment due to lack of rain and the idea was to see how this was effecting plans for snow making. Well it seems that the resorts are doing okay.

PsV, Montgenevre and Serre Chevalier are a special case as there is a microclimate which means the sector gets a lot of snow, often quite early in the year. Montgenevre will open 20km of runs tomorrow and I should perhaps have made the point about the good 2007 season more strongly PSV and Serre Chevalier. This is what I wrote in the article.

“Puy St Vincent, like the other resorts in the Briançon area had a good season in 2007. It increased turnover by 4.34% despite a slight
drop in skier/days.”

Isola 2000 also has very different snowfall from Auron just across the valley.

Enjoy the skinning, I hope they don’t build too many new lifts in PSV to spoil the touring and thanks for the point of view from someone in the valley.

Latest news from Serre Chevalier is 100 cm at 2000 m and 130 cm at 2800 m. There has been a meter of fresh snow at altitude over the last 48 hours (attention avalanches!!!) but the zero isotherm is fluctuating around the 2000 meter mark (it was raining on the col du Lauteret earlier).

Posted by davidof on  Friday, 23 November, 2007  at 06:09 PM

Orcières 1850 is planning to partially open its domain this coming weekend.

Posted by davidof on  Wednesday, 05 December, 2007  at 08:31 PM

Vars-Risoul, Les Orres, Serre Chevalier and Puy St Vincent will also open this weekend with over 30 cm on the bottom runs and a meter higher up. Bookings in the regions are 10 to 15% up on this time last year.

Posted by davidof on  Saturday, 08 December, 2007  at 12:03 PM

and what about chamonix ?do you know how is the ski resort there ?
I’d like to go there but I need to be sure that I’ll find snow ... also if anyone knows any cool site with chalet rentals in chamonix, please let me know. thx

Posted by  on  Tuesday, 12 February, 2008  at 06:03 PM
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