New Ski Lifts for this Winter

The big news this season is the Vanoise Express.  The project linking Les Arcs and La Plagne by a cable car is scheduled to open on the 20th of December, 2003.  Val Thorens will finally open the Bouquetin Funitel after a year’s delay and the Grand Massif Express will improve links between Samoëns and the Flaine ski domain.  We have a round up of the major ski lift developments for next season.

Five lift constructors are represented by new developments this year in the French ski areas, Poma, Leitner, Skirail, Doppelmayr and and GMM (Gimar Montaz Mautino) with the mighty Poma taking the lion’s share of the work, especially the prestigious projects.  Leitner and Skirail are part of the Poma group.  SkiFrance estimates that an average of 20% of turnover has been reinvested in ski lifts, that is around 138 M€ over the last 5 years with more needed in the future if France is to remain competitive with other countries.  Many of France’s ski lifts, particuarly in the smaller ski areas are reaching the end of their lives.  In the Isère, the General Council has taken the controverial decision to halt aid to four ski areas.


The Vanois Express is the biggest, longest and fastest cable car in the world.  It links La Plagne and Les Arcs’ ski domains between the Aiguille Rouge and the Bellecôte by two huge double decker cabins capable of carrying 200 skiers, 113 below and 87 above.  These are suspended 380 meters above Peisey-Nancroix valley on 1800 meters of cable.  Each cabin can transport 2000 skiers per hour.  The cable car is described as a ‘to and fro’ system.  The cabins move independently with their own winch motors.  This has the advantage that if one cabin breaks down skiers can still be transported between the stations situated at Plan-Peisey and Bellentre.  AS Christian Bouvier, from Poma explained “without our system, if there is a technical problem, you would need 100 coaches to get everyone back to their part of the mountain…. Our system is the most intelligent and ingenious option, two parallel and independent installations without an intermediate pylon, it is a world premiere”. The double decker design means that the cable car stations can be smaller, reducing the environmental impact, although there have been complaints about the nearly 2km of cables strung across the previously wild Peisey-Nancroix valley.  The lift has cost 15 M€ and was financed entirely by SELALP the Société d’Exploitation de la liaison Les Arcs-La Plagne.

The new linked domain is called Paradiski and links the 12 villages of La Plagne with the 6 of Les Arcs to give 240 pistes and over 400 km of skiing.  From an off-piste viewpoint it will make the north face of the Bellecôte, first skied in 1971 by Patrick Vallençant, more accessible with return by cable car rather than taxi.  We’ll be examining the impact on off-piste skiing of the many new developments in France.

In Val Thorens, Poma is also responsible for the smaller Bouquetin Funitel and this operates on a similar system to the Vanoise Express.  The massive pylons were described as not being ‘too noticeable’ by our contact in the area.  The lift will carry 33 skiers per cabin in a train of three between Val Thorens and the rest of the Three Valleys’ ski area with a total capacity of 2000 skiers per hour.  This replaces and old two seater chair that was a bottleneck between Val Thorens and Méribel and it should be more reliable to bad weather.  The project has cost 3.2 M€

Links between the Savoyard village of Samoëns and the Flaine / Grand Massif ski area have been upgraded with the opening of the Grand Massif Express 8 seat gondola.  Once again Poma is the builder of this nearly 3km long bubble lift which is capable of carrying 2800 skiers per hour from village at 697 meters altitude.  The cost is 11.6 M€.  The village of Samoëns, which is listed in its entirety, has been attracted a large number of foreign investors, particularly from the United Kingdom.  A combination of rustic charm and low cost flights to Geneva make it attractive for even weekend visitors.  This has had an affect on prices, building plots have doubled in price and chalets have increased by 40%, almost unprecedented in the sedentary French housing market.  This has had the knock on effect that locals, particularly seasonal resort workers, are increasingly finding it difficult to live in or near the resorts.  The department is increasing the number of hostels but some towns, such as Chamonix, have taken to renting accommodation back off the new English owners in order to house essential workers.

Nearby Saisies is investing 1.4 M€ in a new high speed quad chair capable of transporting 1800 skiers/hour as part of the links for the Espace Diamant ski area.

In Courchevel, there is welcome news for guys, the extreme Creux and Fruit drag lifts are replaced by a 4 seater chair built by Leitner, nowadays a subsidiary of Poma.  At Les Ménuires the Beca, and Combes A and B drags are being replaced by a high speed six seater chairlift to be called the Beca and built by Poma.  For the future the Tovets and Dou du Midi lifts are scheduled to be replaced by a six seater chair, work will start in the summer of 2004.  The Grangettes 4 man bubble will be upgraded in the summer of 2005.  Méribel has a plan to replace the Burgin bubble with an 8 seater unit, this is scheduled in 2005 and will cost around 16 M€.  In Les Menuires the Grand Lac drag should be replaced by a high speed six seater chair next season, the constructor is Poma.

Val d’Isère / Tignes, is replacing the Leissières chair with a high speed quad.  The two-seater Boisses chair will be replaced by a bubble and the two seater Brévières chair by a high-speed quad.  The last two projects, in the Tignes sector, are scheduled for next season.

Summer skiing at La Plagne was closed this year (probably no bad thing given the extremely hot weather) in order to upgrade the Roche de Mio bubble lift with 6 seater cabins.  The buildings and pylons are the same but a more powerful winch motor has been fitted.  The system is capable of transporting 1440 people per hour and should ease the morning bottlenecks at Belle Plagne and beyond.  The artificial snow cover is being extended with 200 canons covering the links to outlying villages.  All the pistes below 1600 meters should be covered.  Building at the current Plagne villages is now complete, an 11th village, la Roche, is being developed with a new high speed six seater chair replacing the Bouclet drag.  A four-person chair on the Bellecôte glacier will replace two draglifts dating from 1978.

At sister Paradisski station Les Arcs, the three seater Bois de l’Ours chair is being replaced by a high speed six seater chairlift built by Poma.  Poma is also building a small bubble lift between the new ski village of Arc 1950 and Arc 2000.  Garaventa is replacing the Marmotte drags by a high speed six seater chair with a capacity of 3000 skiers per hour and costing 3.6 M€

To cater for the influx of residents, especially English buyers, Sainte Foy en Tarentaise is building a new lift and laying out two new pistes, a black and a red.  We don’t have any news at present on how this will affect the legendary Sainte Foy off-piste.  Nearby La Rosière is replacing the Roches Noires chair and the Eucherts draglift with high-speed chairs, both projects scheduled for next season.

After major investments in the previous few years in artificial snow and high speed chair lifts developments in the Pyrénées are more evolutionary with a six seater chairs at Piau Engaly (du Pic), Luz-Ardiden (Bederet Express) and Le Tourmalet (Caoubère) and Les Angles with a 3 seater chair going in at Guzet.  The Andorran ski areas of Grau-Roig and Soldeu have finally linked their ski passes.  The areas have been linked physically for a few years but it was not possible to pass from Soldeu to Grau Roig on the same lift pass due to disputes between the families controlling the ski areas.  The lift pass also covers Pas de la Casa and Porte Puymorens.  The next big project is to link Pas de la Casa and Porte-Puymorens by ski lifts, we’ll have more on this controversial project later.

In the Southern Alpes Auron and Isola are operating a linked lift pass this year and have hired, Bruno Malochet from Super-Besse in the Massif Central to run the new joint ski area.  The lift system is being improved with a high-speed quad built by Poma.  In Montgenèvre a four-seater chair is replacing the Trempli draglift.

Orcières Merlette, which has recently being acquired from the regional government by the Vosges based Remy-Loisirs group is installing an 8 man bubble lift and a high speed six seater chair in the Rocherousse sector. 

Posted by davidof on Monday, 17 November, 2003 at 02:12 PM

Interesting, but too bad the second most importing improvement in France; the link which created the ski-area of “Les Sybelles” between Le Corbier and St Jean dÁrves is not mentioned.  Anyway, keep up the excellent work!


Niels van der Burg, Holland

Posted by  on  Tuesday, 18 November, 2003  at 01:56 PM

Thanks for the comment Niels,

We’ve spoken a bit about les Sybelles. previously.  We’re planning on covering the changes, which as you say are important, in another article.


Posted by davidof on  Tuesday, 18 November, 2003  at 03:53 PM
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