Winter sports, gentrified

Winter sports! Every year it’s the same procession of tourists to the mountains… But in 2015, some people faced record beating traffic-jams on their way to ski resorts. Like 10 hours from Lyon to Savoy, that is to say an average of 20kph, not to mention pollution and stress.

Winter sports supposedly started in Megève, France, further to reserved attempts in Saint Moritz, Switzerland or elsewhere… it doesn’t matter! As all holidays, winter sports were first a privilege for aristocrats and middle-class. After a period of democratisation, the visiting figures among French tourists dropped during the last decades. Be it a cause or a consequence, ski resorts became more premium (skyrocketing inflation of the cost of ski passes, equipment, food and accomodation…) and widely welcomed loads of wealthy foreign tourists, as we can see nowadays on the way to the Alps. Just have a glance to the cars: few cheap cars climb up to the alpine resorts!!

Why such a decrease of popularity in France ? Is it due to « low cost » warmer destinations, a side effect of global warming and tourism globalization?

Flocon diamant

Nowadays winter sports are back to their luxurious childhood, causing a real challenge, a dilemma for many families. As snow cover slowly decreases and becomes less reliable, the equipment race leads to higher running costs and additional investments, from water detention structures to snow machines. 8-seater heated chairlifts or high tech gondolas cost a fortune. Hence the night conversion of cable cars into restaurant or hotel rooms!! Let’s think about the break-even point while the snowy season shortens. Especially further to last year’s snowless Christmas!

Climate change contributes to a winter sports market concentration, all resorts aiming at the world leadership. A pure quantitative madness! And by all means resorts try to guarrantee the impossible: an abundant snow cover all season long! But snow machines cannot deliver powder snow but only hard, icy one… Don’t you like our snow? Shut up and go skiing!

But as for natural snow falls, nothing new since OECD’s warning in the 90’s concerning the big climate threat for all alpine resorts. But highlanders are known for sometimes being more stubborn than wise. So they just keep on adding snow machines downstream!

Regarding ski equipment suppliers (ski lifts, snow machines, etc.), market concentrates, competition remains limited, therefore prices remain high. On the other hand, purchasers kept on merging, with the development of ski resort giants like France’s Compagnie des Alpes or Canada’s Intrawest. In these circumstances, what about the free market price setting for the end customer, when buying ski passes? Forget it and keep paying more and more. New flexible fares (2 or 4 hours tickets) are meant to improve the offer. But do we really wish to ski less? or do we simply cannot afford it any longer, on a full-day basis?

As smaller resorts suffer from lower altitude and less snow, larger and higher ones happily connect and merge in order to gain more worldwide visibility. From Saint Moritz to Val d’Isère, from Vail to Courchevel, they chase customers all over the world. And aim at the top of the top, for profit reasons. Meanwhile, ski schools split hairs with ever more ski medals and levels. Metal traders and kids, the snow party kings, are happy, at least for a day or a week!

No doubt the ski gentrification is expanding. Thirty years ago, one could get a pair of skis for 150€, bindings included. Twenty years ago, it would cost the double. Nowadays check your budget unless you want to end up bare feet on the slopes! Premium skis are fashionable, between 600 ou 1000 Euros ! No matter if skis went ‘parabolic’ or ‘carving’ and lost many centimeters… their price didn’t. Are low cost winter sports utopia? Probably not, provided we agree to have different activities, off the main runs and besides the resorts. So here’s the menu: alpine skiing on the best days, walks, snow shoes explorations or cross-country skiing on other days. And don’t forget sleighs and all those free winter games, still not privatised. All in all, threatened or not, isn’t snow, like its liquid counterpart, a common good?

Laurent

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