Skiing : Why France has lost its 1st world place ?

Published on October 30, 2016 – Author: Coline Mionnet

Skiing : Why France has lost its 1st world place ?

During the winter season 2015/2016, France has sold 52 million skier-days, against 53.9 million for the United States, which took the 1st place in the world ranking. Even if it remains the first ski area in Europe, France experienced a decline of 3% of its attendance compared to the past season and of 6% compared to the average of the 4 past winter seasons. How to explain this trend ?

According to the views, weather or climate change in question

France would be more sensitive to climate change than the United States ? Nothing is less certain. In comparison, the United States seems to suffer even more from extreme weather events or their consequences. Hurricanes, tornadoes and fires, floods, droughts and snowstorms, are there frequent and devastating.
However, the Alps Massif, North and South, which concentrates the majority of the French ski resorts, suffers from a certain warming. For some years, scientists working on this massif, including the CNRS, notice that the glaciers are melting at an exponential rate related to the Earth warming temperatures.

Ski resort summits

The very mild climate and the lack of snow at low and medium altitude during winter 2015/2016 has delayed the opening of ski resorts and slopes in France. According to Domaines Skiables de France, snowmaking helped secure seasonal employment in the equipped ski resorts.
The United States would therefore had better snow conditions, enabling them to increase their sales of skier-days by 0.6%. Austria is closely following France with 49.9 million skier-days, despite an attendance drop of 4%. In advance, the Austrian resorts were able to take the path of diversification and four seasons tourism.

A difficult survival for small and medium-sized ski resorts

Compared to the previous winter, small ski resorts are the ones that lost the most attendance (-16% during winter 2015/2016, -17% compared to the average of 4 previous winters). Medium and large stations survived better (-4% in winter 2015/2016, -9% to-10% compared to the average of 4 previous winters).

Graphique évolution par taille

As seen from these two graphs from Domaines Skiables de France, low and medium altitude massifs are those which resisted the less during winter 2015/2016 compared to the previous winter : Jura (-23%), Vosges (-16%), Massif Central (-15%). Although rising higher, the massifs of South Alps (-8%), Isere and Pyrenees (both -7%) also suffered quite important attendance drop.

These areas include most of the small and medium-sized ski resorts, lower in altitude than large and very large resorts, which explains why they had difficulties coping with the lack of snow from the start of last winter.
72 stations were able to be compensated for a total amount of 2,85 million euros thanks to solidarity between ski areas.

Graphique évolution par station

Get equipped, collapse… or diversify!

Well equipped with snowmaking facilities and high above the sea level, very large ski resorts do not really know crisis (-0% during winter 2015/2016, -2% compared to the average of 4 previous winters.)

Even though the change in the French school schedule has more than double the ski resorts attendance during spring holidays compared to the season 2014/2015 (2 to 5%), including through the operation « Printemps du Ski » (Ski Spring), very large ski resorts essentially benefited from this increase.

Indeed, investments are more important in these resorts and allow them to offer a snowy ski area even when the weather conditions are unfavourable. Savoie and Haute-Savoie, which is concentrating the majority of very large stations and investments, are the best succeeding massif areas (respectively + 1% and + 0.1% during winter 2015/2016).

In conclusion, if winter temperatures allow it and if their choice is based on the ski activity development, low and medium altitude ski resorts need to be equipped with snowmaking guns. In Austria, small and low-altitude mountain resorts decided to play the card of diversification of leisure and sports activities according to seasons. In France, Chartreuse natural regional park decided to try the experience with cross-country skiing areas in Saint-Pierre de Chartreuse. For €15 equipment rental, beginners can borrow a course specially designed to discover this discipline.