First of all, there’s the sheer logistics of it. “You need to be able to react very quickly,” says Pierre Lestas, head of the ski lift company at La Clusaz, who somehow very kindly found a few minutes to talk with me. On Tuesday evening, there still wasn’t enough snow yet. Wednesday afternoon it would be too late to get everything ready on time: the only window to make the decision was Wednesday morning. Come that morning, a bit more snow, a forecast of continuing cold, and part of the domain assessed open-able, and the decision was made to go for it.
So that means less than three days to get the pistes bashed and marked, the lift on and off ramps all set up, staff in place, mountain restaurants stocked and opening, special lift pass rates decided and promoted, and the media tipped off. Phew, and there I am feeling good that we managed to get the snow tyres on the car in time (never mind getting my skis waxed, finding my missing ski glove, getting new batteries for my transceiver…)
As for the benefits, they would seem to fall broadly into three categories:
Tap into the early season buzz
Imagine, says Mr Lestas, that we didn’t do it… La Clusaz’s regular clientele would be so disappointed come the weekend. “Our clients are looking forward to the start of the season at this time of year and it’s our responsibility not to disappoint them and to open as soon as the conditions allow.”
The buzz on social media certainly ticked up around these openings for the resorts concerned and, though a few may complain that the special lift pass tariffs are too high, most are extremely enthusiastic.
Besides which, of course, it is business: the weekend is fully expected to be profitable. Montgenèvre, near Briançon, reported good pre-season business the two weekends in November that it opened early. Les 7 Laux, which managed to open on the 31st of October for the Toussaint holiday, is having a second pre-opening this weekend.
Signal it’s going to be a good season (and get talked about)
Moreover, “an early opening like this attracts the attention of the our clients and reassures them about the snow conditions,” says Mr Lestas in La Clusaz. Images on facebook of snow are one thing; actually opening for people to ski on that snow is quite another. And even if early snow is no guarantee of a good season, as one local knowingly told me recently, it’s an influential time of year. Bookings for the rest of the season typically go up when you have a pre-season opening. Special season ticket promotions are usually still running and are often extended to pick up the extra sales. Then there’s the press coverage. Montgenèvre and Les 7 Laux both got TV coverage in France of their early openings.
Build an early bird reputation
Finally, for some resorts, being early to open is quite simply a key part of their brand reputation. Montgenèvre is one; Val Thorens is most definitely another, and the other French glacier resorts – Tignes and Les 2 Alpes – also.
Many thanks to La Clusaz, Montgenèvre and Val Thorens for their assistance and une très bonne saison to everyone!