Top French ski resorts on Facebook (1 Oct ’14)

With skiing possible in France as of this Saturday, thoughts are starting to turn towards winter: on social media and in my head, for sure, as I sit here at my desk.

Among the top 50 French ski resorts on Facebook, those that saw the most action are starting to talk – and picture – SNOW.

More specifically, the top three by fan growth in September all had something else in common:

La Plagne (+12%)…

Le Lioran (+3%)…

La Clusaz (+3%)…

La Clusaz lift building video

(no luck embedding the post so here’s a link: https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=736997273042240 )

Yes, we love to see our resorts making improvements for our skiing pleasure.

Average fan growth for the whole top 50 in September was just 1%, down from 1.7% this time last year, so let it snow and let’s get some more buzz going!

Here’s the ranking in full, as recorded on 1 October 2014:

Top 5 French ski domains on Facebook

  1. Portes du Soleil – 115,507 fans
  2. Nouvelles Pyrénées – 48,042
  3. Haute Maurienne Vanoise – 41,044
  4. Les 3 Vallées – 25,012
  5. Grand Massif – 12,598

Top 50 French ski resorts on Facebook

  1. Val Thorens – 162,912 fans
  2. Megève – 114,955
  3. Chamonix – 73,044
  4. Tignes – 55,762
  5. Les Menuires – 50,853
  6. Courchevel – 49,847
  7. La Clusaz – 49,419
  8. Les Arcs – 47,649
  9. Val d’Isère – 47,196
  10. Alpe d’Huez – 40,519
  11. Cauterets – 38,895
  12. Les 2 Alpes – 38,183
  13. La Plagne – 36,441
  14. Serre Chevalier – 31,031
  15. Le Grand Bornand – 29,399
  16. Avoriaz – 28,151
  17. Saint Lary – 27,956
  18. Vars – 25,060
  19. Méribel – 21,175
  20. La Norma – 17,470
  21. Orcières – 17,379
  22. Ax 3 Domaines – 17,106
  23. Les Gets – 16,925
  24. Le Dévoluy – 14,230
  25. Les Sept Laux – 13,138
  26. Lac Blanc – 13,113
  27. Les Contamines – 12,879
  28. Peyragudes – 12,809
  29. Châtel – 12,409
  30. Les Orres – 12,365
  31. Morzine – 11,923
  32. Montgenèvre – 10,632
  33. Aussois – 9,924
  34. Valloire – 9,861
  35. Grand Tourmalet – 9,604
  36. Piau-Engaly – 9,220
  37. Sainte Foy – 9,210
  38. Les Saisies – 8,617
  39. Le Lioran – 8,208
  40. Les Angles – 8,018
  41. Chamrousse – 7,077
  42. Gourette – 7,056
  43. Praloup – 6,403
  44. La Pierre St Martin – 6,270
  45. Le Corbier – 5,462
  46. Samoëns – 5,253
  47. Arêches Beaufort – 4,998
  48. Les Carroz – 4,950
  49. Metabief – 4,909
  50. Villard de Lans – 4,908

Please note: these are official pages only and only those resorts are included that have at least some alpine ski uplift capacity, ie a ski lift. Sorry if I’ve missed anyone and please let me know so this list can be improved for next month. Linked resorts/domains like the 3 Valleys are ranked separately and the count was done on 1 October.

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Top 30 French ski resorts on Twitter at the start of 2014

The 3 Valleys stood out for Twitter activity in December. It made the most of opening early and took over from the Portes du Soleil as the leading French ski domain on Twitter. At the same time, Méribel leapt into the top 30, growing its followers 29% in a month.

Alpe d’Huez was also active (+17%), exhorting followers to vote for it as Best European Ski Resort 2014, apparently to good effect (it came in 3rd), and enjoying a Folie Douce lift as well:

Outside the top 30, Samoëns is getting up to speed on Twitter and nearly doubled its followers in December to over 200, after signing up only last October.

Average follower growth for all the top 30 French ski resorts on Twitter rose to 9.4% from 10.3% in November.

Here is the ranking in full on the 1st of January:

Top 3 French ski domains on Twitter:

  1. Les 3 Vallées – 1,873 followers
  2. Portes du Soleil – 1,855
  3. Nouvelles Pyrénées – 1,782

Top 30 French ski resorts on Twitter:

  1. Val Thorens – 3,683 followers
  2. Chamonix – 3,397
  3. Val d’Isère – 2,445
  4. Les Arcs (fr) – 2,270
  5. Morzine (en) – 2,121
  6. Serre Chevalier (en) – 1,849
  7. Les Menuires – 1,768
  8. La Plagne – 1,787
  9. Le Grand Bornand – 1,508
  10. Morzine (fr) – 1,501
  11. Ax3Domaines – 1,484
  12. La Clusaz  – 1,428
  13. Megève – 1,351
  14. Les Gets – 1,351
  15. Serre Chevalier (fr) – 1,275
  16. La Tania – 1,202
  17. Aussois – 1,133
  18. Avoriaz – 1,113
  19. Alpe d’Huez – 1,042
  20. Les Contamines – 953
  21. Vars – 946
  22. Orcières 1850 – 910
  23. Tignes – 863
  24. Montgenèvre – 762
  25. Peyragudes – 755
  26. Piau – 736
  27. Méribel – 708
  28. La Chapelle d’Abondance – 706
  29. Pic du Midi – 680
  30. Le Dévoluy – 645

Please note: these numbers were polled on the 1st of January 2014. Sorry if I’ve missed anyone and please do let me know so this list can be improved for next month… Official resort accounts only and linked resorts/domains are ranked separately.

Top 30 French ski resorts on Twitter (on 1 December ’13)

Twitter is clearly a good place to talk about snow and early season opening: the five French resorts that added the most followers in November were all ones that opened early.

Les Angles (+21.3%) and Piau (+18.9%) in the Pyrenees grew the fastest among those in the top 30, followed by Val Thorens (+18.7%), Tignes (+16.9%) and Alpe d’Huez (+16.4%).

Among their most engaging tweets were:

Once again, it’s quite simple really: just show us the snow!

Average follower growth for all the top 30 French ski resorts on Twitter rose to 10.3%, from 6.6% in November.

Here is the ranking in full on the 1st of December:

Top 3 French ski domains on Twitter:

  1. Portes du Soleil – 1,672 followers
  2. Les 3 Vallées – 1,623
  3. Nouvelles Pyrénées – 1,600

Top 30 French ski resorts on Twitter:

  1. Val Thorens – 3,326 followers
  2. Chamonix – 3,109
  3. Val d’Isère – 2,213
  4. Les Arcs (fr) – 2,155
  5. Morzine (en) – 1,947
  6. Serre Chevalier (en) – 1,748
  7. Les Menuires – 1,668
  8. La Plagne – 1,625
  9. Ax3Domaines – 1,411
  10. Morzine (fr) – 1,410
  11. Le Grand Bornand – 1,396
  12. La Clusaz  – 1,323
  13. Megève – 1,279
  14. Les Gets – 1,208
  15. Serre Chevalier (fr) – 1,153
  16. La Tania – 1,129
  17. Aussois – 1,093
  18. Avoriaz – 1,009
  19. Alpe d’Huez – 889
  20. Les Contamines – 888
  21. Vars – 852
  22. Orcières 1850 – 851
  23. Tignes – 741
  24. La Chapelle d’Abondance – 702
  25. Montgenèvre – 683
  26. Peyragudes – 666
  27. Piau – 662
  28. Le Dévoluy – 619
  29. Pic du Midi – 599
  30. Les Angles – 575

Please note: these numbers were polled on the 1st of December. Sorry if I’ve missed anyone and please do let me know so this list can be improved for next month… Official resort accounts only and linked resorts/domains are ranked separately.

What’s hot: 5 cool moves to protect our pow

Winter is here. Thank the heavens, or the snow gods, or the powder pixies – whatever is your personal preference, it’s certainly looking good in the Alps so far. So here’s a little shout out for 5 cool moves to help keep it that way.

1. Greener grooming

Pistenbully 600E+

Hybrid pistebasher (credit: Pistenbully)

Two French resorts – the 3 Valleys and Serre Chevalier – have each acquired a brand new, more eco-efficient pistebasher for greener grooming this winter. The Pistenbully 600E+ is a diesel-electric hybrid that harnesses the energy on the downrides, enabling a 20% reduction in both NOx and CO2 emissions and a 20% drop in fuel consumption, according to its makers.

2. Clean lines
free navette poster

Free navette to Serre Chevalier

The Serre Chevalier valley is organising a free navette service from the TGV station in Modane to make it easier to take the train to the slopes. It’s only in peak season for now but show your support and maybe they’ll extend it. Reservation required.

3. Powering up

renewable electricity certificate

Les Gets signs up to use 100% renewable electricity

Les Gets is now getting all the electricity to run its lifts from renewable sources under a new contract with EDF.

4. Sharing the stoke

eco guide

Mountain Riders Eco Guide

Mountain Riders, the France-based organisation promoting sustainable development in the mountains, has published its newly updated Eco-Guide to mountain resorts. Useful information, no moralising.

5) Make it last

These past couple of weeks I’ve been in the US where I got a glimpse of the shopping frenzy that is Black Friday. It was scary. So this last one is a tip of my old ’70s wooly ski hat to Patagonia for their Worn Wear campaign, complete with Worn Wear parties in-store and repair your old gear clinics. Brilliant.

Pyrenees resort Piau Engaly extends its opening

Piau waterslide

Waterslide fun at Piau Engaly in the French Pyrenees

There’s plenty of snow still and yet most French ski resorts are closing as planned. Why?

There are two reasons I keep hearing – one is that the French school holidays are too late this year, so the slopes are quiet anyway and it’s not profitable to stay open. The other is contracts: season workers’ contracts are up and it is just not possible to change things.

Fair enough, I thought, that sounds plausible – I know a thing or two about French paperwork myself after a couple of years of living here.

But then earlier this week French Pyrenees resort Piau Engaly announces it is extending its opening and will open again, exceptionally, this weekend, 20-21 April. 

Huh? How do they manage it when others can’t? So I asked them.

“The decision was taken based on the skier numbers last weekend, the weather forecast which showed good weather expected for this weekend and sufficiently low temperatures to maintain the snow quality in the meantime,” said Blandine Vernardet, director of SEML Piau Engaly. “It required a rapid reorganisation of season contracts that would normally be up already to allow us to properly prepare the ski area and re-open Saturday and Sunday.”

And to prepare the waterslide that they will be putting in place again this weekend.

“To be profitable, we will need around 1,500 skiers per day,” Ms Vernadet added.

Well, I hope they get that – and more. Judging by the likes Piau got when they announced it on Facebook and the comments on this article about other Pyrenees resorts closing on time despite the record snowfall, there are still plenty of keen skiers out there who don’t want the season to end yet.

So if you’re in the area this weekend, go ski at Piau Engaly. And bring a towel for the waterslide!

 

Sitting comfortably? A look at chair lift safety

early chairlift
I am not a ski lift spotter. Like most skiers I suppose, I tend to see lifts as a means to an end and don’t pay much attention to their finer points. But a spate of nasty chair lift accidents recently got me wondering about what is being done about enhancing uplift safety.

Quite a bit it turns out. Chair lift safety is not a new issue (check out this French article about it almost two years ago to the day) and the major ski lift manufacturers have been working on it for a lot longer than that.

So here’s what I found out about some of the innovations to be aware of and look out for:

Automatic safety barriers

Plan du Moulin Express chair at St Sorlin d'Arvescredit: http://www.remontees-mecaniques.net/bdd/reportage-4013.html

Plan du Moulin Express chair at St Sorlin d’Arves, made by Leitner
credit: http://www.remontees-mecaniques.net/bdd/reportage-4013.html 

I’ve come across a few new chairlifts where the safety bar comes down automatically, stays locked for the journey and opens by itself just before you disembark. The first time I rode one, it was a bit disconcerting because you get to the top and you think it’s not going to open in time to let you off. That was the Plan du Moulin Express chair in Saint Sorlin d’Arves, part of the Les Sybelles ski area. The chairs also have kid stopper fittings (see below).

I hear La Toussuire, also in Les Sybelles, is putting in a new detachable chair with automatic safety barriers next year as well, to replace its Ravières chair which is often used by ski school classes.

Kid stopper fittings

These are the plastic flap type things attached to the bar that close the gap between the bar and your legs, so they won’t let a little kid slip down.

Individual foot rests

Individual foot restscredit: Garaventa Doppelmayr

Individual foot rests
credit: Garaventa Doppelmayr

Individual foot rests mean each person on the chair sits with their legs on either side of a vertical foot rest bar so, again, you can’t slip down. It didn’t occur to me that that was the reason why when I first rode the new Grand Conche chair in Les Crosets in the Portes du Soleil that has them (and automatic barriers as well), but it seems like a simple solution… as long as you sit in the right place on the chair.

Telemix lifts

Telemix Etale La Clusaz credit: Poma

Telemix Etale La Clusaz
credit: Poma

Telemix or combi lifts can be seen in a handful of French ski resorts now and are gaining in popularity because of the flexibility they offer. Basically you can have both chairs and cabins on the same lift so families and ski school kids, pedestrians and beginners can easily take the cabins and more experienced skiers and boarders can choose to save time and take the chairs. Here’s what Doppelmayr, one of the big three manufacturers (the others are Poma and Leitner), says about them:

“Thanks to its high flexibility, this system is the ideal choice for tourism areas with winter and summer operation. Depending on the season, weather conditions or the customer requirements, the ‘mixing ratio’ of the carriers can be flexibly modified. In the summer, cabins can be used to transport wheelchairs, pushchairs and bicycles. In the winter, families highly appreciate the comfort of the cabins, while swift winter sports enthusiasts prefer to use the chairs where they do not have to take off their skis and snowboards.”

Les 7 Laux has one of the first combi lifts – Le Grand Cerf – which has been in operation since 2004, winter and summer.

Montgenèvre and Orcières both have two telemix lifts each and La Clusaz has one and is obviously happy with it as they are planning to put in another one next year.

Stick ’em on

All this new technology is great stuff, but there’s no way every resort can whip out all their older chair lifts and replace them with brand spanking new ones overnight – not at double figure millions of euros a pop. So another option is to retrofit existing chairs with magnetic fittings.

Magnet fastener systemcredit: photo Fabien Lamborot on magnestick.net

Magnet fastener system
credit: photo Fabien Lamborot on magnestick.net

Every single chair lift in the 3 Valleys reportedly now has a magnetic closure that keeps the safety bar locked closed for the duration of the trip, only releasing just before you disembark. You still have to lower the bar yourself when you get on but there is a safety shutdown mechanism if you don’t lower it, and the lift stops.

Quite a few resorts now also have one or two seats per chair with a magnet in the back rest and all little kids in ski school classes wear magnetic vests (that double as a back protector) that stick them to the back rest so they are held in place for the journey and cannot come loose. The mechanism automatically releases them at the top.

Damien Laymond of Sommital, the company that sells this Magnestick® system (and is a subsidiary of 3 Valleys lift company S3V), told me you can retrofit a chairlift with the magnetic bar locking device for 1800 euros a chair – still not exactly cheap, when you consider an average chairlift has 70 chairs, but a heck of a lot less than installing a new chair.

Be aware

Besides upgrading where possible, my view is probably the most important thing resorts and ski lift companies can do – and are doing – is train their staff and raise awareness among lift users. Domaines Skiables de France, which represents French ski resort operators, issued a statement last week reiterating the safety regulations for children on chairlifts and good practice guidelines for all chairlift users. The basics are no kids 1.25m or smaller on chair lifts, a kid should always ride right next to an adult and, of course, lower the safety bar and keep it lowered till just before you arrive.

Several times I have had a small kid from a ski class shoved in next to me on the chairlift, and it can definitely be a worry. You yank them as far back into the seat as you can, but their little legs don’t reach to the foot rest and they look like they could easily slip under the bar, so you watch them like a hawk all the way up and hang on to them as much as possible.

We live in a society that increasingly seems to try to regulate and soothe us into thinking we’re safe, and some people end up abdicating responsibility. But, as these accidents have so tragically reminded us, there is no such thing as zero risk.

Early bird ski resorts catch the skiers

La Clusaz 30Nov12
(photo from La Clusaz’s facebook page this morning)

 

When I heard mid-week that nearby La Clusaz was going to open this weekend, I was impressed: it can’t be easy to get things ready that fast, so it must really be worth it to them. How worth it? I was curious…

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.

Val Thorens regularly opens late November with an event, the Ski Force Winter Tour, which includes promotional ski pass and stay rates and a chance to test the this season’s new equipment.Grégory Guzzo, director of the Office du Tourisme de Val Thorens, describes his resort’s opening as marking “the real launch of the ski season in France“. So it’s a good sign then, not only for them but for everyone, perhaps, that this year’s opening weekend turnout was a record.

Many thanks to La Clusaz, Montgenèvre and Val Thorens for their assistance and une très bonne saison to everyone!