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!


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!


Beyond likes – how one French ski resort is building engagement

Go to megeve.com and you’ll see a new social media button. Not pinterest, instagram, foursquare or whatever – no, completely new, unique.


It takes you to we-are-megeve.com, the home for a new “movement, an open community… dedicated to sharing your experiences, your desires, your passions.” It looks clean and very visual, a sort of pinboard of contributed images with stories behind them and added features, notably “Les goodies” and a smart new colour scheme and logo that is gradually being picked up in more and more of the resort’s communications.

But why a whole new platform when we’re all practically swamped with them already and there are all these existing networks still to tap into? Since Megève is miles ahead of other French ski resorts in terms of facebook likes and fast approaching the magic 100,000 milestone, they must be doing something right, so I thought it was worth checking out. And since I live just over in the next valley, I stopped by the other day and had a chat with Megève Tourisme VP Jean-Marc Seigneur about it.

We Are Megeve is about “quality rather than quantity“, he says, and a long-term interaction with those who love the place. It is “a way to thank them for coming to Megève.” The plan is to offer rewards and run competitions with prizes, like We Are Megeve Replay, where the experiences posted on the site are judged and winners are offered the opportunity to relive their experience in the resort. Anyone can contribute, but a moderator may remove any content that is not in the spirit of the site, it says.

Isn’t it expensive creating a new platform from scratch? Well no actually, explains Jean-Marc, for one thing because the resort has the competency in-house (not least his own: he has a PhD thesis in Computer Science) and also because it was done in Drupal, which is free and open source. The pay-off, apart from the quality of the experience, is more information about users (you sign up with an email address) and the flexibility to customise and develop the concept over time. “We felt it was important that the site is developed by people who live in Megeve,” he says.

It is early days yet and there are some 15 contributions on the site so far, with the option to choose your language still to come. Stories include someone’s first attempt at telemarking, summer hiking against the backdrop of Mont Blanc, and a tale (and video) of speedriding off-piste. The experiences don’t move down the timeline and off the page, so they feel more lasting than shares and comments on facebook.

Megève has long been an authentic and diverse community and, yes, it has a large fanbase on facebook, but social media networks don’t create a community, Jean-Marc stresses, they only work if there is already a community that exists. We Are Megeve aims to showcase that community. It’ll be interesting to see how it develops.