Much emotion has been spilled over the French ski hosting ban in the British media these past few weeks. Just the other day, there was Neil English in the Mail on Sunday calling for a boycott of French ski resorts: “We’ve recently given the French a bloody nose in the Six Nations rugby – now it seems we might also have to teach them a lesson on their own ski slopes,” he wrote with typical Mail diplomacy.
The Brits have just a bit of a history of liking a scrap with the French and this may well be a lot of bluster that blows over once the balmy days of summer take hold (although reports that Crystal Ski is “talking about shifting allocations and flights for next winter”, if true, are worrying).
Perhaps it is a good time to take a more measured look at what it is that people – not just Brits – like about wintersport holidays in France.
Two surveys have caught my eye recently.
Best Ski Resort Report is an assertive title, and is based on satisfaction surveys of skiers and snowboarders of various nationalities in 55 ski resorts in Europe, conducted in the 2011-12 season. The resorts in the survey were selected on “criteria such as size of ski resort, overnight accommodation and renown”, including 18 in Austria, 14 in Switzerland, 12 in France, 9 in Italy and 2 in Germany.
The other is compiled from feedback to Zoover.nl, a popular holiday review portal in the Netherlands, similar to TripAdvisor, so reflects primarily the perspective of the Dutch wintersport market.
First of all, it must be said that the bottom line of both surveys was that the French wintersport experience is not rated as highly as the Austrian, Swiss and Italian competition. Overall.
But, as the Best Ski Resort Report pointed out, French survey respondents tended to score more harshly than Austrian, German, Italian and Swiss (a legacy of the French education system possibly?) and – as they comprised the lion’s share of those surveyed in France – so French ski resorts’ scores came out lower.
In any case, overall scores are a slightly blunt instrument. Dig a little deeper and some interesting details emerge, notably some clear strengths to extract for French ski resorts.
Strength in size
In the Best Ski Resort survey, those surveyed considered ski area size by far the most important criteria for choosing a ski resort and which resorts come out top for that? The 3 Valleys… with Val d’Isère and Tignes close behind.
Ski area size / pistes:
Les 3 Vallées (FR)
- Val d´Isère (FR)
Ski in, ski out
In the Zoover survey, distance from accommodation to the pistes (ski-in, ski-out) was considered the most important factor in rating a ski resort and, again, France came top of that.
Distance to pistes:
- France – 8.2
- Germany – 8.1
- Austria – 8.0
- Italy & Switzerland – 7.9
The top three French resorts in this regard were Belle Plagne, Val Thorens and St François Longchamp.
France also scored highest in offering skiing for good skiers in the Zoover survey.
- France – 8.3
- Italy – 8.2
- Switzerland – 8.1
- Austria – 8.0
- Germany – 6.6
Stand out from the crowd
One thing about these priority criteria is that, for the most part, you either have them or you don’t. Although it does underline the benefits of smaller resorts connecting up to form larger, linked domains where they can…
Failing that, what of smaller French ski resorts with few black pistes and no ‘skis aux pieds’ access? Is there no hope for them? On the contrary: while the reality is that they may face more competition for wintersport holidaymakers, they also have more opportunity to improve.
Those resorts that can raise their game on aspects viewed as relatively weak overall in France – including ambiance, après-ski and child-friendliness – have the chance to stand out from the crowd.
By the way, another factor, ski schools, ranked as only the 18th most important criteria in ski resort selection in the Best Ski Resort study, after things like spas and wellbeing and snowparks. Perhaps that offers a bit of perspective on the ski hosting saga?