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.

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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.

Top 50 French ski resorts on Facebook (on 1 November)

A bit like Brits quoting Monty Python, if you live in the French Alps sooner or later you will find yourself around a dinner table with people falling about laughing and quoting lines from the film Les Bronzés font du ski.

This year in October, Les 3 Vallées put on Les Belges font du ski, a party in Brussels to promote the resort and the two La Folie Douces it now boasts, in Méribel and Val Thorens.

It is clearly doing a push on the Belgian market because its Easy Rider initiative to encourage new people into the sport (and to the resort) is inviting Belgian families to apply this year.

What with joining the Epic Pass as well, another Folie Douce party in London and a strong presence at the London ski show, all in all it has been a busy month on the marketing front for Les 3 Vallées – and it shows: Facebook fans rose nearly 9%, more than any of the other ski domains (note: domains, not resorts).

3 Valleys at London ski show

3 Valleys photo booth album at London ski show

It has also been a productive month on social media for Serre Chevalier, whose FB fans were up 23% in October after it announced it would open for (free) skiing on 13 December for the first 2,000 to apply (and, you’ve guessed it, like their page).

In fact, activity is hotting up overall as the temperatures cool down and fan growth on Facebook for the top 50 French ski resorts averaged 3% in October, up from 1.7% in September. After Serre Che, Les Contamines (+11.4%) and Chamonix (+10.8%) scored the highest fan growth of those in the top 50 yet again.

Here are all the scores on the doors, as recorded on the 1st of November:

Top 5 French ski domains on Facebook

  1. Portes du Soleil – 95,825 fans
  2. Nouvelles Pyrénées – 35,951
  3. Les 3 Vallées – 19,122
  4. Haute Maurienne Vanoise – 13,071
  5. Massif du Sancy – 8,005

Top 50 French ski resorts on Facebook

  1. Megève – 112,632 fans
  2. Val Thorens – 110,686
  3. Tignes – 45,659
  4. Les Arcs – 34,929
  5. Courchevel – 31,596
  6. La Clusaz – 29,466
  7. La Plagne – 26,477
  8. Alpe d’Huez – 26,420
  9. Serre Chevalier – 24,824
  10. Les Menuires – 23,938
  11. Avoriaz – 23,458
  12. Les 2 Alpes – 22,777
  13. Cauterets – 22,572
  14. Chamonix – 21,972
  15. Saint Lary – 21,615
  16. Val d’Isère – 20,340
  17. Le Grand Bornand – 15,325
  18. Vars – 15,271
  19. Méribel – 13,363
  20. Ax 3 Domaines – 12,442
  21. Châtel – 11,326
  22. Le Dévoluy – 10,949
  23. Lac Blanc – 10,231
  24. Les Sept Laux – 9,727
  25. Les Contamines – 9,505
  26. Montgenèvre – 9,322
  27. Peyragudes – 9,169
  28. Les Gets – 8,920
  29. Les Orres – 8,865
  30. Orcières1850 – 8,616
  31. La Norma – 7,564
  32. Sainte Foy – 7,113
  33. Piau-Engaly – 6,392
  34. Grand Tourmalet – 6,367
  35. Morzine – 6,291
  36. Les Saisies – 5,949
  37. Les Angles – 5,636
  38. Aussois – 5,421
  39. Valloire – 5,019
  40. Le Corbier – 4,674
  41. Luz Ardiden – 4,099
  42. Praloup – 4,084
  43. Arêches Beaufort – 4,032
  44. Samoëns – 4,031
  45. Luchon – 3,971
  46. Villard de Lans – 3,970
  47. Valmorel – 3,828
  48. Le Lioran – 3,827
  49. Manigod – 3,708
  50. La Rosière – 3,681

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 the 1st of November.

Cooler heads: taking stock of French ski resorts

BEST-SKI-RESORT-The-Winner-is-540

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.

Tough critics

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:

  1. Les 3 Vallées (FR)
  2. Ischgl (AT)
  3. Val d´Isère (FR)

source: http://best-skiresorts.com/fr/blog/best-ski-resort-2012/

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:

  1. France – 8.2
  2. Germany – 8.1
  3. Austria – 8.0
  4. Italy & Switzerland – 7.9

The top three French resorts in this regard were Belle Plagne, Val Thorens and St François Longchamp.

Expert appeal

France also scored highest in offering skiing for good skiers in the Zoover survey.

For experts:

  1. France – 8.3
  2. Italy – 8.2
  3. Switzerland – 8.1
  4. Austria – 8.0
  5. Germany – 6.6

source: http://weblog.zoover.nl

Specifically, Espace Killy and 3 Vallées came out top of all ski resorts in the survey on this measure:

Zoover survey table gevorderden

source: http://weblog.zoover.nl

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?

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.

Beginner’s luck – has there ever been a better time to be new to skiing?

image_youcanski_218

It doesn’t take stats to know that it’s a competitive market out there for people’s hard-earned holiday funds these days. But the stats are out there and one of them that caught my eye this autumn was that, in the UK at least, school ski trips have traditionally been the single biggest source of new skiers to the market.  Worrying, because (it also says) fewer and fewer kids are going on them.

Ever inventive though, the ski industry seems to be coming up with lots of good ideas at the moment to tempt people who’ve never skied before to give the sport a try. And as we all know, once bitten by the ski bug, chances are you’re going to be hooked.

Ski ou snow… c’est cadeau

Last Saturday, Serre Chevalier offered beginner adults aged 15+ a morning lesson from 9-12 and a whole day ski pass for free, if they reserved in advance.

Over in Val Thorens, they’re offering beginners 3 afternoons of lessons and 3x 1-day Val Thorens passes for those who are booked in for a 1-week stay in the resort anytime between 12 January and 2 February. The ski passes, it says, “will be provided by an ESF ski instructor after an evaluation on the Sunday” (hmm, good point… I’m imagining someone who can ski trying to pass themselves off as a total beginner just to get the free passes… would I like to be around with a GoPro handy should that ever happen!).

Orcières 1850 also offers free initiation sessions: every Tuesday morning, before the lifts open for everyone else, between 8 and 9 am. A one-hour lesson, the ski equipment rental and the access to the beginners lift are free. Then if you decide to keep skiing after 9am, you pay for the beginners pass and settle up the equipment rental at the end of the day.

1-2-3 ski

Then there are either free or at least very attractive all-in packages specially designed to make it easier to take the plunge.

Once you’ve been skiing for a while, you forget how important that is, or at least I did until some friends came out to visit us last winter with their three kids aged 11-17. No, they’d never skied before and yes, they’d like to give it a try – could we help? Sure, we said, but actually even for old hands it was not easy: How many lessons should I book for them? Private or group lessons? Would they need a full lift pass for the week? What if they decided not to carry on after a day or two? Etc. They were brilliant. The first day was really tiring and hard – and that was just getting ski and boots fitted and hauling them onto the lift. But after that it was all downhill (one way or another) and, by the end of the week, they had a red run under their belts and were talking of coming back.

In short, I reckon all-in beginners packages are a great idea. Portes du Soleil this winter offers Youcanski packages for adult beginners that come complete with a user-friendly guide to what you can expect, including a glossary of terms, and a designated special “Youcanski safe-to-ski zone… reserved for beginners who can go at their own pace in an enchanting setting, without having to worry about other skiers.

Meanwhile 3 Vallées is off and running with its Easyrider competition that gives families who have never skied before the chance to learn to ski over five free ski holidays throughout the season, complete with… everything. The winning British and French families have already had their first holidays and you can follow their progress online.

First timers book here

And tour operators, too, are taking the initiative. Crystal Ski has been selling beginner holidays for years but this winter for the first time is offering free learn to ski and snowboard packages in low season, to the first “over 300 genuine first timers” who apply. “Participants only have to pay for the standard cost of the package holiday and will then be given free tuition, free lift passes and free equipment hire, in a bid to attract more new people into the sport.”  Various resorts are offered, including Arcs 2000, La Plagne, Tignes and Val d’Isère in France. Last I looked there were still a few places left, but only a few…

Learn to ski… in a t-shirt

Lastly (for now), I’ve got to give a mention to UK-based Skiplex, “an indoor ski training centre with a continually revolving ski slope and adjustable gradient that replicates a real piste.”  Indoor snow domes are already great for giving people a chance to learn to ski before they head out to the mountains, with real (ok, man-made) snow and lifts to get the hang of. Skiplex is… something else. If you haven’t seen it before, take a look. It’s hard to get your head around it at first, but it sure looks like fun and people seem to agree, because they’ve already opened a second centre and are planning a third in the UK, all within barely a year of launching.

Now wouldn’t it make a lot of sense for resorts to team up with these indoor centres on joint learn-to-ski and ski holiday promotions?