First European ski resort reaches 200,000 fans on Facebook

As predicted, Val Thorens has become the first European ski resort to reach 200,000 fans on Facebook. It hit the milestone in February and changed its cover shot to this:

Of course size isn’t everything and the number of fans is just one possible social media measure but, still, ValTho is now at almost twice the number of fans of its nearest French rivals, Megève and the Portes du Soleil, and well ahead of other European resorts like Saalbach Hinterglemm in Austria (140,315 fans) and Grand Valira in Andorra (137,977 fans).

It joins an elite band of just three other resorts to boast 200,000-plus fans, all North American: Jackson Hole, Mammoth and Whistler / Blackcomb.

Guess who else had a good month? Valloire, after its local hero, Jean-Baptiste Grange, was crowned World Champion in slalom for the second time in a row at the World Alpine Ski Championships in Vail / Beaver Creek.

Fans of its Facebook page surged 26%, however we can’t put it all down to the JB effect because the resort was also running a competition in February.

Other risers were La Plagne, which climbed into the top 10 in February (+11%) and  Saint Gervais (+42%) in at number 50, helped by a bit of highlighting:

Overall, fan growth for the top 50 French ski resorts on Facebook in February averaged 12% in this peak season month, up from 5% in January.

Here are all the scores, as recorded on 1 March 2015:

Top 5 French ski domains on Facebook

  1. Portes du Soleil – 119,737 fans
  2. Nouvelles Pyrénées – 58,998
  3. Haute Maurienne Vanoise – 49,069
  4. Les 3 Vallées – 29,443
  5. Grand Massif – 16,494

Top 50 French ski resorts on Facebook

  1. Val Thorens – 206,678 fans
  2. Megève – 116,511
  3. Val d’Isère – 90,447
  4. Chamonix – 79,806
  5. Les Menuires – 70,593
  6. La Clusaz – 62,940
  7. Tignes – 62,524
  8. Les Arcs – 61,486
  9. Courchevel – 56,064
  10. La Plagne – 49,033
  11. Alpe d’Huez – 46,942
  12. Les 2 Alpes – 44,682
  13. Cauterets – 41,573
  14. Serre Chevalier – 39,107
  15. Le Grand Bornand – 37,058
  16. Avoriaz – 36,603
  17. Saint Lary – 31,829
  18. Vars – 31,037
  19. Ax 3 Domaines – 28,879
  20. Méribel – 26,801
  21. Les Gets – 24,133
  22. La Norma – 20,449
  23. Orcières – 19,535
  24. Le Dévoluy – 15,435
  25. Peyragudes – 15,257
  26. Les Sept Laux – 15,173
  27. Valloire – 14,691
  28. Lac Blanc – 14,566
  29. Les Orres – 14,211
  30. Châtel – 14,045
  31. Les Contamines – 13,746
  32. Morzine – 13,655
  33. Saint François Longchamp – 13,323
  34. Le Lioran – 12,181
  35. Montgenèvre – 12,120
  36. Grand Tourmalet – 11,976
  37. Les Saisies – 11,404
  38. Piau-Engaly – 11,287
  39. Sainte Foy – 10,603
  40. Aussois – 10,340
  41. Les Angles – 9,650
  42. La Pierre St Martin – 9,162
  43. Chamrousse – 9,066
  44. Isola 2000 – 8,497
  45. Risoul – 8,350
  46. Gourette – 8,298
  47. Val Cenis Vanoise – 8,103
  48. Praloup – 7,932
  49. Arêches-Beaufort – 7,575
  50. Saint Gervais – 7221

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 March.

Top 50 French ski resorts on Facebook at the start of 2014

Happy new year and thanks for reading this blog over the past year! I’m looking forward to highlighting and analysing loads more innovative and engaging social media marketing practices in French (ski) mountain tourism in 2014, so please keep ’em coming.

The Portes du Soleil hit the 100,000 Facebook fans milestone just in time for 2014 and several other ski areas made strong gains at the start of the ski season and the end of 2013.

Top mention goes to the Grand Massif for its Flaine opening weekend lift pass competition, pledging to set the price of a day ticket at €15 if likes hit 5,000, €10 if they hit 7,500 and €1 if they hit 10,000 by the deadline. If you’re going to do a competition asking entrants to like your page, this has got to be the way to do it: it was quirky, engaging and the ‘likes’ actually meant something rather than just being the price of entry to the competition.

Ski enthusiasts being an enterprising lot, the 10,000 level was reached in good time…

…so lots of happy fans skied for a euro, many of them new to the ski area, as Flaine ski area director Frédéric Marion pointed out in a video interview on French TV.

Among the top 50 French resorts (rather than domains) on Facebook, these grew their fans the fastest in December:

  1. La Norma (+55%)
  2. Les Gets (+45%)
  3. Les Menuires / Saint Martin de Belleville (+37%)
  4. Val d’Isère (+25%)
  5. Courchevel  (+18%)

La Norma, Les Gets and Val d’Isère all ran competitions, Les Menuires just ran a simple, but striking, countdown to opening day, with calls to action:

Courchevel held a women’s World Cup slalom but, despite the buzz over that, the post that attracted the most likes was simply of SNOW:

Average fan growth of all the top 50 French ski resorts on Facebook stayed high at 8.7% in December, down just slightly from November (9.3%).

Here are all the scores, as recorded on the 1st of January, 2014:

Top 5 French ski domains on Facebook

  1. Portes du Soleil – 104,209 fans
  2. Nouvelles Pyrénées – 39,314
  3. Haute Maurienne Vanoise – 36,081
  4. Les 3 Vallées – 20,632
  5. Grand Massif – 11,080

Top 50 French ski resorts on Facebook

  1. Val Thorens – 123,666 fans
  2. Megève – 113,407
  3. Tignes – 49,032
  4. Courchevel – 43,122
  5. Les Arcs – 39,161
  6. La Clusaz – 34,090
  7. Les Menuires – 33,718
  8. Val d’Isère – 30,461
  9. Alpe d’Huez – 28,921
  10. La Plagne – 28,921
  11. Chamonix – 28,432
  12. Serre Chevalier – 28,270
  13. Les 2 Alpes – 28,215
  14. Saint Lary – 25,621
  15. Avoriaz – 24,910
  16. Cauterets – 24,436
  17. Le Grand Bornand – 18,680
  18. Vars – 17,314
  19. Méribel – 16,570
  20. Ax 3 Domaines – 14,442
  21. Les Gets – 13,816
  22. Châtel – 11,949
  23. La Norma – 11,922
  24. Les Contamines – 11,318
  25. Lac Blanc – 11,162
  26. Le Dévoluy – 11,149
  27. Peyragudes – 10,662
  28. Les Sept Laux – 10,580
  29. Morzine – 10,302
  30. Montgenèvre – 9,940
  31. Orcières1850 – 9,743
  32. Les Orres – 9,579
  33. Piau-Engaly – 7,392
  34. Sainte Foy – 7,380
  35. Grand Tourmalet – 7,231
  36. Les Saisies – 7,028
  37. Le Lioran – 6,943
  38. Les Angles – 6,904
  39. Aussois – 5,559
  40. Gourette – 5,447
  41. Praloup – 5,277
  42. Valloire – 5,216
  43. Le Corbier – 5,005
  44. Luz Ardiden – 4,370
  45. Samoëns – 4,317
  46. Valmorel – 4,282
  47. Villard de Lans – 4,282
  48. Arêches Beaufort – 4,264
  49. Luchon – 4,246
  50. La Rosière – 4,084

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 January.

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

Top news this past month is that Méribel launched its official Twitter account on 7 February and has shot up to 130-odd followers already and over 250 tweets, including much useful tweeting on the women’s FIS World Cup alpine events there on the last weekend of February.

Overall for the top 30, the average follower growth rate slowed slightly in February to just over 7%.

A handful of resorts in the top 30 grew their followers more than 10%: Chamonix, Megève, Montgenèvre, Peyragudes and Piau . The top two French domains on Twitter – Nouvelles Pyrénées and Portes du Soleil – both did too, and have now passed the 1,000 followers milestone.

Here’s the full ranking:

Top 3 French ski domains on Twitter:

  1. Nouvelles Pyrénées – 1,078 followers
  2. Portes du Soleil – 1,022
  3. Massif du Sancy – 741

Top 30 French ski resorts on Twitter:

  1. Val Thorens – 2,161 followers
  2. Les Arcs (fr) – 1,772
  3. Val d’Isère – 1,385
  4. Serre Chevalier (en) – 1,371
  5. Les Menuires – 1,327
  6. Morzine (en) – 1,244
  7. La Plagne – 1,154
  8. Chamonix – 1,150
  9. Le Grand Bornand – 963
  10. Megève – 879
  11. Morzine (fr) – 872
  12. La Clusaz  – 843
  13. Aussois – 835
  14. La Tania – 828
  15. Serre Chevalier (fr) – 673
  16. La Chapelle d’Abondance – 671
  17. Les Gets – 667
  18. Avoriaz – 618
  19. Orcières 1850 – 535
  20. Vars – 518
  21. Le Dévoluy – 475
  22. Les Sept Laux – 467
  23. Vallée Louron – 463
  24. Les Contamines – 441
  25. Les Arcs (en) – 431
  26. Montgenèvre – 425
  27. Peyragudes – 398
  28. Lac Blanc – 397
  29. Piau – 350
  30. Peisey Vallandry – 343

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

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?