Winter sports resorts have few skiers for the season
The fireworks are long overdue and the DJs are struggling to heat up the atmosphere. We are waiting for guests who have not finished visiting the huge sports complex that Val Thorens has just introduced. Its opening tonight marks the start of the station’s 50th anniversary celebrations. Between mulled wine and champagne, Andre Plaisance, chosen for twenty-two years in the valley, once again tells the incredible saga of this mountain of crows, which a handful of residents turned into one of the most famous resorts in the world, the highest resorts. in Europe. Val Thorens will never have the 100,000 beds envisioned by its promoters when it was created, four times less, but it manages to fill them, especially with skiers. Rejoicing with its new swimming pool, Val Thorens needs more skiers than vacationers to avoid offending its elected officials. The entire economy of skiing is based on the sale of ski lift passes. The skier-day ratio is a performance indicator for all ski areas in the world. This winter is more crucial than ever, with rising energy prices having a major impact on ski lift operating costs and artificial snow production.
The lack of performance of the French stations would only emphasize their stability compared to their competitors. Over the past two decades, Austria has invested an average of 500 million euros a year in its equipment, compared with 300 million euros for France, whose ski area is nevertheless larger. First punished: artificial snow production. No offense to skiing enthusiasts, it only covers 39% in France, 70% in Austria or 90% in northern Italy.
The pool of national skiers has been very partially renewed
For Jean-Luc Boch, president of the National Association of Mountain Resort Mayors, the occupancy rate for winter vacation 2023, above 72%, is encouraging. These overnight packages are a must.
The experience of skiing in France continues to decline. Last year, it covered only 13% of the population. This is far from the figures recorded in large Alpine countries. In Switzerland, Austria and even Slovenia, almost 35% of the population wears skis every winter. In the Alps and Pyrenees, the number of skiers is small and especially elderly. “The training ground for national skiers has been partially renovated” Xerfi’s Director of Economics and Forecasting Alexandre Mirlicourtois emphasizes.
Ultra safe tracks
Foreign skiers are not enough to reverse the trend. They represent only a quarter of practitioners. France remains in the world’s top three ski destinations, while the United States and Austria are well ahead of Italy and Japan, who round out the top five. But ten years ago, the French mountains accounted for 18%, with more than 55 million skier days. from the total number of top 15 contestants in the world. After 10 years, this share has dropped to slightly below 15%. While other ski areas are up about 17% over the same period, the French are down.
In Val Thorens, mobilization to keep or return holidaymakers to the slopes is common. Even the resort’s four five-star hotels play the sports holiday card. “Here, 98% of our customers go skiing, compared to 50% in similar establishments in Megève,” Michela Falzarano, the Italian director of Altapura, which opened in 2011 and has just renovated 88 rooms, says. This is the concierge “friendly luxury sports hotel”, as he defines himself (€18,000 a week for a five-person suite during the February holidays), he puts together a gear rental shop, easily tickets his customers to the VIP zone at the station’s posh nightclub, Malaysia, and books ski lessons.
To fill the lifts, the ski lift operating company tackled another topic: safety on the slopes. This causes dissatisfaction among skiers. The Val Thorens security computer became a control center fed with images and data. Runway attendance is monitored in real time through sensors placed at points “strategic”. Stream information is provided via giant screens that allow skiers to choose their own route. The quality of the snow is also under control. Snow plows are equipped with GPS capable of measuring the thickness of the snow cover to the nearest centimeter. Slope maintenance and artificial snowmaking are performed with surgical precision. Val Thorens has also equipped himself with surveillance drones. Their thermal spectrum and 200 times magnification are able to quickly detect the exact position of buried persons. Vincent Lalanne, director of the tourism office, also insists on the number of slopes for beginners in the area. With the virtual disappearance of snow lessons, young skiers come only with their families. “But learning is easier with new material, Haut-Savoyard notes. If your shoes hurt, it’s because you got the wrong size. »
A French manufacturer came up with the idea to get skiers discouraged by their physical condition back on the slopes. He even demonstrates that skiing can be done at any age. Ski-Mojo has envisioned an exoskeleton weighing less than 2 kilos that makes training fun and comfortable. Installed in less than five minutes, the equipment consists of a harness, two mechanical rods attached to the shoe, which are adjusted with a small switch according to the user’s weight and morphology. This will keep the skier in optimal condition. “It’s the same idea as an electric bicycle. Gabriel Castelain, general manager of the French SME, explains. We have the same feeling, we can train better, longer without fatigue and physical discomfort. » More than 22,000 users have already adopted Ski-Mojo, which will experience 70% growth again this year. However, the average age of an exoskeleton customer continues to drop. Now he is about 56 years old. At the age when practitioners often give up wearing skis.