14th October 2020
The largest lift-connected ski area in the world is bracing itself for a significant drop in the number of skiers and snowboarders. NEW
The vast domain in the French Alps – a favourite with British snowsports enthusiasts – expects the coronavirus to keep many visitors away.
The predicted 20% decrease, if it is realised, will be a blow, coming on top of a 20% fall in numbers in 2019-20 over the previous season.
Resort representatives hope and believe, however, that many skiers and snowboarders will choose to book at the last minute as and when the situation allows.
The reduction in numbers in 2019-20 was the result of a season curtailed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The French government closed all the country’s ski areas with no warning at midnight on Saturday 14th March as the country went into full lockdown.
Thousands of holidaymakers had arrived that day or were about to travel out for their week’s holiday.
The seven high-altitude resorts of Les3Vallees, which include Courchevel, Meribel, Val Thorens and Les Menuires, lost several weeks of their season, including the lucrative Easter holidays.
Val Thorens, Europe’s highest resort at 2,300 metres, usually stays open until the first week in May.
The potential drop off in visitors was revealed by Olivier Desaulty, Director of Les3Vallees Association, in an online briefing for British ski journalists.
“I would say nobody knows,” he said, when asked about the expected numbers.
“I will tell you one figure. The ski lift companies expect a decrease of only 20% on the basis of last year with the virus.”
Olivier Desaulty confirmed that he meant figures last winter were down 20% and the lift companies expected a further 20% fall this season.
“Lots of our hotels and residences have offered very special conditions with last minute cancellation. Everyone is expecting lots of last minute bookings,” he added.
Marie Dohin from the Meribel Tourist Office said she expected winter to follow the same pattern as this summer.
“At the beginning of July we didn’t have a lot of people coming or a lot of bookings but during the peak of the summer season we had more and more people coming last minute.
“We suggest to all the professionals in the resort for them to be very agile, to be able to welcome anyone at any time…. to be very flexible. That is why we are organising the cancellation policy.
“If they can’t come due to Covid reasons we will refund them.”
Meribel could be one of the worst hit resorts in Les3Vallees if the British are either unable or unwilling to travel.
It is, arguably, the most ‘British’ of French ski areas with as many as 40% of all winter visitors coming from the UK, according to figures provided to PlanetSKI in January 2018.
It remains to be seen whether the loss of the direct ski train to the French Alps will also have an adverse impact on people wanting to travel to Les3Vallees.
Eurostar has scrapped the service – at least for this winter – from London St Pancras straight through to Moutiers at the foot of the Three Valleys.
The route is popular with many thousands of skiers as a more convenient and environmentally-friendly way of travelling to the Alps than flying.
Olivier Desaulty said he hoped Britons would still choose to arrive by train, using Eurostar to Paris or Lille and then the TGV high-speed train to Moutiers.
And what if ski resorts are forced to close by another lockdown?
M. Desaulty said the resorts had made it clear to the French government that its order for a complete shutdown on Saturday 14th March was “the worst day” for such a decision.
“I hope they have heard what we said and that if ever we have to close a resort they will take that into account.”
Let’s all keep our fingers crossed that there’s no need for such extreme action this winter and that we are able to enjoy some of the 600km of skiing on offer in Les Vallees.
— to planetski.eu