On the northern slopes of the Parc naturel régional du Vercors (Drôme; Isère) lies Les Coulmes, a 1,100mhigh ski station located in the Col de Romeyère (Isère), and one of only a few in France to be managed under the Association Loi 1901.
Its services run thanks to three associations, mainly incorporating ski activities, services, and nearby housing services in hotels, which are supported by around a dozen volunteers.
The commune of Presles runs the foyer de Presles, which is responsible for ski hire and materials, while the Centre nordique des Coulmes runs Nordic (cross-country) ski hire, and the Ski club de Rencurel handles the alpine activities.
The cross-country, ‘Nordic’ domain sits in both the Drôme and Isère departments.
The ski station organises more than 8,000 cross-country ski lessons and 3,000 school courses over 50 kilometres spread across six slopes and three ski lifts.
It hosts around 500 skiers every day.
Struggle to find volunteers and lack of snow
But this winter season has proven difficult for Les Coulmes, which struggled to find the eight full-time volunteer local workers it needs to run the station, in a season already delayed by the ongoing lack of snow.
When The Connexion called the station, and both the foyer de Rencurel and the foyer de Presles, all three were closed since volunteers only work where there is enough snow.
The dearth of both snow and volunteers already delayed the official opening, initially planned for 5 December 2022.
The station will now work uninterrupted until mid-March.
Only 15 to 20 centimetres of snow were reported on the opening day, about half of what is required to open the station, Coulmes’ director Jean-Marc Idelon told The Connexion.
Météo France only reported six centimetres above 1,200m.
“You know, I have been working here for 20 years. It is not the first time that I will spend Christmas without work,” he said, adding that Les Coulmes’ ski station was even more challenging to run considering its almost unique management system by association.
Mr Idelon said that the station had already elevated its domain from 900 to 1,100m, the equivalent of a middle altitude range in Vosges.
Station cannot be moved higher
It is impossible to move any higher, as its peak is located at 1,462m.
The ski station is tied to Rencurel, a commune of 324 inhabitants in Isère, while the ski-crossing station and the slopes are situated around five neighbouring communes.
While skiing activities and the security of the site and its infrastructures are run by Saint-Marcellin’s council (Isère), the two entrance checkpoints are run by Rencurel and Presles.
“You know, when you see all these children and families enjoying themselves, it’s great,” said Damien Blaise, a 30-year-old assistant manager of a holiday centre in Rencurel and the president of its Nordic activities.
Mr Blaise said he moved from Lyon (Rhône-Alpes) to Rencurel and nurtured a bond with Rencurel inhabitants during the Covid period.
Volunteering helps to ‘integrate’
“It was to help me integrate,” he said, when questioned about the reasons he volunteered at the ski station.
As is expected from associations, the station does not gain any profit from its services.
Most of the money collected is absorbed by infrastructure maintenance, or updating to safety standards.
“Actually, in the 20 years I have been working here, I have always experienced financial losses,” said Mr Idelon, adding that the station should be considered more as a public service.
More associations are aiming to come together in the future, and plan to extend activities to the summer. But this expansion brings with it other problems.
“Most of our volunteers are farmers with fields to manage. They are not available all year round,” he said.