France’s ski resorts have had a successful season due to a combination of factors, including favourable weather, despite a rocky start with Covid health passes and the lack of British skiers.
Alexandre Maulin, head of ski association Domaines skiables de France, said the figures for the winter months were “good” and it could get better.
“There have been 4% more skier visits than the average recorded for the last three seasons, not including the Covid years,” Mr Maulin told Le Monde.
A skier visit, known in French as une journée-skieur, is each time a person goes to ski or snowboard, regardless of what type of ticket they buy, whether it is a full-day pass, a half-day pass or a child’s ticket.
Mr Maulin said the latest figures come from before the Easter holidays, a time period that represents around 90% of the winter ski season.
But with high-altitude ski resorts still operating through spring, the figures could get even better.
Several factors have contributed to the season’s good numbers.
Firstly, there has been a lot of sun throughout the winter months, which have brought locals out to ski and prompted others to book last-minute trips.
Secondly, almost all of the skiable mountain ranges, except the Alpes du Sud, have had a good amount of snow thanks to early snowfalls and low temperatures, which have also helped maintain artificial snow cover.
Also, the winter holiday calendar worked out well with French clients having time off at a different point from the usual international markets, meaning there was a steady stream of skiers.
Finally, sunnier destinations popular in winter, such as Guadeloupe and Martinique, were mainly off limits due to Covid issues, which benefited the ski resorts.
French and European markets compensate for lack of Britons
British nationals were not permitted to enter France unless they had an essential reason - meaning the right to live or work in France - for nearly a month between December 18, 2021 and January 14, 2022.
This had an impact on ski resorts, but not as much as expected.
The Compagnie des Alpes, a major ski resort company in France, reported turnover of €392 on March 31, 11% up from three years ago (pre-Covid).
The number of ski passes it sold was 5% down, something the company attributes to the lack of British skiers in December and January. However, the skiers they did attract ended up spending more, which compensated for the lack of Britons.
British skiers usually make up around 20% of the clientele of the Avoriaz ski resort in Haute-Savoie, but their absence was not a major issue, the local head of the tourism office, Sébastien Mérignargues, said.
“The empty places that we put back on the market sold relatively well to the French, Dutch or Belgians,” he told Le Monde.
The Association nationale des maires des stations de montagne also posted positive results. It said that the occupancy rate of beds in tourist accommodation is expected to be between 65% and 70%, depending on the end of the season.
This is around the same as in 2019-2020, which was judged to be an excellent season before it was interrupted due to Covid.
One of the major mountain tourist accommodation companies, Pierre et Vacances, increased its average price by around 13% without impacting sales, with around 86% of its beds occupied throughout the winter season.
Despite the success, Willy Fux, founder of market research company LHM that observes winter sports and ski resorts, sounded a word of caution.
“Tour operators have spent two years just celebrating the fact that they are still in business, so there is a euphoria [about this season’s success] that is not centred on more medium-term thinking,” he said.
“A good number of the factors that have made this season a success are cyclical, and may not occur even as early as next winter.
“Some [companies in the ski industry] are aware that this is an exceptional year.”