French ski resorts on a slippery slope with 15 million euro energy bills: here’s how they’re cutting costs

Ski resorts across Europe are gearing up for their biggest winter season since COVID hit, but soaring energy prices could throw another wrench in the works.

Electricity is essential to keep resorts running, from lighting chalets to running ski lifts like clockwork. However, all this is becoming more and more expensive, jeopardizing the reopening of certain tracks.

France has recently implemented a series of energy saving measures, ranging from stopping the Eiffel Tower earlier to lower the temperature of swimming pools.

So what is the view on Macron’s “energy sobriety” plans since the mountain peaks?

Will French ski resorts be able to open this winter?

Electricity bills for the French ski the number of stations and ski lifts could be multiplied by eight next year, warns Anne Marty, delegate president of the Syndicate of Ski Areas of France (DSF) and deputy general manager of Altiservice, which manages several stations of the Pyrenees.

Those whose contracts expire in January face particularly steep increases, she says. In the Altiservice stations of Saint-Lary and Font-Romeu, the bills could soar by 15 million euros against 2 million euros in the worst case, sending the high tourist places into the red.

Sébastien Giraud, who manages the Villard-de-Lans station in the Massif du Vercors, also shared some raw figures. “We are not in a position to sign a new contract with EDF given the proposals made to us,” he told France 3 radio.

“The electricity bill would represent between 20 and 25% of our turnover, against 5% currently”, he said, adding “We will not be able to pay it”. As things stand, we won’t be able to open.

Current electricity prices are “a huge obstacle”, acknowledged Fabrice Boutet, general manager of the SATA group which manages the ski lifts of several ski resorts. The group’s energy bills are expected to rise from around 2 to 20 million euros, he told AFP.

Should chairlifts be considered a “means of transport”?

With businesses determined to open this winter, owners are asking for government support to see them through.

Marty argues that “chairlifts are a means of transportation, just like buses or subways. Ski lift operators have a responsibility towards the public. They therefore have the obligation to open.

The DSF demands that ski lift companies receive the same state support as energy-intensive companies in other sectors benefit from it. Frédéric Géromin, president of the union’s Isère region, also suggested the government could introduce a tariff, protecting lift operators like households who have seen their energy bills frozen at a 4% increase.

So what does this mean for avid skiers? If lift and gondolas operators were to close, this would of course have repercussions for the entire mountain ecosystem, including ski schools, restaurants and hotels.

How do ski resorts save energy?

However, vacationers are more likely to see subtle changes, including slightly slower climbs.

“The priority is to adopt a sobriety plan to reduce our consumption as much as possible”, declared the president of DSF Alexandre Maullin to RCF listeners. “With a little ingenuity, we can all come up with a 10% drop [as Macron has requested of businesses].”

Some slopes could be served by a single cable car instead of two during off-peak periods. The speed of other lifts could be lowered from six meters to four meters per second, and “the skier won’t notice the difference,” Maullin said.

More notable will be a likely rise in the price of ski holidays. “Part of the additional cost will inevitably be passed on to the end customer,” specifies DSF. Although Géromin says companies will do all they can to avoid this, French tourists and others are already suffering from inflation.

Renewable energy stations will fare better

Resorts that have invested in renewable energy will feel the benefits this winter.

Serre Chevalier, in the Hautes-Alpes, is the first ski area in the world to produce its own electricity from three clean energies. Hydroelectricity, solar panels and small wind turbines power 30% of its total consumption, powering ski lifts, engine rooms and snowmaking systems.

He has already experimented with reducing the speed of ski lifts when there are fewer skiers, with 70% of users giving them a boost.

A more existential and far-reaching threat to ski slopes is climate changeso it makes sense that stations also seek to reduce emissions while saving energy.

95% of greenhouse gas emissions from ski areas are produced by snow groomers, according to Serre Chevalier. So he’s also looking to switch from diesel to HVO fuel and leave more trails ungroomed, or “snow rough”.

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