The Ski Economy: Up or Down?


The view seems best from the top.

With its wide variety of resorts and ski stations, France is considered a world leader in winter tourism, attracting tens of millions of skiers and hibernal holidaymakers each year. However, with the slopes calling and office wear being swapped for ski apparel, we examine and explore the changing developments in this enthralling but costly industry.

France has a dense infrastructure of ski areas and resorts spread across its various alpine regions: with 357 resorts, or 8.9% of the global share, France is among the three leading skiing nations in the world, along with Austria and the United States. Winter sports account for around 18% of France’s tourist economy, and the number of jobs created in resorts during the winter exceeds 100,000, including 18,000 in the ski sector and 15,000 posts on a seasonal basis.

Within the mountain massifs where these snowy activities take place, there are generally three different types of French resort:

  • Large high-altitude resorts. These include the biggest ski areas in the world, where snow cover and glide quality are guaranteed.
  • Medium and small resorts. Their advantages lie in the beauty of their natural landscapes and regional charm.
  • Local resorts. These attract a provincial and family customer base.

The expansion of the mountain tourism business has translated into the installation of a fleet of ski lifts that puts France in first place in the world with an 18% share of all ski lifts. French expertise in the field is a recurrent export: the company that built the Vanoise Express – a cable car connecting the ski areas of Les Arcs and La Plagne – also finished the renovation of the aerial tramway in New York. In France, ski lifts are still considered to be a public service, and some of the operating companies are either partially owned or even directly managed by municipalities.

Ski Lift 2

While this overview of the industry may appear to be a positive and widespread one, it would be worth investigating whether the French ski industry is actually on its way down, rather than on its way up. Last year, French ski areas recorded a drop in average attendance of 4.5%, with the downturn blamed on the increase in avalanches and the school calendar, the latter being responsible for Domaines Skiables de France, the professional body for ski operators in France, requesting that the Whit holidays be moved forward a week in order to maximise tourist trade and the time available for skiing. British families are also constrained by the school holidays, or more specifically, government regulations preventing holidays taken during term-time. The Crystal Industry Report noted a 3.6% drop (roughly 8,000 skiers) in those opting for a snow-themed trip to the Alps last year. A Ski Club of GB survey also revealed that the decline of the school ski trip has affected how skiers and snowboarders are introduced into the world of snow-sports, and that the ski population, contrary to Gap Year tales from British students, is increasingly an ageing one.

Set of skis

Over Christmas 2014, the latest research from leading travel money provider, International Currency Exchange (ICE), found that a family of four (two adults and two children) could pay €486 (£385) for four six day ski passes in Germany, a saving of 85% compared to the €900 (£713) that it cost in France for the same period. Indeed, recent statistics show that only 8% of French people depart for the mountains at least once every two years. According to the l’Observatoire des Inégalités, one week of winter sports comes in at €3400, equivalent to three months of the minimum wage. Furthermore, Russian holidaymakers, usually a common sight in the luxury resorts of Megève and Courchevel, are facing up to the effects of their Rouble-induced ‘Winter of Discontent’, and hoteliers and chalets have noticed a damaging drop in reservations.

Here at the FBCCI, we await with interest the figures and statistics from the April-May leg of this latest ski season, and we advise future skiers to read the travel advice provided by the British Consulate: Skiing remains a seductive sport, and the well-established appeal of France’s resorts continues to endure. Cheaper skiing alternatives in Germany and Bulgaria have nonetheless diversified the market, particularly in light of the lower numbers of (once reliable) Brits and Russians choosing to spend their winter breaks on French soil.


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