French ski resorts: How a snowless town put itself back on the map

The hotel is closed and the ski lifts have stopped, but it is preparing to open an electric bike shop at the foot of the French slopes.

Rising above the stage scores mountains les Deux Sœurs, twin peaks basking in the sun. The first snow of the season hasn’t set the chairlifts in motion since late 2018.

Now the resort of Col de l’Azelier is looking for a second wind.

Why are French ski resorts closing?

Myriam Estades’ two dogs Taz and Obi are having a lot of fun in the fresh snow.

Estades is happy to live in a “fantastic” setting at Château-Bernard. I learned to ski decades ago as a child.

His wish is for the “revival of the resort and its surroundings, with or without skiing, because it has become a dorm town”.

Located at 1,154 meters above sea level, Col de l’Arzelier was a family resort built in the 1960s, popular with locals and children finding their feet in the mountains.

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He is one of 186 people. ski resorts It has been closed in France since the 1970s, according to Pierre-Alexandre Metral, a geography doctoral student working on redevelopment strategies at the University of Grenoble.

Jacques Postoly, former president of the local ski club and mayor at the time of its closure, explains that there are several reasons why Col de l’Arzelier was closed.

climate change After several unprofitable seasons, he says he played a big role. Problems with private land and the lack of seasonal shelter also influenced the decision.

And the town of Château-Bernard, of 300 inhabitants, could not keep up with the maintenance of expensive and outdated equipment.

“If you’re in love with this area and you’re a skier like me, it’s not easy,” Postoly sighs.

The new local council starting in 2020 must meet this challenge.

“It’s a little difficult,” says first deputy mayor Anne Deprez. Given the economic imperative and the changing climate, “we decided to go the other way – focusing much more on the natural and pristine side of the mountain,” he explains.

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How does the plant embrace its natural side?

snowshoe hiking and the ski tour has replaced the (downhill) skiing at the resort.

The Soldanelle shelter at the top of the chairlift promises an “extraordinary panorama”. country and a “car-free” experience. ideal for lovers hiking and mountain biking – including young families.

The name of the old grocery store was changed to ‘Altebike’. Pierre Menade and colleague Thomas Honoré set to offer rentals electric bikes here in the spring.

“We told the municipality that we wanted to revive the area and its architectural heritage, that we could improve all this. So we were very well received, they immediately offered us the building.”

A little further, a macaroni the factory will open in an old ski equipment rental room.

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But change is sometimes difficult, especially for those who know the good old times of downhill skiing.

New breath to the hotel

The imposing Hôtel des Deux Soeurs for sale overlooks the slopes. Built by one of the resort’s founders, the hotel closed in the 2000s.

The building was selected last year by students from the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region for an architectural project for a European competition called Solar Decathlon.

Architect Christophe de Tricaud, who helped oversee the project, envisioned a rehabilitation between economic activity and permanent housing, inspired by “ongoing housing”.

According to him, “about 30 percent of tourist accommodations are permanently occupied in transit”.

“We think this housingization can very well continue and intensify, especially given climate change and the livability of cities, particularly Grenoble,” he continues.

According to him, the middle mountains “could quite easily become climate shelters” in the future.


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