Sunday, 13 February 2011

The Times publishes damaging and ill-informed ski-resort shock stories

In The Times this Saturday, Marie Tourres and Adam Sage commented that holidaysmakers heading to French ski resorts should "brace themselves for bumps, bruises and broken bones on rock hard slopes". Having returned fully intact from a week's skiing in Sainte Foy,where all but one of the pistes had a decent covering of dense white snow, I was intrigued to learn that, according to The Times, only resorts "at the highest altitudes" "such as Les Deux Alps" (3600m), were snow covered.

According to the article, with a resort height of 1550m, Sainte Foy's ski season should be non-existent, yet being predominantly north facing and well sheltered, Sainte Foy was enjoying a spectacular season with good quality snow all the way down to resort level, despite snowfalls being less abundant than 2009-10. In fact, with my chalet, The Peak, conveniently located on the piste, I could literally ski all the way back down to resort level and shoosh right into my own driveway.

It's no secret that, right now, boarders will not find metres of champagne powder to carve through off-piste, but seriously, with most tourists spending no more than one week-a-year on the slopes, how many of us could honestly say we plan to spend our ski holidays being chased by avalanches and doing massive cliff-drops into fluffy powder bowls? In reality, push your average punter off-piste and into a foot of fresh powder, and within five minutes they'd be crawling back onto the piste, begging for something more solid.

But maybe I got lucky. Local residents explained to me that Sainte Foy is one of the best resorts in The Tarentaise are for holding onto its snow. So I contacted a few friends half an hour's drive up the hill in Val d'Isere, a resort The Times reported to have "no more than a sprinkling of white amid green pastures and grey escarpments". does seem odd that, considering skis come to an abrupt halt the second they touch but the tiniest section of turf, that 144 out of the resort's 156 pistes were still open, despite all those 'green pastures'.

The Times' article, which seemed to based on little more than exaggerated hearsay, has the potential to fuel further misguided rumors and, of most concern, to translate into damaging impacts in resorts which often depend solely on seasonal income. There's no hiding from the fact that France has seen a far lower accumulation of snow this season than is usual, but in publishing an article which portrayed all but the highest altitudes as being almost completely devoid of snow was both irresponsible and factually untrue.

Closer reading of the article allows for some lenience, with quotes from those in the know promising that pistes are still open and snow quality is "good". But these voices were lost under the tabloid-style headline, and overshadowed by a shocking photograph of skiers desperately trying to slide down a patch of snow running through a sunny meadow. And, although the sunny mood in Sainte Foy matched the weather, staff at luxury chalet company and Sainte Foy specialists, Premier Neige, were well aware at how damaging such headlines can be. However, they were confident that the genuine reports from their, somewhat surprised, guests returning to the UK would filter through.

Is it just Sainte Foy and Val d'Isere that are exempt? Do all other resorts resemble the Times' depiction of snow-starved Leysin in Switzerland? I would be very cautious to comment without physical evidence, which is perhaps where the Times went wrong; maybe they should consider commissioning journalists based in Val d'Isere, rather than in Paris...

Just returned from a ski-resort? What were your experiences of snow cover? Post your genuine piste-reports below...

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