If you thought that the inexplicable French ban on ski hosting was a temporary blip in the entente cordiale, and that it would fade quietly away, you’d be wrong.
Today the French Appeals Court in Chambery has upheld last year’s conviction against Huddersfield-based tour operator Le Ski. The appeal was heard in early July and the judge today gave his verdict in open court: appeal dismissed. However, he did substantially reduce the amount of damages awarded to the ESF (Ecole du Ski Francais). It’s expected to be some weeks before he gives his reasons in writing.
Nick Morgan, MD of Le Ski, said:” I’m very surprised and disappointed. We have a strong case and we thought they would consider the appeal in a fair and sensible way. We have lost a battle, but not the war. We will now take the case to the Supreme Court in Paris and, if necessary, to the European Court in Luxembourg.”
Morgan is backed by an alliance of British ski tour operators: Alpine Elements, Crystal Ski Holidays, Esprit Ski, Inghams, Mark Warner, Neilson, Ski Olympic, Ski Total, Skiworld and Thomson Ski.
So what does the ruling really mean for British skiers? Very simply, if you’re one of the tens of thousands of skiers who feel that a tour operator’s free mountain hosting service is an important part of your holiday, don’t holiday in France.
It’s worth noting that Mark Warner, one of the original companies to promote ski hosting, has now started operating in Zell am See in Austria where hosting is accepted by local skis schools. It seems highly likely that other predominantly French operators will follow their lead.
One other option for tour operators is to follow the lead of Crystal. Last winter, it introduced a Sundays-only ski-hosting service in 11 French resorts, in collaboration with the Evolution 2 ski school. In each of the resorts where the new service is offered, Crystal has also made Evolution 2 its main ski school partner, rather than the ESF.
So What’s Behind The Ban?
Article L.212-1 of the French Code du Sport bans ski guiding whether on-piste or off, if the leader is paid for the service, and isn’t a qualified ski instructor or mountain guide.
Le Ski and its allies claim the regulations are discriminatory – because, unlike everyone else, French civil servants and teachers “established in France” don’t need to have ski instructor qualifications to guide on the slopes.
In theory, a maths teacher from Normandy who has never before been to the mountains could lead a group of children or adults on-piste, but not an experienced British skier with a couple of seasons under his belt. This, it argues, makes the ban unjustifiable under EU law.
The most recent casualty in ski-hosting wars is the Ski Club of Great Britain. Its Ski Leader programme came under scrutiny last winter when a leader was stopped and questioned by gendarmes in Val d’Isere.
The Ski Club case is still before the courts, but I now understand that the leader was stopped in Val at the instigation of the ESF. The ski school had made a formal complaint to the police and gendarmes had been looking for the leader for some days before he was found and questioned.
For more on the ski hosting ban, read our features “Are the Happy Days of Ski Hosting Over in France?”, “Is This the End of Ski Hosting in France?” and Crystal Side-Steps the French Ban on Ski Hosting”