Tens of thousands of British skiers staying in French resorts were left to find their own way around the mountain today after a French court in Albertville banned the practice of ski hosting by British tour operators.
The service was declared to be in breach of a French law that forbids anyone from guiding groups of skiers around the slopes unless they are fully qualified ski and snowboard instructors. The law was originally introduced to try and stamp out illegal instruction.
Ski hosts do not give any form of instruction. Their role is to show guests around the ski area, introduce them to different pistes, and point out the best lunch spots and bars. They do not takes guests off-piste or down difficult runs.
However, the law was recently revised to include anyone who is paid simply to lead groups of skiers around the mountain, on-piste as well as off.
Crystal Ski said that it was temporarily withdrawing its free “social skiing” service and most other companies were expected to follow their lead, rather than risk their staff being arrested by zealous police on the slopes at the height of the main half-term week.
British tour operator taken to court
The move to end the 50-year-old service follows the test-case prosecution of Nick Morgan, managing director of Huddersfield-based Le Ski. He was fined €15,000. His company operates in Courchevel, La Tania, and Val d’Isere. It has been offering free skiing guiding to guests for the past 30 years.
Last March a group of Le Ski guests and their host were stopped and questioned by police while skiing in the Meribel Valley.
Prosecution supported by the ESF
The prosecution was supported by the association of French ski schools, the ESF, despite the fact that ski hosts are specifically banned from giving any form of instruction. The damages awarded to the ESF are understood to be €9,000.
However, a spokesman for the ESF claimed: “ESF will not receive any re-numeration as a result of this judgment other than its legal fees being paid for representing them as a ‘Civil Party’ and importantly, ESF has never sought otherwise. Contrary to some opinion, there is no financial gain to ESF.
“The laws governing sport in France say that it is illegal to ‘teach, lead, guide, animate’ without an appropriate professional qualification. For professionals, and in particular for ESF, security on ski slopes is of paramount importance.”
Le Ski launches an appeal
Le Ski has already appealed against the decision and is supported by a group of other major and minor tour operators for whom ski hosting is an important and attractive component of their holidays. The case will now go to a higher court in Chambery.
Nick Morgan said: “The result is what we expected. We are not surprised that the local Albertville authorities supported the protectionist ESF stance. We are very disappointed that one of our commercial partners has supported this prosecution.”
Ski hosting is still available in many other countries
Anyone who enjoys ski-hosting will be pleased to know that it will continue in many other ski-holiday destinations. Crystal will, for example, be continuing its “social skiing” programme wherever it has reps in European resorts beyond France – as will Inghams, Total and Esprit. Chalet specialist VIP will also be continuing its ski hosting in Zermatt, Verbier and St Anton.