Remember ski hosting – the free guided tours of a ski resort’s pistes, laid on by your tour operator?
You’d join one of several groups of clients, sorted according to skiing ability, and spend the day in the company of a member of staff, getting to know your ski area. In the process, you’d get to test yourself against your fellow-guests, and have some cracking chair-lift chats en route.
But after two recent developments, you’d be forgiven for thinking ski hosting will shortly die out.
First, on July 22, the Ski Club of Great Britain announced it was going to introduce a paid-for guiding service for its members in 11 French resorts, using qualified instructors from the Evolution 2 ski school.
Then, yesterday, Crystal announced it was dropping its ski hosting programme (known as social skiing) altogether. It’s being replaced by its Crystal Ski Explorer app, which includes itineraries for all levels of skiers recommended by Crystal’s resort teams.
Regular readers will know that ski-hosting has been under threat for some time. In France the attacks started in 2012 when a ski host from the chalet specialist Le Ski was stopped and questioned by police in the French resort of Meribel.
This was followed by a court case in Albertville in 2013. The French authorities – backed by the ESF ski school – argued that the practice is illegal under Article L.212-1 of the French Code du Sport, which rules ski guiding, either on-piste or off, if the leader is paid for the service, and isn’t a qualified ski instructor or mountain guide.
The ban was then extended to the Ski Club of Great Britain’s Ski Leader programme, which is staffed by volunteers. However, the French argued that the provision of lift passes, accommodation and travel expenses represented a form of payment, and the programme was dropped in France in 2014.
At the same time, the enforcement of rules governing ski guiding was tightened up in several Italian regions, and some operators quietly withdrew the ski hosting there too.
In France, Le Ski is working hard to overturn the ban, supported by a group of British tour operators: Alpine Elements, Crystal Ski Holidays, Esprit Ski, Inghams, Mark Warner, Neilson, Ski Olympic, Ski Total, and Skiworld.
It points out that the ban is discriminatory under European Law, because Article L.212-1 exempts French civil servants and school teachers “established in France”.
In September 2014, the first appeal was dismissed, but Le Ski and its allies are continuing the fight with further appeals to the Supreme Court in Paris, and – if necessary – the European Court in Luxembourg.
Now, however, it looks as though the British ski industry is starting to lose heart. Crystal’s announcement is particularly disappointing, because it applies across all its resorts, not just in France.
That’s not to say some of the new solutions haven’t been creative – and are interesting in their own right. Last winter, tour operator Neilson launched a new Mountain Experts service in selected chalet-hotels, which guarantees guests at least two free days of guiding, with tips on technique, from qualified ski instructors.
It’s now being rolled out across all its Mountain Collection properties. Meanwhile, uptake of Crystal’s Explorer app has been considerable. It reports 15% of guests used the itineraries on its apps last winter, compared with only 4% who joined its social skiing programme.
But all the same, here at Welove2ski, we’d hate to see a useful, free, and intensely social activity like this die out.
One operator who is confident it will survive is Nick Morgan, Managing Director of Le Ski.
“If and when our case is heard by the European Court, and it’s overturned, I think it will take a nano-second for tour operators to reintroduce ski hosting,” he says.
“After all, it’s such a big part of the chalet experience. It’s a very sociable kind of holiday, and joining a ski host for a tour is just another way of continuing the experience of dinner the night before, as you get to know your fellow guests. Only this time you’re doing it over hot chocolate stops on the mountain rather than a glass of wine. It’s too good a service to give up.”
We also note that Crystal is still actively supporting Le Ski’s appeal in the French courts.
Let’s all hope Nick Morgan is right.