Ski Guiding in France | Welove2ski
Ski Holiday

Ski Guiding by UK Tour Operators in France Won’t Be Back

The French supreme court in Paris this week rejected an appeal by Le Ski.
Ski Guiding in France | Welove2ski
Photo: © ESF Courchevel.

Traditional ski guiding by UK tour operators is over – and it won’t be coming back, as we had hoped, thanks largely to Brexit.

As expected, the French supreme court sitting in Paris this week rejected an appeal by Huddersfield-based chalet company Le Ski against its 2014 conviction for infringements of the controversial French sports code.

This states that anyone leading a group of skiers, and being paid to do, so must be qualified. What’s more, for reasons best-known to their management in Grenoble, the ESF jumped on the bandwagon and supported the state prosecution.

In the light of our forthcoming departure from the EU, Le Ski MD, Nick Morgan, and the consortium of a dozen tour operators supporting him, have taken the painful decision not to try to pursue the case to the European Court in Luxembourg.

Early casualty of Brexit

Prior to the referendum, lawyers agreed that the court would almost certainly rule in favour of Le Ski, and the consortium includes Crystal and Inghams. But Nick Morgan concedes that there’s little point in asking for a European ruling because we are leaving the EU, and the case may not even be heard before our departure.

He said that he was under no illusion: “Two crucial elements contributed hugely to the supreme court’s decision:

1 Looming Brexit – why should the French judiciary uphold our pleas based on EU law or refer the matter to the European Court, as clearly requested, when our country voted to leave the EU?

2 The current political and electoral climate in France shows that anti-European parties have the sympathy of almost half of the electorate.

This decision, and its consequences for British skiers in Europe, is yet another result of the UK’s vote on June 23, 2016.”

He added: “We welcome the partial annulment of the Chambéry 2014 appeal judgement. The case is sent back to the Chambéry court of appeals, as one of the offences included in the prosecution was repealed. The original fine set by the Albertville court will now have to be reassessed.”

Other UK companies, including the Ski Club of Great Britain, that have been pursued by the French authorities are expected to also throw in the towel.

What was an integral part of any chalet holiday each winter for tens of thousands of skiers is now relegated to the history books of our sport as firmly as leather boots, cable bindings and stem-christies.

Is This the End of Ski Hosting? | Welove2ski
Photo: © Crystal.

The seemingly benign practise of showing guests around the slopes at the start of their holiday, not teaching but merely pointing out the best runs and the best restaurants, is now officially illegal in France and is likely to remain so forever.

What’s clearly daft to us rosbifs is that demonstrably this is a case of one law for the French and another for us. Civil servants, teachers, soldiers, and volunteers are exempt…in as long as they are French.

In plain anglais, what this means is that if you’re a maths teacher from Calais or Rouen who’s never previously been up a mountain in your life, you are free to take a whole group of kids or adults skiing whenever you like. But if you’re an experienced UK skier – perhaps an ex-racer or a coach – who’s spent seasons in the Alps, you can’t. You’re breaking the law and liable to arrest, prosecution, and a heavy fine or even imprisonment.

Ironically, Article 212-1 of the French Code du Sport is not aimed at tour operator ski hosts, but at unqualified ‘black’ instructors who offer ski lessons across the Alps. Away from its Grenoble union headquarters, most ESF instructors don’t care a jot about ski hosting. They recognise that the hosts are not teaching and that they are not taking work away from them.

As Nick Morgan points out, for more than a quarter of a century his hosts and guests assembled each morning outside the ESF office in Courchevel 1650 without a murmur of discontent.

At huge expense the row has rumbled on through the courts with the prosecution inexplicably supported by the ESF. They demanded – and got – 5,000€ in damages overall and a further 4,000€ in damages for lost business in the Meribel Valley (yes, what business? And yes, you are correct – Le Ski isn’t based in Meribel, but in Courchevel 1650), and ESF costs of 1,500€. The company was also fined 15,000€.

Hosting | Welove2ski
Photo: © Le Ski.

Lost in translation

At the heart of the whole sorry business is a hit squad of gendarmes – not be confused with the usually benign resort coppers – are based in Modane in the Maurienne Valley. They spend the winter roving around French resorts, on the lookout for anyone who might be vaguely considered to be in breach of the law.

A ‘guide’ to them is always a ‘guide de haute montagne’ and they have no understanding of the very British concept of a chalet party and ski host.

Tour operator ski hosting, along with the unconnected subject of French recognition and acceptance of foreign ski instructor qualifications, have led to frequent and often heated confrontations over the past 20 years. You can’t help but worry that – in skiing at least – our departure from the EU will test the entente cordiale to its limits.

About the author

Peter Hardy

An editor at Welove2ski, Peter is also writes about skiing for The Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail. He first put on skis as a child on a family holiday, and has since been to some 500 resorts around the world.


Click here to post a comment

  • Simple, don’t go to France, but the much more hospitable resorts in Austria, Italy or even Switzerland.

  • Don’t blame BREXIT. This ban was been in place long before the referendum even took place. I agree with Tony (above). We ski every year in the Dolomites where ski hosting is still allowed….

  • As with others, the chalet companies should simply quit France and go to the other countries where they will be welcomed. The UK visitors will not be missed in France, so let the French resorts cater for their own. There are other resorts where the skiing is equally demanding and time for less well known resets to flourish !

  • France – you bunch of tossers. Why do you bite the hand that feeds you? It is purely geography that there are more british voices on your slopes than any other – including French. I am an expert skier and an expert map reader. I neither need the services of an instructor to teach me, nor a guide to, well, guide me. I use the companionship of the Ski Club of Great Britain when I get the chance, to have someone to ski with. You, France, have forced me out of your country, to Austria, to Italy and even to Switzerland. I’m fed up with €8.50 for a beer. I’m fed up with the attitude. You have a fantastic resource and you’re pissing all over it. We invented skiing. We invested in skiing. Stop taking the piss and screwing us! Stop the attitude and be grateful for our patronage. Whilst we place our kids in ski school (yes they can be excellent), us adults like to mooch around the resort and ski area. Someone to guide us might be the social aspect that we require (did I say, I can read a map?) Whilst on piste, it doesn’t matter whether this person is an ex-Olympic qualified ski instruction, or Jim from the chalet, who’s been here all season. Please France – stop being an idiot.

  • Sorry guys but don’t blame Brexit, it had nothing to do with it. They were never going to win this, the French had already decided that long ago. Personally I have also never used a ski host/guide except to go off piste when I would only use a qualified professional instructor. Part of the fun is finding your own way around. We also abandoned France a few years ago due to the ridiculous prices they were charging. 22€ in Courchevel for a pizza and 20€ for a crappy burger and frozen chips in a plastic tray to take out not even eat in in Val Thorens! The last straw was in Tignes/Val D’isere when they started charging €1 to use the toilets even when we had been patrons of the restaurants. We told them where to stuff that! We now also go to fantastic Austria and Italy. Free pizza in Italy in all the après bars and gorgeous Italian coffee for 1€ Yes 1€! Not 5 or 6 like France. Sorry chalet owners in France but skiers need to think with their wallets when booking their next trip and avoid France at all cost.

  • Got to to agree with the problem of prices in France , everything from ski pass cost to a beer is increasingly more expensive. Italy is far better value for money. I can’t agree with some critics of French attitude. Lots of British skiers are down right obnoxious in their behaviour to the locals and other skiers alike.

  • So many other places to ski. 8 of us just got back from Austria and a wonderful week of hosting. As we did last year. That’s already a few thousand pound lost by France just with me.

  • Totally agree with all the above. I still ski in France but refuse to ” look after kids on the chairlifts ” when asked to do so by ESF instructors. Suggest we all do that from now on.They continue to shoot themselves in the foot.

  • Totally agree with all the above. I still ski in France but refuse to " look after kids on the chairlifts " when asked to do so by ESF instructors. Suggest we all do that from now on.They continue to shoot themselves in the foot..

    • Frank, while we heartedly agree that Leaders are volunteers and receive only remuneration in kind, they are still appear to be in breach of the law according to the rulings of the French courts to date. If you continue to appeal against these rulings, we wish you the very best. We would like nothing more than for you to win your case! As with tour operators we acknowledge that you have, in the meantime, made other arrangements to help British skiers in France explore the slopes.

      Whether the French supreme court ruling was influenced by Brexit is a matter for debate. However it does seem to us that asking the European court to rule on this when we are leaving – or, by the time the case is heard, may have already left Europe – may sadly be irrelevant. It’s a bit like checking in your jacket in the cloakroom as you leave the club.