EDITORIAL – Why I think no snow is the best thing that ever happened to a ski resort (& the birth of the multi-purpose resort)
This was going to be the best snow year, ever. We were promised El Nino way back in September, by a bunch of suit wearing experts on TV. They had colourful pie charts, infographics and moving weather maps, none of which really made any sense.
In the Alps, snow started dumping down mid-November. In Morzine we sat around grinning like a pack of mad old ladies, certain we had weeks of powder skiing ahead; before the lifts opened, before the tourists, the resort just for us. We were having our cake and we were eating it. It was a powder cake of snow, happiness and joy.
But then the snow, well it never really came back. It’s shown its face, from time to time, for a second or two. But it had no follow through, like the snow version of he’s just not that into you. The snow had found somewhere else it wanted to be.
So it may come as a shock to you, as I write this from the snow-sparse French Alps, that I think no snow is the best thing that’s ever happened, certainly to the likes of Morzine-Avoriaz and Les Gets.
Firstly, no snow is a misleading term. No snow in a ski resort generally means it’s not physically snowing, every day; or that the weekly road-closing mega-dump hasn’t arrived. The reality is that even with no snow, there is still snow, pistes are open and everyone is still skiing.
Did you know, for example, about the fleet of nocturnal snow machines, that head off across the mountains while we all sleep; finding snow, digging it up, bringing it back, like faithful Labradors, creating lovely pistes for us to enjoy? Or how mindbogglingly impressive our snowmaking capabilities were? And extensive, creating snow all over the god damn place every time temperatures go sub zero. In fact, every night, as I enjoy starry skies above, the mountain is a veritable snow factory of activity – creating snow, redistributing it, then grooming it to within an inch of its life. Their nightly antics make Santa look like a lazy old fart with a poor work ethic and questionable commitment to our happiness and joy.
I’m just going to put it out there, strategic mistakes were made pre-season, by one particular ski area, Pleney, if we are going to name names. I know this because Morzine-Les Gets locals have been vocal in their dissent.
Back in October when the first snow arrived Pleney was the only ski station not to switch on snow canons. Other ski areas made snow while conditions were ripe but Pleney did nothing, at all. There was an assumption that they knew what they were doing; that more snow was on its way. Perhaps they’d made a praiseworthy ethical decision to conserve water while other ski stations were being environmentally reckless? In reality the other ski resorts were just being organised, forward thinking, ensuring they were physically capable of opening when their paying tourists arrived. Pleney wasn’t thinking at all.
Similar miscalculations were probably made across many European resorts.
How could they not be when ‘weather prediction’ is part of the business model? But it’s unlikely such laissez faire pre-season attitudes will happen again.
Good news for early season skiers. Our snow future is looking bright!
Ski resorts cannot always be described as innovators. Rarely do they look outside their ski box. They have a snow season. They have a summer season. no crossover allowed. Ski resorts open and close on set dates, year after year, groundhog day, no flexibility allowed. So a no show of snow created a ‘cannot compute’ reaction in resort which has been the best thing since sliced ice.
The birth of the new Multi Purpose Resort
Here in Morzine-Avoriaz and Les Gets, the resorts looked at any snow-free areas on the mountain then decided to re-open the ski-lifts on these areas, to mountain bikers – the second biggest sport in the region.
Mountain bike tracks, hiking routes, children’s forest play areas were all reopened. Opening times for aqua parks and swimming pools were extended. The resort re-aligned itself to its new reality and went about creating a resort that offered everything possible to its visitors. I now have friends skiing in the mornings, mountain biking in the afternoons, then hitting the pool for a swim, steam and sauna. Families are hiking, horse riding, discovering the mountain in ways normally reserved for summer only.
Morzine-Avoriaz is starting to operate like a multi-purpose ski resort with multi-sport offerings to rival the likes of Vancouver or the West Coast of America where surf, snow, hikes and bikes can all be embraced in one 24-hour period. If this is to be our European ski resort future, then I like it. If no snow was the catalyst, then I am thankful for it.
It’s good to be pushed to the brink.
Our climate is changing, ski resorts of the past may not hold a place in our ski future. Flexibility needs to be embraced, as does innovation. This year many ski resorts have been pushed to the brink. But as cliché as it sounds, wonderful things emerge from the ashes. And Morzine-Avoriaz and Les Gets have emerged as something far superior. Snow is coming, in fact it started falling a few days ago and I’m as excited as the next person about it’s timely arrival. But its absence gave us just enough time to reassess how we do things and make positive changes for the future.
Which is why in my opinion a good ski resort lacking in snow has the opportunity to become a great ski resort.
And that exactly what’s been happening in the Alps over the last few weeks.
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