Tour operators and ski resorts are assuring British skiers that planned strike action among ski lift operators, taking place today, is likely to be a “non-event,” saying lifts are running as normal and any closures have gone unnoticed.
Although it has been widely reported that “unlimited” strike notices have been filed for the month of February and over the Ski World Cup in Méribel and Courchevel (February 6-19), so far only two days of action have materialised – January 19 and 31 – and very few lift operators are taking part, causing so little disruption that skiers are unaware.
“As expected, the day of industrial action in France today is having little to impact on UK skiers,” said Charles Owen, managing director of Seasonal Businesses in Travel.
Next month’s strikes have been called by the two main French unions that represent ski lift operators and seasonal workers — Force Ouvrière (FO) and the CGT — in protest at the controversial pension reforms and the modification of unemployment insurance schemes for seasonal workers. With British and French school holidays taking place during the month of February, the unions hope to cause maximum disruption.
But ski resorts and tour operators, who have been hit hard in the past few years by the Covid pandemic and then poor snow at the start of this season, claim lifts will continue to operate and slopes will remain open as planned.
"After discussions with our teams and our union delegates regarding the national strike movement against the pension reform, we do not foresee any interruption of service at our facilities. The ski lifts in our resorts, Les Deux Alpes, Alpe d'Huez and La Grave will operate as planned until the end of the winter season," said Fabrice Boutet, CEO of the SATA Group.
The strike on January 19 caused no disruption with three lift operators in Courchevel and four in Les Menuires, taking part, said Olivier Desaulty, director of Les 3 Vallées, the country’s biggest ski area. Today (January 31), 327 out of the area's 350 slopes are open and 144 out of 155 of lifts are turning – those closed are in preparation for the World Championships taking place from February 6.
“Employees are working as usually. There's almost no impact,” he said. “We respect this right to strike while maintaining quality social dialogue every day, which allows us to be optimistic for the February holidays and the World Championship.”
It’s the same situation in Les Arcs, where VIP founder Andy Sturt told the Daily Telegraph: “If anyone has gone on strike this morning then they have been very discrete about it. We haven’t noticed any closures in any of our resorts across the Alps. Lifts are working fine, it’s -10ºC, fabulous snow and a cloudless blue sky – another perfect day”.
Xavier Schouller of French mountain specialist Peak Retreats, went even further, describing the strikes as “a total non-event”.
“Nothing will actually happen, and there won’t be the slightest disruption in 95 per cent of French resorts,” said Schouller. “It’s the French system of national ‘préavis, which has happened many times before.”
There was a ‘strike day ‘ last Thur in the Vaujany / Alp d’Hues area . It resulted in lifts starting 30 mins late , nothing more . All our guests enjoyed an xtra coffee ☕️ at breakfast in their catered chalet & the rest of the day was ‘normal’ , not affected at all @WhiteTigerPR
— Friendship Travel (@ftholidays) January 25, 2023
FO general secretary Eric Becker described the strike as “the only way to be heard by the government”, explaining: “This reform has penalized seasonal workers, whose unemployment benefits are sometimes halved, [to the point that] we can no longer recruit.”
Softening on previous statements of an intention to cause maximum disruption, Becker added: “The lifts will operate normally from the next day (February 1), we do not want to further weaken companies already in difficulty.”
Pierre Scholl, national representative of the CGT for ski lifts, added: “You can’t imagine [pisteurs] transporting injured people at the age of 64. Today, seniors are no longer hired on construction sites and women have trouble finding work in the off-season, often finding themselves without anything — that’s a lot of families.”
Strikes on January 19 went unnoticed in Val d’Isere where Molly Peters, 23, is working a season for VIP Ski. She said: “I’ve not even heard of a strike, let alone heard of it affecting anyone.”
The only evidence of mass lift closures in a major resort reported to The Telegraph came from Les Carroz – it hasn't been confirmed whether this is due to strike action or not.
Two of the UK’s biggest ski tour operators, Inghams and Crystal Ski Holidays, told the Telegraph that they were keeping tabs on the situation and liaising with guests staying in affected areas if strikes go ahead in the future.
A spokesman for Crystal Ski Holidays said: “We’re aware of ski lift operator strike action taking place today. Right now, based on local information, we are seeing very little disruption from these strikes today (January 31) across the majority of our French resorts. We will be liaising with customers directly during the day if their resort is impacted and work with them to ensure they enjoy their holiday as planned.”
Looking ahead to any potential disruption in February, the operator said: “We will be liaising with customers who are travelling to France during this time directly to keep them updated.”
When are the strikes in French ski resorts taking place?
Strikes are taking places across France on January 31. The last strike took place on January 19. Although it has been widely reported that “unlimited” strike notices have been filed for the month of February, including over the half term holidays, so far January 19 and 31 are the only days of confirmed action – and few lift operators have taken part.
“In a nutshell there won’t be any disruption to skiers except maybe the odd lift,” said Schouller.
Which resorts are impacted?
There is no official list of resorts or lifts involved in strike action – operators will be in touch with any travellers who might be impacted.
At the time of writing, a survey of the status of live piste maps in France's major resorts by The Telegraph found 145/164 slopes open in Val d'Isere/Tignes, 327/350 in Les 3 Vallées (Courchevel, Méribel, Val Thorens and Les Menuires) and 99/122 in Paradiski (Les Arcs and La Plagne). Reports shared with The Telegraph confirm the majority of lifts in Les Carroz, part of the Grand Massif ski area, were closed on January 31. Skiers can stay on top of what is open via live updates on resort websites.
Will my ski holiday be cancelled?
Operators and resorts are eager to assure holidaymakers that strike action will not impact ski holidays.
“At Peak Retreats we have been reassured buy all our major partners that there won’t be any disruption to skiers,” says Schouller.
However, in the unlikely circumstance of things developing and more walkouts materialising, resulting in visitors being unable to ski or complete their holiday as sold, as per standard terms and conditions, if your trip is part of a package your operator will likely move you to a resort where you can ski, or offer a refund. If you have booked independently you should consult individual providers and airlines, and consult your travel insurance, however few policies are likely to cover strike action.
Reassuringly Owen says: “British skiers looking forward to their half term ski holidays are unlikely to let this worry them when the snow conditions are so good.”