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How is the 2022/2023 winter season shaping up? - Part 2

While the inflationary context is of great concern to mountain professionals, they are nonetheless betting on the 22/23 season after several up and down seasons due to the health crisis. Numerous challenges await these actors, from snowmaking problems to the increase in operating costs and the sustainable transition of the resorts. The resorts must now reinvent themselves and adapt to the current context as well as to the new expectations of the visitors, notably on the sustainable aspect.

To discover the first part of this analysis of the upcoming winter season, click here.

Ski resorts are in the starting blocks

As the launch of the 2022/2023 winter season is fast approaching, the lack of snow cover is tarnishing the party as previously explained. Thus, the launch of the winter season has been postponed by one week in Val Thorens due to the mild weather. Initially scheduled for November 19th, the famous resort will finally launch its season only on November 26th. But Val Thorens remains optimistic with snowfalls expected by Saturday 26th. 

All the teams are already ready to prepare the ski area. We are looking forward to welcoming our holidaymakers until the end of the season on 8 May 2023. 

Bruno Gabet, President of the Val Thorens Tourist Office

The same is true of Val d'Isère, which is postponing its opening date due to a lack of snow to ensure an optimal skiing experience for its visitors. The launch of the season, initially planned for November 26th, will only take place on December 3rd. The "Premières Traces" event, which launches the winter season in Val d'Isère, has therefore also been postponed to the weekend of 3 and 4 December. Nevertheless, the resort specifies that it will be possible to ski until May 8th 2023, instead of May 1st initially planned, and "if the snow conditions at the end of the season allow it".

The small Savoyard resort of Bessans has decided to tackle this snow problem head on. It used the technique of snow farming, a technique originating from the Nordic countries which consists of preserving the snow from the previous winter, both natural and artificial, under a thick layer of sawdust which limits its melting. The site chosen to store the snow was well selected and thus allowed 83% of the stock to be preserved despite the heat wave this summer. The resort's Nordic track was therefore able to welcome skiers earlier than expected, who were also quick to descend it.

The launch of the season also means the launch of promotional campaigns for the mountain destination. Atout France and France Montagnes have joined forces to jointly launch a major national communication campaign this autumn to mark the return of "The mountains win you over". An ambitious 3-month digital media plan that hopes to reach tens of millions of French people. The video campaign will also be broadcast on television, in particular as a sponsor for the weekend's weather.

The Agence Savoie Mont Blanc (ASMB) also declares the season open with the launch of its multi-channel promotional campaign. A new campaign orchestrated under a new brand platform that highlights the images and values that characterise the Alps, including the feeling of nostalgia that emanates from them. It is an ode to the joy and sharing of the mountains between all generations, as the destination wishes to attract the younger generations in particular. A mainly digital campaign that can be found on all social networks, on the replays of major national channels as well as on the screens of the Eurostar to address British customers.

The two Savoyards are also making a date with Parisians and Lyonnais with an original street marketing campaign at the entrance to the metro stations. The last part is a segmented campaign of "micro-contents", with specific messages like "sport & activities" for some and "contemplative or cocooning" for others. Each customer segment is thus targeted by this ambitious campaign, regardless of their motivating factors for coming to the mountains in winter.

Finally, ASMB will launch other campaigns to boost bookings. Called "Ski m'arrange", the campaign will highlight offers adapted to the desires, budget and availability of visitors for tailor-made holidays. And from this November, two additional campaigns will be unveiled with the aim of promoting the "GO Savoie Mont Blanc" and "Explore Savoie Mont Blanc" schemes.

We want to rethink ski holidays and facilitate the act of buying, thanks to these 3 simple and intuitive services, and offer our travellers real flexibility and freedom in the organisation of their stay. 

Christelle Ferrière, Deputy Director of the Savoie Mont-Blanc Agency

Across the Atlantic, resorts are also preparing to open their stations to skiers and other winter sports enthusiasts very soon. Colorado is full of ski resorts and 21 are members of the Colorado Ski Country USA. All are gearing up for a rich 2022/2023 season with five milestone anniversaries, five new lifts and new resort amenities and attractions.

Steamboat's Howelsen Hill is celebrating its 107th birthday this year, making it the oldest continuously operating ski area in North America. Five other resorts are celebrating their 50, 55 and 60th anniversaries this year.

More and more of these resorts are now focusing on developing their F&B offerings to diversify their revenues. Digitalisation has also become ubiquitous at US resorts, such as Granby Ranch, which has simplified the customer experience with RFID access control at all lifts, allowing customers to buy online and use a new cash box to avoid the ticket office altogether.

Diversification of supply at the heart of all efforts

Although downhill skiing remains at the heart of the economic model of the vast majority of French mountain resorts, many of them are turning to a new model based on the diversification of activities. This is the case of Le Grand-Bornand, which since 2013 has hosted the only French stage of the biathlon world championship. The resort is also organising this year's Biathlon World Cup which will be held from 12 to 18 December. This event will allow the resort to reopen its doors a week earlier than usual. Other events will punctuate the winter of Le Grand-Bornand, starting with the fourteenth edition of Glisse au cœur, at the end of the season. 

It is with this kind of event that we are reminded that there is not only downhill skiing in Grand-Bornand. It was a village where people used to ski from the 19th century onwards, above all to get around. We have about forty farms, we have a rich cultural life... There are many other things to do here than skiing. 

Julien-Gabriel Perbellini, spokesman for Grand-Bornand Tourism

The Serre Chevalier Vallée Briançon resort will be the scene of a double trail competition: the Trail Blanc Vauban by night and the Serre Che Snow Trail. Two winter trails for two unique atmospheres, one at night in the heart of the Vauban fortifications and the other in the middle of nature at an altitude of over 2000 metres.

For its part, Samoëns will host the 5th edition of the World Ice Swimming Championships from 12 to 15 January. More than 300 participants of 40 different nationalities have already registered for the event. A competition that underlines the fact that the mountains offer a wide range of activities, even for people who are not into snow sports.

Piau-Engaly, the highest resort in the Pyrenees, is much more ambitious with the objective of becoming a 4-season mountain resort. To achieve this, a project to upgrade the resort has been launched. This project, with a budget of 4 million euros, includes the renovation of all the pedestrian paths and the rehabilitation of the roofing of the shopping centres, around which the daily life of holidaymakers is organised. The work should be completed by next year.

This upgrading of the service offer goes hand in hand with the increase in the resort's accommodation capacity. In addition, a new hotel operator programme will be launched in the next few months to increase the destination's accommodation capacity with an additional 266 beds divided into 56 diversified flats. Still in an effort to diversify activities, a Forest Zone will be set up below the Engaly chairlift, allowing visitors to discover the surrounding nature on snowshoes. Finally, the 4-season Discovery Garden will be accessible from this season, the resort's core target being families.

No longer being dependent on a single season is becoming a crucial issue for the resorts, as demonstrated by the installation of a summer ski slope at VALD Domaines Skiables des Stations du Val d'Allos. Indeed, more and more resorts intend to create a 4-season offer, thus allowing for the sustainability of revenues throughout the year. Sweden is also following this logic and recently unveiled Northern Europe's largest summer ski centre on synthetic turf in Stockholm.

Other destinations see mountain tourism as a boon to diversify their tourism business, such as Saudi Arabia with the creation of Trojena, the new global mountain tourism destination, as part of the NEOM plan and strategy. Outdoor skiing is a unique feature of TROJENA which will offer a unique experience in the region, especially in the Gulf countries known for their desert climate.

The new year-round tourist destination will include a range of facilities such as the ski village, ultra-luxurious family and wellness resorts, a wide range of retail outlets and restaurants, as well as sports activities including a ski slope, water sports and mountain biking, and an interactive nature reserve. The project is expected to be completed by 2026. By 2030, Trojena hopes to attract 700,000 visitors and 7,000 permanent residents to Trojena and its adjacent residential areas. 

Trojena will redefine mountain tourism for the world by creating a place based on the principles of ecotourism, highlighting our efforts to preserve nature and improve the quality of life of the community, which is aligned with the goals of the Kingdom's Vision 2030. It also confirms our commitment to participate in the global effort to protect the environment. Trojena will be an important addition to tourism in the region, a unique example of how Saudi Arabia is creating destinations based on its geographical and environmental diversity. This forward-looking vision will ensure that mountain tourism will be another source of revenue to support the Kingdom's economic diversification while preserving its natural resources for future generations. 

Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince and Chairman of the Board of Directors of NEOM

An exemplary territory in terms of sustainability

The mountains are among the destinations most affected by climate change with the melting of ice, the increasing scarcity of snow at the summit and global warming. Mountain actors are therefore strongly committed to a virtuous approach in order to preserve their territory while ensuring the survival of the activities that take place there. Tourism is indeed vital for many of these rural destinations as it contributes strongly to the local economic fabric.

In March 2022, the 11th World Congress on Snow and Mountain Tourism was held. More than 400 participants from 23 countries gathered in Andorra, which has been organising this bi-annual event in partnership with UNWTO since its inception. This edition concluded with a joint commitment to focus on innovation and promote investment in green infrastructure and low-impact travel experiences. At the same time, the promotion and development of gastronomy and wellness emerged as key priorities for the future of mountain tourism. Other recommendations from the congress included the need to monitor mountain tourism and its impact in order to better manage the resources and waste produced, to respect the carrying capacity of destinations and to empower mountain communities.

French resorts are at the forefront of this sustainable commitment, as evidenced by the Savoie Mont Blanc Agency, which has been working towards this goal for many years. The Agency recently launched its new Collectif Montagne to co-construct the mountain tourism of tomorrow with the actors in the region. According to Vincent Rolland, co-President of the Savoie Mont Blanc Agency, "it is a question of reflecting together with all the professional actors in the mountains on the future of the destination and being innovative in our actions so that holidaymakers and locals can recharge their batteries in contact with our beautiful destination while preserving local life and the inhabitants". Three themes are prioritised for the coming years: 

  • The positive transition and the CSR approach
  • Multi-season tourism
  • New clienteles

The sustainable transition of the mountain is thus the number one priority and with this in mind, the University of Savoie Mont Blanc has joined forces with the commune of Grand-Bornand to undertake a vast research-action project aimed at understanding and responding to the multiple challenges of the ecological and social transition in this mountain territory. A multidisciplinary scientific team is associated with this approach, as well as tourism professionals, elected officials and inhabitants of the destination. The final ambition is to reconcile controlled development of the territory with the preservation of natural ecosystems, attractiveness and sobriety in the use and consumption of resources.

The Méribel resort is unveiling its new bi-facial photovoltaic power plant, which it presents as "an unprecedented innovation in France and in the mountains". Indeed, with optimisation in winter thanks to the albedo effect of the snow, both sides of the solar panels will be productive. This power plant consists of 182 bi-facial solar panels spread over a surface area of 400 m² and capable of producing 82 KWp of power. A further step in the energy transition in the mountains.

The Pyrenees are not to be outdone with the reopening of the Puigmal resort under the name of Puigmal2900, "a four-season eco-responsible resort open 365 days a year". Among the objectives set out to transform a station in decline into an exemplary site in terms of sustainability, the desire to start with the old and make the new, i.e. to carry out "a complete transformation of the site in the medium term with the refurbishment of certain ski lifts and the dismantling of unused ski lifts in order to reduce the human footprint on this ecosystem". Access to the area is also carefully studied with two car parks and a free shuttle bus. In keeping with the aim of developing a sustainable offer, the resort has chosen to use the Flocon Vert label and is aiming for certification this year. 

Our objective is to use as little artificial snow as possible but also to reduce our grooming hours, which are very energy-intensive, with reconditioned groomers to avoid buying back. This winter, with 80 cm of snow at the bottom of the slopes and more than 1m50 at the bottom of the domain, we were able to use 100% natural snow. 

Éric Matzner-Lober, university statistician and founder of several companies

The Flocon Vert label is an important recognition of the sustainable commitment of a resort and a significant element of attractiveness for the holders of this label. This label "aims to enhance the value of tourist destinations with a leading-edge sustainable development policy". The 21 criteria of the label define the actions that the resorts must validate in order to obtain it. The Mountain Riders association, which holds the label, has awarded it to six new resorts for the winter of 2022/2023: Font-Romeu, Val d'Isère, Tignes, Valloire, Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc and Cordon.

 

The mountains are a more attractive destination than ever, responding to the need of tourists for large natural areas. A natural environment that is also preserved by actors who are increasingly committed to sustainable development. However, the health crisis, inflation and the energy crisis are significant shadows for this new winter season. It remains to be seen over the next few weeks, particularly during the Christmas and February holidays, whether skiers and other powder lovers will be out in force.

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