The French campaign against ski hosting has today claimed another casualty in the Alps – the Ski Club of Great Britain’s Ski Leader programme.
Ski Club Ski Leaders are based in popular resorts in both Europe and North America and provide a range of services for club members, including guiding on the slopes. In France, this guiding has come under close scrutiny in the wake of the February 2013 ski hosting ban, and as a result the Ski Club has decided to temporarily suspend the service for winter 2014-5. It will be replaced by a more limited Ski Ambassador service.
In France, Article L.212-1 of the Code du Sport bans ski guiding, whether on-piste or off, if the leader is paid for the service, and isn’t a qualified ski instructor or mountain guide. The Ski Club has always claimed the law doesn’t apply to their volunteer Leaders, who don’t receive any fees or wages, However, they do get help with travel costs, as well as lift passes and accommodation: which could be construed as another form of remuneration. As a result, a Leader was stopped for questioning by French gendarmes on the pistes of Val d’Isere in April, and has been ordered to appear before an examining magistrate in Albertville in September to explain his actions in relation to Article L.212-1.
In a statement today, the Ski Club said, “The Ski Club is fully behind the Leader and has appointed a local lawyer who is well aware of the challenges involved and is currently representing UK tour operators in relation to the ski hosting ban.”
The timing of the Ski Club’s announcement is a little surprising, given that tomorrow, July 2, the appeal against the original ski hosting ban will be heard in a court in Chambery. As we reported back in February 2013, the original case was brought against British chalet specialist Le Ski, which is now supported by an alliance of British tour operators. Le Ski has already submitted a written argument to the appeal, which claims the regulations banning ski hosting are discriminatory – because, unlike everyone else, French civil servants and teachers “established in France” don’t need to have ski instructor qualifications to guide on the slopes. This, it argues, makes the ban unjustifiable under EU law.
Nick Morgan of Le Ski told Welove2ski today that “if you look at the facts in the cold light day you’d be forgiven for thinking we’ve got a strong case.” However he also believes that “this could go on for some time,” with further appeals and counter-appeals likely.
In the meantime, the Ski Club is taking no chances, and next winter its new Ski Ambassadors in France will be offering advice on where to ski, rather than accompanying ski club members onto the slopes.
As we’ve said on several occasions, Welove2ski thinks the ski hosting ban is a miserable state of affairs. In our view, you do not need to be a ski instructor to guide guests around a piste system, provided you stay on-piste, and respect both the piste grading system and any avalanche warnings. Essentially, all you’re doing is using the resort’s piste map to inform your skiing choices each day: and if ski hosts or Ski Leaders can’t be trusted to use one, why should it be deemed safe for the wider skiing public?
So we hope the ban is overturned, and that both the Ski Club, and British tour operators such as Le Ski, are able to reintroduce on-piste ski guiding/ski hosting in the near future. What we’re not hoping for, however, is that its Ski Leaders start to guide off-piste again – which is another part of their weekly programme. By no means all Ski Club Ski Leaders are qualified ski instructors or mountain guides, and we believe no-one should be taking groups into the unpredictable world of off-piste without proper training – certainly more than the two weeks offered by the Ski Club to its Ski Leaders.