A Yorkshire based British tour operator, this week had its appeal against the banning of ski guides in France turned down by the French court in Chambery. Whilst Le Ski’s MD, Nick Morgan, expressed a sense of surprise and disappointment with the decision he vowed to continue the good fight and take the case to the Supreme Court in Paris and, failing success there, the European Court in Luxembourg.

The French appear to have aligned their objection to this British complimentary service on the grounds of safety despite the fact that guides do not instruct at all or venture off-piste with their guests. Guides do have to ski to a proficient level on all pistes and in addition they receive both training and first aid knowledge. How is it more dangerous for a guide to conduct his duties than it is for a second-year skiing parent to take out their family to a resort that they are unfamiliar with? How the French are continuing to gain judicial approval of their stance remains a mystery when untrained French teachers are curiously exempt from this ban. Consider also the world’s most litigious country, the USA, offering “ski buddies” (knowledgeable locals) to accompany and guide skiers around their slopes.
The major force behind this legislation is reputed to be the Ecole du ski Francais, France’s main ski school. This was a school that until a few years ago enjoyed an almost monopoly status, however, since the introduction of a more level playing field in this industry the ESF have lost ground to the more progressive and client-focussed independent ski schools. The ESF have been quite belligerent in the face of this new breed of ski school with tensions being present against fully qualified British instructors in some resorts. However, the independent ski schools have not only survived but have thrived. For instance, Evolution2 ski school has managed to snatch from the ESF the lucrative TUI ski school contract (that’s Thomson ski and Crystal ski to you and me). So, given the ESF’s loss of market share are they in desperation looking for a new culprit to blame?
There is a suggestion of financial motivation behind the ban. Given the general economic downturn, has the French national ski school turned its guns on Johnny Foreigner? It’s an all too familiar reaction after all. Just look at our own economy with the foreign workforce being blamed for cheaper labour and stealing our jobs; plumbers blaming Poles and leccies blaming Latvians. Regardless of your politics in these issues we, and the French, have to accept that we are part of the EU and fair’s fair. However, is a social skiing guide actually taking the job of a ski instructor? The British tour operators will answer that with an emphatic “non”. A guide gives no instruction, a guide stays on-piste, a guide cannot beat a lift queue, and guiding is a supplementary and complimentary service.
For all the rights and wrongs though what will be the outcome? Well, Le Ski (backed by other UK tour operators such as TUI, Skiworld, Ski Total, Inghams, etc) feel that they will win the issue. Regardless of this we have already seen The ESF losing one major tour operator contract and surely more will follow suit. The other consideration is if UK operators reduced their French bed banks and transfers a proportion of business across to alternative European ski destinations where this issue is not present. For The Ski Club Of Great Britain, this must surely be the line that they will pursue. Membership of the Ski Club entitles skiers to guiding in numerous resorts and this is a very popular social service.
Only time will tell but we British skiers hope the issue is resolved as quickly as possible.