Tour op ski guiding under threat

23rd November 2012, by Dave Watts

Lots of tour ops offer ski guiding – and many clients value it highly

The services of tour operator ski guides (now generally called ‘hosts’ or ‘leaders’ to avoid contentious use of the word ‘guide’) are a valuable part of the holiday for many British skiers - not only those visiting unfamiliar resorts, but also those skiing solo, who can find ready-made ski buddies by joining a guided group. Now, in some French resorts these services are under attack.

Last March a number of tour operator ski guides in French resorts were questioned on the slopes by gendarmes looking for illegal workers. Their bosses were then called in for questioning too. The gendarmes said that the ‘hosts’ were acting illegally because French law requires anyone paid to lead skiers or boarders around the slopes to be a ski instructor qualified to the highest levels.

Many tour operators suspended their ‘hosting’ programme for the rest of the season. And one, Le Ski, is being prosecuted for allegedly breaking French laws; the case went to court in September but was deferred to January. This is regarded by other tour ops as a test case, and if the decision goes against Le Ski, they expect that a complete clampdown on all guiding/hosting/leading in French resorts will follow.

The ESF has associated itself with the prosecution and is currently claiming compensation for lost business; on 15 November a key group of tour operators representing 80% of all tour op business to France met with the ESF and tried to get them to withdraw their compensation claim and leave the prosecution to the public authorities.

The ESF had planned a ‘French Ski Lesson’ event in London by 250 of their instructors yesterday but the event was suddenly cancelled only 24 hours before it was to take place – we suspect because the ESF was afraid it may have led to bad publicity about their attempt to get ski hosting banned.

Nick Morgan, MD of Le Ski, said yesterday: ‘We told them that our ski hosting did not lose them business and that, indeed, tour operators with hosts send the ESF huge amounts of business, which they might lose if hosting was stopped and clients chose to go to other countries. Le Ski will contest the prosecution strongly and I am hopeful that we will win, even if we have to take it to a European court to show that the French law is a restrictive practice and goes against EU regulations.

‘It is such a shame that it has come to this,’ Morgan continued. ‘Our clients value ski hosting highly and it is an important part of their holiday. It is nonsense to argue that ski schools lose out because of it, because our hosts do not give any instruction and our clients would not pay instructor prices just to be shown around the mountain.’

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