The ski resort of Métabief is one of the three main tourist centers of the French Jura Massif, along with Les Rousses and Monts Jura.
Located between 950 and 1,430 meters above sea level, it is classified in the category of average resorts in the categorization of Domaines Skiables de France. With 37 kilometers of slopes, the ski area consists of 3 sectors connected with 3 catwalks: Métabief, Piquemiette and Superlongevilles.
This allows a diversity of exhibitions and environments. Since 2013, 25% of its domain is equipped with artificial snow, and has no less than 19 ski lifts. A figure too bulky for its Director Olivier Erard.
The ski resort of Métabief will proceed with the development of one that should give a second life to the Piquemiette sector, under the cliffs of Mont d’Or.
However, the news is not the renewal of a mechanical lift in itself, but the technique used that positions Métabief as a pioneer ski resort in the industry of the renewal of mechanical lifts with ecological designs, recycling facilities… A true revolution in a industry in which technology and completely new facilities have often always been in a privileged place. As a driving force in this development project, Olivier Erard, Ski Resort Manager, explains how this unusual but necessary approach was natural for the elected public officers and communities.
I Love Ski: Can you tell us about the Métabief development program?
Olivier Erard: It can be said that we are coming out of the tunnel, since we had a great participation in the government. The objective was that the department of Doubs is not the only contributor to the investment, and that the community of municipalities can integrate the government of the resort and finance half of the investment costs. Now the situation is unlocked. The development model foreseen in 2015 was a classic development model that consisted in doing the new, the modern, the fast (which today corresponds to a certain demand from customers).
So we developed an “ideal” project and quickly faced financial and environmental impossibilities. In fact, since 2012, after 25 years of “inactivity”, we have invested a lot. Today we can not support a sharp increase in our debt, especially because the ideal project was 14 million euros but we have an existing debt of 15 million euros. With a turnover of 4-5 million euros depending on the seasons, we were really in a financial stagnation, but also in a dead end at the environmental level.
I Love Ski: Can you explain what the problems were?
Olivier Erard: Of course. First because the project was financially complicated, and then because we are only two resorts in the Franche-Comté region (Les Rousses and Métabief) and the local authorities have little ski culture. Suddenly, we are often in the spotlight with a speech that overwhelms us, accusing us systematically of impacting the environment while our economic model is no longer viable. We are constantly told: “The snow is over!” In 2013, we developed a cultural snow project that was traumatic for state services, including the creation of a reservoir of 100,000 m3 and the development of the snow network along 10 km. Here we have measured all the dogmatic opposition that can be induced by regulation. After an authentic obstacle course, we obtained an authorization: we made a first part of the extensions and we still have the possibility to continue growing.
Image: Olivier Erard – ski resort of Métabief.
I Love Ski: How did you get out of this dead end?
Olivier Erard: Since 2015, we have been thinking about alternative solutions. In 2017, I had the opportunity to work with Pierre Pignoux, a project manager approved by RM who was developing an RM modeling method (the EVE method) and was looking for a field of experimentation. Shortly after receiving the green light from the STRMTG, we seized the opportunity and became a pilot project.
This approach is based on observation; it allows us to see reality and not systematically apply the precautionary principle that is often added to work programs. Specifically, we model the towers of the lift and its solid concrete. We analyze the signal, to know how the pylon reacts in a resting situation when we accelerate the speed and increase the capacity of the lift. The next step is to validate the technique with scientific methods, making it possible to accelerate the speed and increase the capacity of the lift. We were able to validate this in three fixed chair lifts that are 35 years old each: excellent news that allowed us to review our Piquemiette restructuring plan.
Olivier Erard: Our investment project also includes the elimination of some ski lifts (we get a profit from a chairlift and two ski lifts), replacing them with second-hand equipment, including a fixed caliper chairlift that will allow us to reduce both operating and maintenance costs, and optimize the financial viability of the project. I think there is a large second-hand market that is currently underutilized. As professionals in the industry, we must take responsibility for this ski lift recycling. Do not be ashamed to give a second life to the facilities. It is the innovation that gives meaning to things.
I Love Ski: As part of your green design project, you extend the life of your devices. How do you negotiate with the administration the new maintenance controls and the “Great Inspection?
Olivier Erard: That is the problem now. For Métabief, we are entering a phase of presenting the results to the STRMTG to start this operation in 2019. But we are also a pilot project and we want to get involved with the STRMTG and Domaines Skiables de France new ways of thinking about the definition of the programs of Regulatory Maintenance. We are ambitious because we expect in the long term to alleviate these operations, which are often very expensive, if not financially impossible for some resorts. To argue this demand, we rely on the scientific demonstration provided by the EVE method, but also on our global approach to the life cycle. For the services in charge of the regulatory application, it is reassuring. We are in a really pragmatic approach.
I Love Ski: As part of the recycling of devices, how do you proceed? Is there a second-hand market? A website of “second-hand mechanical lifts”?
Olivier Erard: It is often the builders and project managers who inform us about the devices that have been changed. There is also the website of Domaines Skiables de France. The recycling of devices is not as simple as it seems: we are in a DIY mode, each project is different. We carry out a line study, we must take into account the environmental and relief aspects, especially in our area where there are important environmental limitations for the installation of high voltage towers. From a budgetary point of view, a used chairlift costs about 2 million euros, while a new one would cost around 4 million.
I Love Ski: With mandatory maintenance reviews, large inspections, what is the cost of recycling a device?
Olivier Erard: When you choose to recycle a device and give it a second life, you have to think globally. One can not simply compare the purchase cost between an occasional device and a new one. It is also necessary to integrate the maintenance costs related to the obsolescence of the device. But we made this calculation and it is clearly favorable for us.
I Love Ski: What is the builders’ position in these eco-design projects?
Olivier Erard: We must admit, as in automobiles, that there are several markets: those who prefer and can buy new ones and those who are satisfied with the opportunity or who choose this solution out of conviction or obligation. The process of recycling of ski lifts can even be virtuous, in my opinion. A builder who sells a new airplane or a resort that buys a new airplane can claim to revalue the lift for the second time.
Métabief, like many ski resorts, is part of a category of resorts that seek to improve the quality of service of the devices and when faced with financial difficulties, recycling becomes a solution and is encouraging. We went from the industrial mode to the craft quality mode, and that keeps the activity of small and medium-sized resorts.
Today we went from a project of 14 million euros to 7 million euros. A few weeks ago we had the visit of the President of the Region and we observed a cultural change, a new opinion on the project because we propose to take into account the environment, technological innovation and quality. We have the relevant human resources, with professionals that manage maintenance. We have validated our development plan and its implementation is expected in 2019-2020, with a triple division of environmental impacts.
I Love Ski: Your approach may end up establishing the foundations of a ski lift profession. Will you share your experience with other French resorts?
Olivier Erard: Our objective is to work with Domaines Skiables de France to share this experience and inform the ski areas of the ecological design approaches that exist today. We are aware that to develop an ecological design program like ours, you must have good control of your work tool, have good maintenance professionals and have optimized maintenance capabilities in the company. The most difficult thing is knowing how to mourn a new breath, especially at the level of elected public officers. Today there is too much tendency to measure the strength of development for the millions of euros that are invested. You have to believe in the virtue of maintenance, technical virtue. It is not because we lower the level of investment that we do not prepare for the future.