I Love Ski met Jacques Arnoux, mayor of the new city of Val Cenis and a great participant in its formation. Local man, ski lover, tells us his passions and his beginnings in local political life
Can you tell us about your professional career and your participation in public life?
Jacques Arnoux: I am 67 years old, I have been from Lanslebourg for several generations, since my parents and grandparents were natives of Lanslebourg, one of the delegated municipalities of the new and large municipality of Val Cenis.
After the army, I was studying and applied for a position as a supervisor in a high school. I already had the first ski instructor diploma of the time, and naturally I asked Saint-Jean-De-Maurienne. Finally, I was offered a position in the high school of Chamonix, a high school that in 1975 was an experimental institute where children worked only in the morning and in the afternoon they had cultural or sports activities. Having a ski instructor diploma, they were interested in looking for someone who could supervise the children while skiing. I accepted and found myself in Chamonix, where I was for 40 years!
Later I returned as a supervisor and then as an assistant teacher. Then I quickly found a place in a medical-social establishment on Assy where I spent my entire professional career. First as a coach, to finish as General Director of the structures of this association. Meanwhile, I went back to university. I also worked in mergers of private nonprofit medical-social institutions, at a time when funds began to shrink from social security deficits. I am very proud to have created one of the largest structures in Haute-Savoie, and I retired in 2014 with the intention of returning to the country.
In 2014, the then mayor Jean-Pierre Jorcin asked me in February to create a list because he no longer wanted to represent. No one moved too much in the city of Lanslebourg and he had tried to organize a list without being there, but nobody wanted to present themselves as the leader of the list. He had previously been a deputy in the small commune of Servoz, near Chamonix, which is an integral part of the community of communes in the Chamonix valley.
I DIDN’T DOUBT MUCH, I LOVE THIS VALLEY, I WANTED TO PARTICIPATE IN ITS DEVELOPMENT
I thought I had certain skills, among others, in development and strategy projects. He also had notions of law and management. Today they are very useful things for the function of mayor, which is sometimes a complicated function.
In large municipalities, mayors are very well surrounded. In small communities like ours, it is not so easy, especially at the bottom of the valley where the most qualified personnel are not necessarily found. The mayor must have some vision and go to look for information, procedures to perform precise analysis, consultations…
I thought to myself “I will make a mandate.” I was already 62 years old when I was elected in 2014. The first year was not very easy with many trips between my workplace and Lanslebourg. On January 1, 2015, I retired in the valley and dedicated myself exclusively to the City Council of Lanslebourg. Today, the new municipality of Val Cenis has 2,126 inhabitants, the second largest municipality in France in the area (454 km2), with 40% of its territory constituting the heart of the Vanoise Park. We are the largest contributor to the Vanoise park. We also have 23,000 tourist beds that generate almost 1.5 million overnight stays per year.
Our municipal limit is Pralognan and Tignes. Part of the Tignes glacier is located in the commune of Termignon. As part of the Tignes glacier ski lift renovation project, we were also forced to modify our Local Urban Plan. The urban planning rules of Val Cenis prevail over those of Tignes, since they are located in the administrative territory of the municipality. For us it is interesting because it generates income for Val Cenis.
What are your motivations? What encourages you to get up every morning?
Jacques Arnoux: I’m a little hyperactive. Honestly, retirement scared me a little. In any case, if I had not been chosen, I would have already made contacts to be a medical-social consultant, to accompany the establishments in the implementation of development strategies, quality procedures…
I didn’t see myself doing nothing. I am relatively athletic, I am a ski instructor, I did a lot of cycling, but from morning to night I did not see myself just skiing and cycling (laughs).
It is important to maintain intellectual activity. From time to time the mayor’s mandate weighs a little because I don’t spend much time at home. My children are adults, one of them continued to live in the Chamonix valley and the other lives in the Maurienne valley. I also have two grandchildren.
I find it gratifying to be able to advance a valley. In a few years, when I’m not too far from the cemetery, at least I’ll tell myself that I have not lost my life, I would have made my contribution to something. We are not on Earth just to have fun, we are also there to make things work. All my life I took care of disabled people, I always had fun at work because I discovered that it was useful for something. I remember an anecdote with a tax inspector who told me “at least you have real social value” (laughs).
We also get along very well with Yves Dimier. We knew each other before and we have the same visions of the development of Val Cenis.
IN THE MORNING, I GET UP TO SEE THIS LANDSCAPE AGAINST ME, TO SEE THAT VAL CENIS STATION WORKS, THAT PEOPLE ARE HAPPY, THAT WE CONTINUE DEVELOPING PROJECTS
What are your passions?
Jacques Arnoux: They revolve a lot around sports and mountains. I love the mountains, I crossed the Alps, part of the crossing of the Pyrenees and Corsica.
I also have the passion to put myself at the service of others and advance projects.
If I had a list of 3 wishes for the Val Cenis station, what would they be?
Jacques Arnoux: First, for it to continue developing in a balanced way. I do not wish for Val Cenis an anarchic development. Today the law prevents us from doing so. But if we had freedom, I think we should know how to be right, continue to develop intelligently, maintain agriculture. It would not be good to give up agriculture in favor of ski lifts.
It would be that Val Cenis brings a quality of life to its inhabitants and to Haute-Maurienne. I think the city of Val Cenis brings added value to cities like Bessans and Bonneval-sur-Arc. We have to keep going. I don’t have a selfish view of things. Large municipalities must share the benefits of other municipalities. We cannot imagine the development of a commune crushing others.
Finally, for Val Cenis to be recognized as a municipality with a social role, that would be good.
We talk a lot about global warming. How do you see the future of skiing?
Jacques Arnoux: Above all, I see that we still have snow. It is going down, obviously. We must already think about what will happen in 20-30 years when the skiing activity can decrease. But we cannot, under the pretext that in 20-30 years, there is no more snow and more seasons, to stop today.
Recently, a detractor told me “it’s useless, in 30 years, you’re dead.” I almost told him, “but you will also be dead in 30 years, so why don’t you stop eating?”
We have 30 years to go around. And it is not by stopping all activity today that we will find the solutions and financial resources to adapt to this global warming. It is a battle every day, every week, every month, every year, to constantly adapt. Either way, humans and animals have always adapted. The essence of life is constantly adapting. I think the seasons will continue to adapt. I can’t imagine a brutal adaptation: stop skiing and offer something completely different. We need to understand longer term projects.
For example, in Termignon, we are planning to carry out constructions, and we should consider doing it a little higher today.
We must already have this vision, we have also reflected in the SCOT (Territorial Orientation Scheme) in new devices. What kind of device? Where to put it? Can they be used in summer? For cycling or hiking?
Perhaps in 30 years, Val Cenis will be more a resort than a ski resort.
We must adapt to global warming but also to changes in society. Global warming can endanger ski resorts, but also society. We do not live in 2020 as in 1900. And in 30 years, leisure will evolve. I don’t know if we can spend our holidays on the other side of the world with so many facilities. We must evolve towards tourism during the four seasons, where skiing is no longer the only economic engine, but gradually do so. We adapt and provide solutions constantly.
What are the future projects?
Jacques Arnoux: Val Cenis station was created in 1967, after the creation of the Mont Cenis dam. The dam resulted in the arrival of many residents to the territory and the creation of homes. When the work was finished, the question arose of what would be of these adaptations. Skiing already existed, there were already 2 or 3 ski lifts in Lanslebourg and Lanslevillard. The dam had brought wealth to the territory and the young elected officials of the time had agreed to create a ski resort, Val Cenis. It was a boom. You could create stations very easily.
At that time, Bramant and Termignon had not taken the train on the road. Termignon created a ski resort about ten years later, except that his ski resort was never profitable because it was small, with few accommodations. Very quickly they found themselves in difficulties. One of the solutions was to integrate the Val Cenis ski area, with a link between These two areas. Today, the Termignon sector still has the initial devices that are around thirty years old today.
The great project for the next few years is to replace these devices without too much extension of the ski area. It is a very beautiful ski area. The idea is to renew the devices, perhaps with a chairlift that allows to reach the sector from Termignon and, why not, the creation of high beds.
We also think about creating a high link between sectors. Today, when you are in the Termignon sector, to get to the Mont Cenis area you have to go down to Lanslebourg and then go up. These are projects that we have registered in SCOT with some devices to guarantee this high link.
And even in the SCOT, we have included a cable car project to limit the ecological footprint, since it is without pylons, which would leave from the summit of La Ramasse to reach the summit of La Tura, where there was an abandoned fort.
The idea is to renew this fort for the tourist reception and take advantage of this incredible view of the lake, the Dent Parrachée, the Vanoise massif. The end would be 2,600-2,700 meters above sea level, and it is very easy to access. All this, with spaces to interpret the flora and fauna of the Mont Cenis site. Visitors can access the altitude for contemplative activities, but also summer at altitude, with mountain biking in particular. This point also received a favorable reception from the Commissioner of Investigation of SCOT. We are in the diversification of activities.
In Termignon, we think the same with the installation of a gondola. It is a slightly more expensive installation but can be used in summer.
Our ambition, with Yves Dimier, is to advance in the season. Now we are among the 25 best French stations. We do not aim for the first place, but we would like to maintain this position and be in the 20 main stations in France because we have assets. With global warming, we feel we have more returns from the East than 15-20 years ago and that we often snow very early in the season. When we reach the north, we keep the snow for a long time. Last year, we organized the Ski Instructors Challenge at the end of April and the French instructors were surprised by the winter snow conditions at this time of year, with real winter snow without any “soup” phenomenon where at the tenth pass , there are giant grooves (laughs).
I think we have strengths and that we can continue for a few more decades without much worry, while we are attentive to climate and social change.