I Love Ski: Can you tell us about yourself and your professional career?
Jean-Marc Silva: I was born on December 10, 1960, in Grenoble, a beautiful place surrounded by mountains. Being from Grenoble means that you’re constantly inspired by the mountain, since at the end of each street you can see a mountain.
Soon, I wanted to go to work up there. I started practicing mountain sports in winter as a cross-country beginner because my parents couldn’t afford to have me learn skiing on the slopes. Growing up in a simple family, this was my way to access the mountain, starting later on climbing and mountaineering during summer.
I started working pretty soon, when I was 19 years old, in Pomagalski. I had studies in mechanical manufacturing and, above all, was a breadwinner of the family. Unfortunately, I had to stop studying. My father was disabled and my mother had cancer, so I had to work quickly to earn money and support my family. When we have no other option, we must adapt.
I understood quickly that with only a baccalaureate one can’t go very far, so I continued my studies in night school and obtained a BTS of mechanical manufacture (of 46 candidates, we were four winners). Sometimes it’s hard to go to class at night, so, for anyone who can study normally, go ahead!
Then I got into an engineering school in the night shift. I studied for a year and then stopped. I was already a father and there were other ways to pull through. I worked for 8 years in the industry and finally I had the opportunity to work at the Les 7 Laux resort as commercial director of the lifts: to be able to get up there was the opportunity of my life. They were looking for someone from the industry and that at that moment tourism wasn’t reliable or recognized as an industrial model. I entered through that door and, a year later, the director left and the mayor asked me to take over the general direction of the exploitation, the slopes and the lifts of the resorts (in charge of 170 people), at age 29. It was a beautiful adventure, even though we lived through the years without snow (89-90-91). At the same time, it was a fundamental moment for the French mountain, because we all collectively created the PAM (Associated Professionals of the Mountain, who made the famous campaign ‘The mountain, you win’ for 17 years in television).
Later on, I realized that I was missing something: the knowledge of tourism. I wanted to go to work to learn tourism. That’s why I went to Saint Malo in a shipping company as commercial director of the structure and dedicated TO and general manager of the travel agency Selectour Morvan Voyages. During those two years, I learned those tourism trades, until I got fed up! Living through five months of gray sky in winter is complicated (laughs), so I responded to an advertisement for the creation of the tourist office of Les Arcs and Bourg Saint Maurice. The resort existed as an integrated resort, but it didn’t have a tourist office yet. The municipality wanted to merge the peaks with the lower part and have only one tourist office.
I worked there for 10 years, from 1993 to 2002, as director, and created the Les Arcs reservation center in the form of a travel agency that is still currently under the same economic model that is self-financing and profitable. It was a real pleasure and an honor to run this resort. I had the opportunity to organize an Alpine Ski World Cup (2001) in Les Arcs, the Tour de France (end of stage in 1996), the Canoe Kayak World Championship in 2002 in Bourg Saint Maurice, the KL world championships in Les Arcs and its speed records in all categories, and the first big snowparks that we created at that time as events with Quiksilver (the QuikCup) and the XXL jump modules: we didn’t know that we were creating a discipline that would become Olympic.
I Love Ski: And how did you end up being part of the creation of the Arc 1950 resort?
Jean-Marc Silva: It was a great adventure with Les Arcs until we saw a project with a Canadian promoter (the Intrawest group) that wanted to create the ideal ski resort in Europe. The people of my generation haven’t had the opportunity to be the pioneers of the resorts: that was our parents’ generation. So I thought: ‘Jean-Marc, this is your only chance to live the creation of a resort,’ so I got on the bandwagon and worked with Intrawest in 2002 for the creation of Arcs 1950 until its finish. We started from nothing, created 4,000 tourist beds, 750 apartments and 40 stores with a totally innovative concept that came from North America: I had the impression of working there for 7 years! A true Canadian ‘know-how’ where the client is at the center of all projects. They were the first, already in 2000, to talk about unique experiences with the Canadian accent. Today we talk about it every day. In France, we used to create a resort as well as possible and then attract customers. Canadians don’t work like this: they listen to the customer and, according to their needs, they create a resort. Today, Arc 1950 is one of the best French business models with an administration currently provided by Pierre and Vacances Premium and it has one of the best filling rates in France, both in winter and summer.
At the end of this adventure, the French mountain, which had several organizations in charge of promotion, communication and relations with the press, had the great idea to meet and federate all these services and speak only with a single voice as an agent of this mountain. I had suffered this lack of cohesion. It really was a beautiful project in which I wanted to participate. I nominated and had the honor and privilege of being the first director of this structure that had just been born.
I think I’m attracted to creations: the tourist office, the reservation center, the Arcs 1950 resort with Intrawest, the France Montagnes structure… At that time, this structure was just an image, a great desire of the agents who wanted to work together under the impetus of its three founding members (the Association of Mayors of Mountain Resorts, Domaines Skiables de France and the National Union of French Ski Instructors). Today, it’s a reality and a true personal satisfaction. We turned a project into reality.
Currently, France Montagnes represents all the agents of the French mountain and mutualises 3.5 million euros of budget per year to promote the mountain and guarantee the press relations of the mountain, its promotion and the communication in France and the markets in France and abroad during all seasons.
Photo: Jean-Marc Silva. Credit: Scalp
I Love Ski: What are your passions? What do you do in your free time?
Jean-Marc Silva: Besides this career, I’ve also had other lives (laughs). The mountain has been omnipresent in my life. I married Catherine Ogier, whose parents had created a small ski resort, the Col de Coq in Chartreuse with three partners, a 100% private resort: they cut the pines to make slopes and they poured concrete for the ski lifts, they restored a fold to make a restaurant, establish a ski school and have a place to rent equipment. I’ve always admired these people. All this inspired me a lot.
Today, we have two kids who evolve in the mountains after 11 years in the ski club of Les Arcs. One of them is the director of the tourism office of La Rosière, and the other one is a mountain architect and settled in the north of Isère. The mountain inspires us constantly. We also have a small alpine chalet in Tarentaise where we meet, to inspire us in this authentic mountain: it’s the best idea of family transmission that I could give them. It’s a meeting place, very authentic, wild, basic and rustic, but much loved by those who go there. It’s a place where you can practice snowshoeing or skiing in winter. In summer, on the edge of a river at the foot of the forest, you can find the life of the old times. And besides, the cell phone is not allowed! (Laughs) I see that the young people in the family who are raised there want to return as they grow up. It becomes important to them, it’s a meeting place. When I can, I open it to press trips to welcome journalist friends and show them facets that touch us.
And then I have other associative lives in parallel: I’m a national diving instructor (MF1). We have a club in Bourg Saint Maurice with 70 members who come to learn to dive. It’s good to leave the professional world of business to go to an associative world and teach voluntarily. It’s a satisfaction to be able to transmit another passion. But at the same time, I keep in touch with nature, in all its forms. So I feel that my world is a bit like a mountain that falls in the water, so you’re up or down, above or below.
I’m also president of a karate sports association in Bourg Saint Maurice, because I’ve practiced it since I was 20 years old. I think if I hadn’t practiced this martial art, I couldn’t have done all this, because karate has taught me mental and physical control, stress management and how to deal with obstacles.
Photo: Jean-Marc Silva practicing the telemark.
I Love Ski: What are your motivations today? Why do you get up in the morning?
Jean-Marc Silva: I think that, throughout my life, I was in the recruitment side, looking for people to make them share our passions, our territories (mountain, diving, karate…). My next inspiration will be more to transmit than to search.
I have traveled around the world several times and I would like (I still don’t know how) to invest in a place, a “refuge” to welcome and transmit this passion. Instead of looking for people, receiving them and teaching them modestly the mountain. The mountain has values and we must be careful because we can lose them quickly. The mountain is inspiring, but we need informants, people who enlighten our visitors, so that they realize the opportunity they have to be in the mountains. The high mountain is a hostile environment (which we used to avoid) and today we must fight to value, preserve and pay attention to what we do for future generations.
I’ve never ‘worked’: I’ve lived my passion. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been possible. I live for the mountain. I wish all people could work on their passion, because otherwise I think it must be too hard to work (laughs).
I felt this call from the mountain very young and had no one from my close family who knew the mountain, but I went against all odds. We must listen, listen to its inspiration. I found my Eden up there. By chance, one day I met Gaston Rébuffat, a great mountain climber and high mountain guide from Marseille who was a myth to me. I met him at the age of 19, in a cinema, and he encouraged me to go there. I took my motorbike, went to Chartreuse and stopped in a field from where I saw the city and the mountain. It was dark, I looked at both of them, and decided to go up to the mountain.
You have to find your voice to inspire yourself and then be inspiring. Not only can you be a consumer in your life, at some point you should return it. I try to do it with diving: people have taught me to dive and now I give back what they gave me.
In my family, I didn’t have the means to practice alpine skiing, but some family members invited me to practice alpine skiing. An aunt of mine had a country house in the Col de l’Arselier and that caused things for me. Another aunt invited me to go walk in the summer on the mountains in Queyras. Before that, I didn’t know what it was and, suddenly, new universes were opened. This is very important. There isn’t enough awareness of the influence we can have on teenagers and young adults, as we always think they are in their world, while they are looking for inspiration.
I Love Ski: When you look back, what is your greatest achievement?
Jean-Marc Silva: Personally, my family: we are a united family and I have the pleasure of being the grandfather of four grandchildren. I believe that having raised our children in the mountains has made them healthy, strong, creative and aspiring people. They didn’t have an adolescence problem; They came closer to sports and mountains. Today, each one has two children and it’s a pleasure to see them. But at the same time, it’s a responsibility. I want our grandchildren to live what we have lived, so we are responsible for our actions and the future.
Professionally, I’m quite surprised by what we have achieved in Arcs 1950: starting from nothing, reinventing everything and seeing that today there is this town, which fits perfectly with the landscape and has even become an economic model. They told us: ‘it will never work’. But, when you have convictions, you must assume them. Like my father-in-law when he opened Col du Coq in 1968!
I also hope that our children come to create, because I think it’s very motivating and energizing to open paths. It’s up to mountain people to open paths and, when we can do it, it’s a great satisfaction.
I Love Ski: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Jean-Marc Silva: It seems that one should always go further, higher!
To go higher, I’ll have to end up as a refuge guardian (laughs). I won’t go to work in the city, I’m not interested. I want to continue being in this territory that fascinates me and I’ll be more in search of quality of life.
I still have five years of work before retirement. Then I would like to dedicate myself to one place and be able to inspire others and continue this chain. If I can, I would like to be very humble and modest, be the Gaston Rébuffat of some young people, and tell them what we have lived. It’s a real pleasure to see the young people who have chosen a mountain career because they saw us. Without wanting it, we inspired them. Living in the mountains is more complicated, yes, it’s more difficult. What’s more, it requires more effort. But it’s also a reward. You have to believe in your dreams and make your dreams come true.
I always think about a quote that followed me all my life and that still accompanies me: ‘Where there is a will, there is a way’. When you’re on a mountain, you must find the way, and the exit is always at the top.