I Love Ski met Vincent Tassart, CEO of the STEM International group. Passionate about mountains from a young age, he has devoted his life to it. Concerned about the evolution of resort development models, he shares with us his perspective on the mountain world, both nationally and internationally.
Can you tell us about your personal and professional journey that led you to STEM International?
Vincent Tassart: I am 53 years old. I was born in Senlis north of Paris. I lived in the Paris region up to the age of 6 before discovering the mountains and the snow, in 1973 at the Col des Saisies. Despite a 10-year detour to Calais, the mountains have never left my mind. I came back to the Alps at the end of my studies, to do a DESS in Mountain Law in Grenoble, telling myself “this is where I want to be, this is where I feel good”.
From then on (1991), I have always lived and worked in the mountains, from Villard de Lans to the Pyrénées Orientales, passing through the Hautes Pyrenees, Andorra and further abroad.
In my professional career, I have gotten to know local communities as secretary general of the Villard de Lans, while on the other hand, the operational part in Cauterets (public sector), in Andorra (private sector), internationally (in the private sector) and for 4 years now with my own company STEM International.
I have more of an administrative and financial background, not a technical one. I really started out developing and negotiating contracts.
Today my core business is ski domain management and its transformation. What do we do with the mountains? How to develop “ski” sites when there is snow and the mountain area when it is not “skiable”? We are trying to do this in France and internationally.
Can you tell us about your international interventions?
Vincent Tassart: Internationally, we do not operate a site. Since the creation of STEM international, we have been working in Kazakstan where I had been since 2009. We have forged important links there, particularly at the Shymbulak station. We provide strategic support at station level, technical support in conjunction with Doppelmayer, and staff training on various topics. Several station development assistance projects are underway. We have a real relationship with them, both professional and heart felt. To work with people, you have to get along with them. There is no secret. Either we have a good feeling together, or we have to stop quickly.
In Slovenia, we have a very long-standing relationship with mainly the BOVEC site on the Slovenian-Italian border. We are providing support on the repositioning of the station which was one of the first in the former Yugoslavia, but which is now aging.
And then, we carry out specific interventions, for example, in a resort in Croatia. We are really in a 4-season position because of the snow. It is low there and the resort undoubtedly needs assistance on the snow and its development in winter.
Vincent Tassart, can you tell us about the structure of STEM international?
Vincent Tassart: The structure is made up of 20 permanent employees which can reach up to 125 people in high season. Today we have 3 main configurations:
. STEM International, the parent company which currently has 3 main management contracts:
- The resort of Gavarnie Gèdre, which still has another 2 years on the contract (we are managing the ski area there and working on a development project of 40 years, as part of a call for applications).
- The Hautacam resort and leisure park, which for us is a perfect model of a medium sized resort. This is a real laboratory that represents a balanced offer of mid-sized-mountain.
- Laguiole resort is made up of 12 ski lifts. There, we are in the process of repositioning a ski initiation and learning space for the people of Rodez and Aveyron.
In all 3 cases, we are going to be there for the next 2 years. We have very good relationship with the public there. Either way, we share a common project and if done right, we’ll go a long way together.
STEM International now has two daughters:
- STEM Large sites: it specializes in the catering and management of shelters. It manages catering at the Gavarnie station and at the Hautacam station. And it has been 3 years now that we have been managing a refuge hostel on the Troumouse site (Gavarnie Gèdre municipality). We believe in summer development and this type of offering.
- STEM Aero: we have undertaken a diversification which should manifest itself in the days to come. The idea is not to manage large aircraft but to bring
service in the field of civil aviation. This is a niche market that may become important in the coming decades. The flying car may be 20 years from now!
What are your motivations? Why do you get up in the morning?
Vincent Tassart: I get up in the morning as long as I have plans. For example, today I share with some people commonalities and desires. I often scare my teams because I arrive every week with new projects. There are times they get fed up and they say it to me(laughs), because we have a lot of communication. Everything can be said… ..as long as there’s respect for others and for the hierarchy of course. It’s dynamic and motivational.
Above all, I want to lead things, to participate in the development of a sector in which I feel good and that I love.
The day when there are no more projects, I hope I will be retired (laughs).
Vincent Tassart, what are your passions?
Vincent Tassart: I really like sports, skiing too, but I’m not a great skier. I like the snow, and the cold but I’m more and more cautious (laughs).
Now I think I like the mountains more in the summer, especially mountain biking. All the places in the world are beautiful, you just have to take the time to discover them. Electrically assisted mountain biking is a great way to see things faster – and have fun.
If we don’t have fun, and there isn’t a little humor, it just doesn’t work. You have to be able to laugh together.
Finally, I really like modern art, street art and gastronomy. When you’re somewhere, you have to take the opportunity to discover the local way of life. Sometimes we love it, sometimes we don’t! You have to go and venture out, be curious. It’s like when you’re little: “You don’t say -I don’t like it- until you’ve tasted it” (laughs).
If you had a wish list for the mountain of tomorrow, what would it be?
Vincent Tassart: The first wish is to have a project specifically for the mountains, and not, by default, to have a project for the mountains that’s there to solve an urban problem.
We need to build an offer for tourism, relaxation and escapes on values of authenticity. At the same time, the people who work there have needs (school, medical care, shops) and cultural desires as well as just escaping, mainly concentrated in urban areas.
We have not found the keys to this business model, yet.
My second wish is to find a way to make a link between the mountain and its resource centers. This is not opposed to what I just said, because it has to be sustainable. It’s hellish to leave a city with a traffic jam to queue back at the resort. We are reproducing an urban pattern and the worst part is that people are not shocked.
Me, I turn around because I am not naturally urban. We have one big asset, which is COVID. Our mountain regions have experienced a new attraction and rediscovery, except perhaps on the highest areas of the mountain. We realized that we were on a mountain of consumption and not a mountain of rediscovering a natural space. The most important thing is that people came and liked it, so how to tend to this soil? How to recreate a mountain development model while maintaining local life?
Vincent Tassart, how do you see skiing in the next 20-30 years?
Vincent Tassart: There was skiing, then snowboarding, and now we’ve come back to skiing. The technical side is an important element because one of the huge difficulties of skiing is its learning curve. It is absolutely not consistent with current consumption patterns. I wonder a lot about different forms of sliding like the Snooc which allow you to practice an activity in the mountains without having a significant learning time.
THE REDUCTION OF SNOW trips AND discovery of skiing DURING SCHOOL TIME IS A REAL CONCERN.
Discovering snow and learning is easier as a child. At 8 years old you roll around in the snow, while at 15 you are afraid of falling and you are afraid of the image you give. At 25, we prefer to move on.
And then, skiing remains a very expensive product. Skiing must remain accessible to the middle class, which constitutes the breeding ground for small and medium-sized resorts. These stations have their role in the structure, life and planning of the territory.
There is also the real question about the price to renew our facilities and equipment, especially with the renovation of tourist accommodation, in an aging park which is less and less suitable.
At the same time, aging facilities, even at a low price, are not going to entice customers to come. So how do we finance its modernization? What model should we apply? Is it the same for large stations, medium stations and small stations?
In general, I am quite confident about projects on a human scale, balancing out the economics for small stations. They have the disadvantage of having limited room for maneuvering, but at the same time, they have not invested too much and their repositioning is easier.
Nevertheless, in all cases, it will be necessary to have public involvement in support of investment and development for the entire French mountain.