Faced with global warming, the diversification of activities in ski resorts in the Pyrenees remains insufficient. This is what the latest investigation by the Occitanie Regional Chamber of Accounts points out, which studied eight resorts (Grand Tourmalet, Font Romeu Pyrénées 2000, Ax 3 Domaines, etc.) as well as the Compagnie des Pyrénées (business of eight resorts ) and the SPL Trio (three small resorts in the Eastern Pyrenees). The study is integrated into the national mountain survey of the Court of Auditors. The 38 ski resorts in the French Pyrenees recorded 4.85 million skier days in 2022, or 9% of national attendance, and nearly 100 million euros in ski lift revenue.

But many are fragile, because of their small size which does not allow them to renew ski lifts with an average age of 30 years. “The stations are all in deficit, if we count public aid to support investments,” notes Hervé Bournoville, general rapporteur of the Regional Chamber of Accounts. Public aid represents 25% of turnover. »

They also suffer from aging housing – half of the housing is classified in categories F or G of thermal sieves – and a high rate of second homes. In addition, skiing activity has decreased by 10% in France since the peak in 2008. Skiers are aging and renewing less. “Activity has stalled with fewer skiers and unsuitable accommodation; climate warming accentuates these trends,” summarizes Valérie Renet, president of the Occitanie Regional Chamber of Accounts.

Snow is becoming rarer in the Pyrenees, particularly this year. The snow forecasts from INRAE ​​(National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment) and Météo France according to the IPCC warming scenarios predict that the snow reliability altitude will rise again. from 2000 to 2300 meters in 2050 in the Pyrenees, and from 1300 to 1800 meters in stations producing artificial snow. On the Mediterranean side, the Pyrénées-Orientales are suffering two consecutive years of drought.

“However, we are seeing a certain denial among ski resort managers,” notes Valérie Renet. For example, the Font Romeu Pyrénées 2000 station in the Pyrénées-Orientales envisages a stable customer base for 25 years in its public service delegation contract. » The Catalan resort has covered 93% of its ski area with snow cannons. This made it possible to achieve this winter “one of our three best seasons with 420,000 skier days at the end of February” despite the drought, according to its director Jacques Alvarez. But the production of artificial snow will become difficult if the temperature continues to rise, forecasters point out.

Smaller resorts, such as Puyvalador in the Pyrénées-Orientales and Goulier in Ariège, admit that snow projections are not favorable. Climate risk exists everywhere on the chain but “is less marked in the Hautes-Pyrénées”.

The diversification of resorts already exists, driven by hydrotherapy, hiking and summer stays. Cauterets, Saint-Lary, Luchon, Ax-les-Thermes, Les Angles, Font-Romeu are village resorts which have retained an offer unrelated to skiing: thermal baths and fitness, hiking, cycling, sports, ice rink, shops. “The Pyrenees have an advantage: 62% of visitors to the mountains occur in summer, compared to 38% in winter,” underlines Valérie Renet. The players most exposed to global warming will have to diversify their model towards four-season tourism. » Faced with the limited resources of the stations, “we have to decide,” adds Valérie Renet. We cannot continue to finance artificial snow and diversification. »

Some resorts have begun creating mountain bike trails with bike-friendly chairlifts, mixed snowshoeing and hiking trails, and tobogganing and ziplining activities. But it is still insufficient and the resorts only generate on average 5% of their revenue from lifts in summer. The only exception is Cauterets which reaches 50%. “Communities still consider that diversification is incidental to skiing,” laments Valérie Renet.

The public aid of 25 million euros per year allocated to the Pyrenean resorts “could be used to finance adaptation measures”, recommends the chamber. But this is rarely the case. The Occitanie regional council has had a proactive policy, providing 44 million euros to the resorts between 2018 and 2022, three quarters of which in subsidies and a quarter in capital. “The region has set itself the objective of not intervening in artificial snow, but it has helped finance the snow equipment in the mountain plans of Cauterets, Saint-Lary, Ax-les-Thermes and the SPL Trio, so there is a paradox,” denounces Hervé Bournoville.

According to the magistrates, aid is awarded “whatever the situation with regard to climate change, even if the sustainability of the station is not assured”. Finally, the chamber notes that the management of the stations remains too centered around the municipality, while in Spain, Andorra and Italy, groups come together to avoid competition between activities.