French ski resort shuts down – and there are others…

a closed chair lift photographed in black and white

After 60 years of operation, French resort La Sambuy has closed. After spinning its lifts for just four weeks last season, because of the lack of snow, the ski resort near Annecy calls it a day and shuts down. The resort’s statement reads:

Station closed definitively on Sunday 10/09, following the decision of the town council on June 14.
Thank you all for this last summer season 2023, and for all the wonderful years spent by your side. We look forward to seeing you again soon.

La Sambuy

Despite summer months making up 70% of business at La Sambuy, the ski resort will close both summer and winter operations, and its lifts will be dismantled (which has already started, to be completed over the next three years). The mountain coaster, mountain biking and paragliding, as well as skiing, will no longer be on offer.

Local mayor Jacques Dalex spoke about the closure:

Between the 1960s and today, the climate has changed a lot. Now, there is less snow in the winter. This year, we opened for only four weeks, that’s it. The season is getting shorter and shorter, and obviously, it is not going to get any better.”

Europe 1
five women sit on a ledge of an abandoned ski station, in the mountains in summer
Abandoned mid-station La Para in Chamonix | Image Freja Binnian
Super Saint Bernard in Switzerland abandoned lift station | Image source Snowheads

Today, there over a thousand ski resorts to discover in the Alps, stretching 1200 km through eight nations. But also in these mountains are many abandoned ski resorts and ski lift skeletons.

It’s estimated that there are 3,000 abandoned ski lifts in France. In Italy, researchers counted 186 abandoned ski resorts in 2011 – most are tiny (less than five lifts), and many aren’t recent closures.

Ski resorts have had winters off – Pian del Frais in Susa Valley didn’t open in 2019. Some have closed for good: Super Saint Bernard ski resort in Switzerland closed in 2010 (though it’s a ski touring haven these days); Alpe Bianca resort in Piedmont Italy closed in 1995; Alpe Colombino Ski Resort closed in 1994; Col de l’Arzelier in France in 2019.

But there’s also new life to ski resorts…

It’s not just climate change that brings the end to ski resorts. Bad management making bad decisions, competition with bigger resorts, a lack of funds and high debt, and community rifts have caused the ski resorts to shut down. But there’s also new life to be found in past ski resorts.

Puigmal in the French Pyrenees, which closed in 2013, was resurrected as Puigmal 2900 in 2021 as a green ski resort (capped skier numbers to reduce impact, sustainable snow making and grooming, sustainable lift powering…), while Innerkrems in the Nockberge mountains in Carinthia, Austria is reimagining itself as a centre for ski touring, snow tubing, biathlon (cross-country skiing and shooting), iceskating, dogsledding and ‘Latlshooting’.

The Italian village of Gaver, closed after the 2013-2014 ski season after a string of poor winters and financial decisions, has been given new life. The owner of the Blumon Break Hotel in the village has taken on Gaver ski area with its many north facing slopes, turning it into ski touring hub. Touring routes replace pistes and the local rental shop stocks touring skis and skins, while the Blumon Break stays open through the winter for visitors; A weekend here now can draw in over 1,000 people. (Read The Telegraph’s fascinating story in full).

We’re seeing all ski resorts, big and small, diversify their mountain offering as well as take greater environmental responsibly as climate change visibly affects our ski areas. Yes, big changes are afoot throughout the ski industry. So maybe this won’t be the last we hear from La Sambuy and we do indeed ‘look forward to seeing you again soon’.