Nov 7 update: Le Ski’s appeal deferred until May 2014 for further investigation, so the ban stands for the coming season.
I’m up to here with mid-morning hot chocolate. If the French ski hosting rumpus makes me drink any more of the stuff, I may not be able to manage my tartiflette.
Why does it always have to be a ‘hot chocolate stop’? Couldn’t we occasionally stop for a coffee, a beer or, if it’s a day for coming in from the cold, a hot vov? Mid-morning may seem a little early for a proper drink but skiing is supposed to be a holiday.
The curtain goes up on Act 3 (or is it 4?) of skiing’s answer to The Mousetrap on November 6th at Chambéry assizes – take your seats at 4pm sharp if you want to sip a hot chocolate in the gallery – when Le Ski’s appeal against last February’s conviction will be heard.* From there the show will go to Paris or the European Court. “That will be for Chambéry to decide,” says Le Ski’s Nick Morgan, who is not holding his breath for the alternative possibility: that Le Ski’s appeal might actually be upheld.
“I’d rather be playing golf than appearing in a French court,” says Morgan, pre-empting any glib suggestion that Le Ski has done rather well out of the hostilities, persuading other tour operators to share its costs while hogging all the publicity itself.
Every stage in the long legal process gives Morgan another chance to put his company name and its message out there via print, virtual and broadcast media.
“I’ll take it to the Court of Human Rights if needs be,” says the intermediate piste skier’s champion. No sacrifice too great, in defence of the Englishman’s right to free advice on where to stop for a mid-morning hot chocolate.
The publicity bonus makes it hard to gauge if the hosting ban has caused any loss of business to Le Ski, which reports that bookings at this stage of the pre-season are much the same as last year.
‘… the only place to escape the host of ski hosts
will be on the mountain – skiing …’
And what about loss of business to France? Inghams CEO Andy Perrin has thrown a log on the fire of anti-French feeling by suggesting that skiers might wish to boycott France in protest at the hosting ban, and ski in other countries instead. We await hard evidence that they are doing so.
My reaction to the hosting ban was that it was good news for skiers who like the chalet or chalet-hotel holiday formula, but are quite happy to ski amongst themselves, at their own pace, reading their own piste map, and choosing their own mid-morning beverage; or even go to ski school.
Although the operators tell us ski hosting is an essential and much-loved element of their offering, they must have many customers who don’t want it and would prefer not to pay for it. Hosting is always described as free but in reality everyone pays for it, willy-nilly, in the cost of the holiday.
Now that they have no need to pay, accommodate, clothe, equip, insure and train ski hosts, could the tour operators not reduce the price of the holiday? Our skiing, cheaper, thanks to those horrid and officious retardataire French protectionists. What a feelgood story that would be!
It would be, but is not to be. If you thought France would be a ski-host-free zone this winter, think again. Mark Warner’s are all over the place. “Ski Hosts in every French Chalet Hotel,” says the website, “…. at the airport, answering questions on the transfer bus, and handing out lift passes when you get to the resort.”
Every day the hosts will be out bossy-booting bright and early, “sorting people into different groups, directing them to the best pistes and snow conditions and booking their lunch.” Nor will we escape them at the end of the day. “They will never be far from the Chalet Hotel bar and restaurant, hosting social drinks.”
The only place we will be able to get away from Mark Warner’s host of ski hosts, it seems, is on the mountain – skiing.
It’s the same story at Le Ski, which is employing the usual complement of ski hosts this winter. “We need them on the coach,” says Nick Morgan. “It would cost us more to hire ad hocs for airport transfer duty.” This does not suggest ski hosts are overpaid, but even so, it might be quite an attractive stopgap career option this winter.
As with Mark Warner, Le Ski’s ski host meets the assembled company in the morning, briefs them on the weather and snow conditions, sorts them into groups, suggests a plan for the day and sends them out into the field. “Go forth and navigate!”
Having got rid of the skiers, the host skis to the appointed lunch restaurant under separate cover – a task usually known as free skiing – eats with the group feigning interest in the gripping account of its thrills and spills, hands out another plan for the afternoon, waves them off and skis home alone via another series of pleasant powder runs. This does not sound too taxing. Are there any vacancies?
How well this system will work in practice, I wonder. Does the ski host appoint a leader for each group? If so, how? And if not, what happens when there’s a problem, or a disagreement, or a change in the weather? What if some group members want to stop for the statutory mid-morning hot chocolate, and the others don’t? If the group is held up because Belinda’s knee is playing up and Keith’s binding releases every time he makes a turn to the left, who decides what to do? History suggests that groups of strangers need leaders if they are to act in concert. The leaderless rabble will soon splinter and disintegrate.
How about a sat-nav app for the skiers’ telephones. Programme the day’s action plan – lifts to be ridden, pistes to be skied, restaurants to be stopped at for hot chocolate and lunch – press go, and you’re away. Perhaps the app already exists.
Or could this elaborate construct – host-free ski hosting – be an exercise in fumée et miroirs? Is it possible that the tour operators are just pretending, for the record, that the ski hosts will not ski with their groups, whereas in fact it might just turn out by happy coincidence that the ski hosts choose the same pistes as the ski groups and the same place to break the morning for a well earned hot chocolate?
On this scenario the ski host would not be in uniform, and the smoke and mirrors contract would have been drafted to make it clear that weekdays from 10am to 4pm is the ski host’s free time, not working hours. A carefully worded statement from Courchevel, expressing its disappointment that unqualified employees of British tour operators are breaking the law by leading groups of skiers during working hours (my italics) suggests that this may be an area for compromise.
Crystal has come up with a different scheme: to offer a local ski instructor (not from the litigious ESF, significantly) as a ski host, at no extra charge, in 11 French resorts. This interesting experiment will take place only on Sundays, and there will be only one instructor-host per resort. If the lucky few who get to ski with him/her are hoping for some warm-up tips on the first day of the holiday, they will be disappointed. The instructor will not be allowed to say anything that could be construed as instruction. Of all the bizarre aspects of the host-free hosting story, the non-instructing instructor must be about the most perverse. Why bring in an instructor, and slap a gagging order on him?