Feb
21

British ski hosts banned by French court
Thursday February 21, 2013 - Email this article to a friend

A court in France has ruled that British Tour companies are not allowed use ski hosts to show clients round the slopes. It believes skier safety is compromsied. It is a test case and all ski hosting in France is now banned. The British are appealing.

Tour operator ski hosts offer their guests a service by taking them round the slopes on orientation tours of the resorts.

It introduces them to the slopes and is as much social as anything else. No instruction is given and the guests are not taken off piste or on difficult runs.

On Monday a court in Albertville has now banned the practice saying it breaks French law where leaders of organised groups on the ski slopes have to be qualified ski or snowboard instructors.

Under Article L.212-1 of the Sport Code in France it is a legal requirement to have a qualification to teach or lead skiing if remuneration is received.

The French authorities, in conjunction with the ESF national ski school, singled out a small British operator in Les Trois Vallees, Le Ski, and took it to court claiming its ski hosts were not properly qualified under French law.

This season the company is celebrating its 30th year in business.

It was being used as a test case.

"As we expected the court in Albertville has taken the side of the locals and the protectionist agenda of the ESF. We will be appealing and the case now goes to a court in Chambery. The fight goes on and we will take this all the way," said the co-founder of Le Ski, Nick Morgan, to PlanetSKI shortly after the judgement was given.

"We are determined to carry on and we are not prepared to see British ski hosting outlawed. By taking the British on in this way the French Authorities, and the ESF, have created a problem where there really wasn't one."

The UK tour operators say they are bitterly disappointed by the decision and it ends a service provided to tens of thousands of British holiday skiers.

"Crystal Ski is disappointed with today’s court ruling, however, we are pleased to hear that the tour operator has decided to appeal. We have temporarily suspended our social skiing service in France whilst this process goes through the courts. We have never seen social skiing as a replacement for a ski school as social skiing is where a representative from the holiday company takes guests on familiarisation tours of the slopes, show them good lunch spots and how to avoid the queues. They do not go on black runs or off piste and stick to gentle slopes. No instruction is given," said the UK's largest operator Crystal Ski.

Hotelplan, the company that owns Inghams, Ski Total and Esprit ski has also responded.

"Following the court decision on Monday 18th February, the situation in France requires a little more time for the dust to settle, and we cannot therefore make a definitive statement regarding the future of this issue immediately.  UK tour operators are being reluctantly forced by this decision to suspend 'Ski Host' services in France, at least temporarily, whilst discussions continue," the compnay said in a statement.

"We hope there may be light at the end of the tunnel, as this has always been a popular service with an excellent safety record, which has enhanced our guests' holidays whilst not taking one single Euro's worth of business away from ESF, but it is still too early to say what the ultimate outcome will be."

Over on the PlanetSKI Facebook page people have given their reaction.

"It's Austria for me now. That's around 5K a year less into the French economy from me alone," said one.

"An utter disgrace," commented another.

Below are a section of other comments.

"You have to love the French - cut off your nose to spite your face - ESF make tens of thousands of Euros from the brits on holiday, now they will push them to other countries. Surely this attitude has to backfire on them at some point?"

"Absolute wan**rs.....what a load of crap. I seriously hope the major tour operators direct all their clients to the independent ski schools from now on. ESF are running a huge risk here"

"Chalet Operators could make this an informal activity, with no Host, just a list, no uniform, no leader but a member of staff on their "day off" . Reckon this ruling will push British visitors into using non ESF teachers when purchasing lessons."

"The major TO's need to follow suit and direct all their customers no non ESF schools. It's madness. the kind of people that love hosting are not the kind that would take a weeks worth of ski school.
"

"So tell me, what is the evidence that ski hosting has led to death and injury over any form of being on the mountain ?
"

If you wish to comment see the PlanetSKI Facebook page here.

The court will give the reasons for its decision later on Tuesday.

Through a PR firm in London the ESF has given its reaction to the decison of the court.

"This is not an ESF led court action, but the organisation has rightly shown its support for French law to be upheld and that for those organisations using hosting or other personnel to 'guide' such people must possess a valid qualifications to do so.

ESF is committed to ensuring the safety of UK tourists using French resorts for wintersports.

ESF reiterates its commitment to supporting the UK ski industry and will work with UK tour operators in finding workable solutions for lawful guiding on the French ski slopes".

The full text of the ESF statement is reproduced at the bottom of this article.

However it is still highly questionable whether any appeal will succeed.

"Like the case in Albertville it is lost before it has even started and the case in the higher French court in Chambery will undoubtedly support the French position," said a seasoned French legal observer we have spoken to at PlanetSKI.

"The British simply will not win," he bluntly told us. "No way."

He has a long history of disputes with the authorities over ski instructing in France. He has been, and still is, involved in the legal system.

It may be cleverer for the British companies to find a way round the system rather than rise to a challenge head on.

Perhaps either by employing people who have begun a ski instructors' qualification, get their ski hosts to begin one or ensure that no financial re-numeration takes place for the staff involved.

Under French law the key is about money changing hands.

If people do such work on a voluntary basis then it is acceptable. That is unlikely to change as many French sports clubs across all the sporting disciplines would loose their voluntary helpers and support staff.

Whatever the legal complexities and ongoing court cases one thing appears certain.

It is a PR disaster for the ESF that is already held in low esteem by many British skiers and snowboarders.

It seems the reputation of the ESF with the British holiday skier is about to go from bad to worse.

"As a parent of a, then 6 year old, child that an ESF instructor lost on a mountain I find it laughable that they now preach on Safety. Reading this, I may have assumed that Le Ski might be even more reckless. However as a former customer of theirs I know this not to be the case and would trust them with my children way ahead of ESF.  I find ESF arrogant, protectionist poor instructors. While they  may be excellent skiers, that does not make them good empathetic teachers. And they should be qualified in the language in which they instruct, be that English, Russian, German, Italian etc. They make me cross.," said PlanetSKI reader, Richard Critchlow.

We wil be updating this story on PlanetSKI as we get more news and reaction.

Friend or foe?Friend or foe?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The legal case itself was held last month in Albertville as we reported with both sides presenting their case over a 4-hour hearing.

For an earlier report on PlanetSKI on the background then see this story.

All the British tour operators have been supportive of Le Ski and they have come together in an unprecedented show of support for Le Ski.

Many behind the scenes meetings have taken place and there was a meeting in London last October between all the tour operators and a delegation from the ESF. 

They were trying to persuade the ESF to withdraw from the legal action.

The ESF though decided not to abandon the court case and we have seen a copy of the email from the ESF to the British Tour Operators informing them of that decision.

"Concerning the actions that begun with the French authorities concerning ski hosting, we are unfortunately, not in a position to change our decision. We realise the consequences that this will incur but the SNMSF's position in relation to the French law on the subject cannot allow us to simply withdraw from the matter.

We realise that many of you go to great lengths concerning safety within your companies but we consider that this type of activity in general could create problems and is contrary to the efforts being made in France by the resorts to reduce the number of accidents on the slopes."

The email came from the Director General of the Syndicat National des Moniteurs de Ski Francais, Jean-Marc Simon.

ESFESF

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Relations between the ESF and some sections of the British ski industry are likely to be frosty given the latest court decision.

Some go so far as accusing the ESF of protectionism and allege the ESF is only taking legal action as it believes the ski hosts take away its business.

The ESF has rejected such accusations and says it is getting the law clarified and it is up to a court to decide on what is legal and what is not.

In the past here at PlanetSKI we have asked the ESF for its reasons for being involved in the court case but it has declined to comment.

We believe its concern is on the safety of skiers and snowboaders on the slopes of French resorts and that the ESF believes the ski hosts are simply not good enough to ensure group safety.

Tens of thousands of British holidaymakers ski with hosts each winter in France.

"Many of our clients value the ski hosts and often choose a particular resort based on the hosting service offered. I believe some will turn their backs on France and go to other countries that allow ski hosting," said one senior figure from a major British tour operator to PlanetSKI. "To many of our clients it is an invaluable part of their holiday."

One other organisation that may be affected is the Ski Club of Great Britain. 

Its leaders take members round the mountains. The key point for the Ski Club is that its leaders do not receive financial renumeration - they are unpaid volunteers.

They do go off piste and ski on black runs but they do not instruct.

They do not have high-level instruction qualifications that snowsports instructors need but rather they have done a two-week course with off piste elements and group management sessions.

They are assessed and not everyone passes.

As we understand it at PlanetSKI The Ski Club met with senior figures from within the ESF in France last December and it hopes to continue with its activities in France.

The judgement of the court, and its reasons, will have to be read closely by The Ski Club of Great Britain before a final decision is taken.

BELOW IS THE FULL TEXT OF THE PRESS RELEASE ISSUED BY THE ESF

Following today's court ruling in France with legal action brought against UK tour operator, Le Ski, Simon Atkinson, Director, ESF has issued the following statement:

"ESF has incorrectly been cited as being the organisation for taking the Le Ski to court for its own protectionism. It should be stressed that ESF has not brought the action in the French courts, but the Public Ministry's (French Administration) did so in pursuing action against Le Ski for non-compliance with French regulations, after a Border Police Patrol Control found them to be contravening French law.

Under Article L.212-1 of the Sport Code in France, it is legal requirement to have a qualification to teach or lead skiing if remuneration is received.

The laws governing sport in France say that it is illegal to 'teach, lead, guide, animate' without an appropriate professional qualification. For professionals, and in particular for ESF, security on ski slopes is of paramount importance. Wintersports touring needs to be conducted with maximum security for those being escorted on the slopes with qualified guides/instructors. France recognises the equivalent professional qualifications for instructors and guides from other countries. Any qualified ski instructor and guide is allowed to operate in France and there is cooperation between European Ski Schools, so the qualifications obtained are to reach the European standards terms of certification. Certificates to operate officially are issued directly by the Ministry of Sports.

ESF will not receive any re-numeration as a result of this judgement other than its legal fees being paid for representing them as a "Civil Party" and importantly, ESF has never sought otherwise. The fine required by the Public Ministry to Le Ski is factored upon an infringement of law and missing Social Taxes to be paid on such activity. Contrary to some opinion, there is no financial gain to ESF.

This is not an ESF led court action, but the organisation has rightly shown its support for French law to be upheld and that for those organisations using hosting or other personnel to 'guide' such people must possess a valid qualifications to do so.

ESF is committed to ensuring the safety of UK tourists using French resorts for wintersports.

ESF reiterates its commitment to supporting the UK ski industry and will work with UK tour operators in finding workable solutions for lawful guiding on the French ski slopes".

Meanwhile below is the press release and officila statement from Le Ski.

Le Ski press release 20/2/2013

"We are disappointed, but not surprised, that the local court have found us to be in breach of the law concerning ski instructing. We are appealing this decision and shall submit our legitimate arguments to the Court of Appeals. In our view, the Albertville ruling is contrary to European Union law. We are frustrated that our guests, who have enjoyed free ski hosting for 30 years, are temporarily unable to benefit from this very popular service.

The ESF head office and ESF Meribel have decided to attach themselves to this case and have been awarded damages by the local court for loss of earnings. A statement released yesterday by the ESF asserts that they stand to make no financial gain from this action. This is misleading. The Albertville court has awarded damages.

The ski hosting service posed no safety threat and to suggest so is disingenuous. The action has been taken against us and the tour operator community on protectionist grounds. Our guests will not ask ESF ski instructors to show them them round our resorts and find the best routes. They will simply have to spend more time looking at their piste maps."

And now the ESF has issued a second statement through its PR company.

Following Monday's court ruling in France with the legal action brought against UK tour operator, Le Ski, Simon Atkinson, Director, ESF has updated his previous statement in response to claims that many British Ski reps will lose their jobs and incorrect claims and reporting  that the company has been awarded damages.

"ESF has incorrectly been cited as being the organisation for taking the Le Ski to court for its own protectionism. It should be stressed that ESF did not bring the action in the French courts, but the Public Ministry's (French Administration) did so in pursuing action against Le Ski for non-compliance with French regulations, after a Border Police Patrol Control found them to be contravening French law. It is not correct to make claims that many Ski Reps will lose their jobs as a direct result of this ruling, as in practice the role of ski guiding is just one of many varied roles carried out by these tour operator employees. The claims that ESF has been awarded damages are also not true, ESF was awarded legal fee costs of  4000 euro for ESF Meribel and 5000 euro for the SNMSF and there has certainly not been any  compensation payment for loss of earnings.

ESF reiterates its commitment to supporting the UK ski industry and will work with UK tour operators in finding workable solutions for lawful guiding on the French ski slopes".

For the spirit of the mountains

intersport

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