A French court has held that British tour operator Le Ski violated French law by giving welcome tours to participants on its ski trips. The case is an apparent victory for French ski instructors who came out against the practice.
According to a report published in The Telegraph, it is a common custom for British ski tour operators to give informal mountain tours to participants on the first day of a trip. The tour guides do not go off-piste and offer the service as a courtesy to familiarize newcomers with the resort. It was this practice that the French court held violated Article L.212-1 of the Code du Sport. Loosely translated, Article L.212-1 requires anyone who is paid to teach or lead a ski group to have a certificate. Le Ski’s guides did not hold ski instructor certifications and thus were held to have violated the statute.
The Ecole du Ski Français (French Ski School) supported the decision arguing that uncertified guides were a safety concern. However, many believe such safety concerns to be merely pretextual. Giving on-piste tours to introduce mostly beginner and intermediate skiers to a mountain involves only de minimis risk. The certification requirements of Article L.212-1 are sensible for off-piste guides who lead groups through dangerous terrain, but the application of the statute to ski tour operators is more appropriately viewed as a form of economic protectionism.
Moreover, it is quite possible that the decision will backfire on French ski guides and instructors who supported it. Foreign tour companies will adapt. First, they might simply operate more frequently elsewhere in the Alps. Second, even when tour operators visit France, skiers are unlikely to pay a ski instructor for the type of informal welcome tour that Le Ski was providing. Newcomers will simply get disoriented more easily, lessening the chances that skier has a good first experience.
As one might expect, the decision sent shockwaves through the British (and international) ski tour industry. All British tour operators have stopped the practice of ski hosting and welcome tours. Le Ski plans to appeal the decision, but French legal experts doubt the decision will be overturned on appeal.
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