Laissez-faire on the French slopes? Nein.

News that a court in Albertville, France this week ruled the practice of ski hosting on the French slopes is contrary to French law will surprise few who have had professional experience of the French ski industry.

For years there have been allegations of protectionist practices against non-local ski instructors from breaking into the monopolised world of the local ski schools. Now the courts in Albertville are enforcing the prohibition on the use of ski hosts on the slopes - the practice by which groups are shown around the slopes by a competent ambassador of the company. The only really valid argument in the preventing these services could be safety and for companies who are throwing dud skiers and snowboarders on the slopes to look after guests, then action is absolutely justified. But for competent skiers and snowboarders who are navigating rather than teaching their clients it is surely for the clients themselves to select their preferred leaders on the slopes, as it is for the operators to carry the can in the event of mishap? And at what point does a ski buddy encroach onto the hallowed corduroy of the local ski school - furthermore how are these culprits identified?

Interestingly on the Austrian slopes there are frequently highly visible Dutch and German ski instructors who accompany and teach their groups in the full gaze of the lift companies and local ski schools. There have been mutterings of discontent from local ski schools but the bigger picture is that happy operators bring in numerous guests who hire, ski, apres and stay to the benefit of the wider local economy - thus they get the tacit support of the local authorities. Activities such as heli-skiing in the Arlberg region have very strict enforcement of staff credentials in place and it is to the clients' advantage to be dropped on isolated peaks by not only someone who is superb at getting off the peak, but is also highly skilled and drilled in risk and emergency management.

I think it is fair to say that most clients are prepared to pay for the right service and for off-piste guiding and ski teaching it is right and proper that the correct personnel are in place to ensure safety and fun. Taking clients between lifts, helping with a table reservation or menu translation and generally bonding with clients surely isn't the sole preserve of a single ski school monopoly? Perhaps the local ski schools should better improve their product and service levels to make them more attractive to clients rather than relying on a local court to distort market forces. If Albertville pushes too hard it may well be that their region loses even more clients to the Laissez-faire Austrians.

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