2023 Alpine Skiing World Championships: the showcase of a sport threatened by climate change

The size of the metal structure impresses. These stands were assembled in Le Praz, a hamlet of Courchevel (Savoie). Three thousand people will be able to sit there. The two ski jumps are in the background. They were built for the Olympic Games in Albertville in 1992. Thirty-one years later, the site will host the finish area for the men’s events in the Alpine Skiing World Championships, which begin on February 6.

Former ski instructor, Jean-Yves Pachod, the mayor of the Savoyard commune, will be in the front row of an event which should attract up to 20,000 spectators per day. “The Olympics had “boosted” Savoy for twenty years, he recalls. After the Covid and the white seasons that we have experienced, these Worlds will give us momentum. »

After the 1992 Olympics, what legacy?

A quarter of an hour by car, Méribel has the same hope. The station will host the women’s races. “Sport is our DNA and we are continuing a story that began a long time ago.says Thierry Monin, the mayor of Allues, the village on which Méribel depends administratively. The world championships will not have an impact comparable to that of 1992. We did not need to upset the mountain. The real legacy will be communication. »

The media coverage will indeed highlight the territory, as much as the sporting exploits. “This is a continuation of Michel Barnier’s policy (former president of the general council of Savoy and of the organizing committee of the 1992 Olympics) to make Savoie a land of major events, which are means of promoting and developing tourism”, emphasizes Perrine Pelen, the former slalom skier who has become general manager of the organizing committee.

For this French ski figure of the 1980s, herself world champion in 1985, the“intangible heritage” competitions will also be made up of the experience of the 1,200 volunteers mobilized. They will be fed, housed and whitened. “We need them to smile, they are the faces of the world championships for the spectators”, notes Coline Dheyriat, head of the team program. Some are veterans of the 1992 Games.

Skiing threatened by climate change

But since then the context has changed somewhat. These fourth alpine skiing world championships to be organized in the French Alps (after Chamonix in 1937 and 1962, then Val d’Isère in 2009) will take place at a time when climate change is fueling debates on the environmental impact of slips it. Consuming water and electricity to power snow cannons may seem out of place in these times of repeated droughts.

Images of the 2022 Beijing Games, with sites covered in an entirely artificial white coat, or trucks carrying snow last December for the Biathlon World Cup in Grand-Bornand (Haute-Savoie) have not little improved the opinion of critics of the practice. “Skiing has bad press”, recognizes Christophe Mugnier, Deputy Director General of the Organizing Committee.

The authorities also fear the arrival of activists tempted to disrupt the party. In January, unknown persons sabotaged snow cannons in La Clusaz, in Haute-Savoie. “Recent images may have shocked, but beware of generalities and shortcuts, warns Perrine Pelen, however. It is up to us to show that we have all the legitimacy to organize these competitions and that we are a ski territory. »

With regard to climate change, Courchevel and Méribel, whose areas culminate at more than 2,000 meters in altitude, are less in danger than small mid-mountain resorts”, asserts Thierry Monin. It prevents. The development of the Eclipse slope in Courchevel, equipped with 140 “snow guns”, has offended environmentalists. Six hectares of forest were felled, in an area with a protected species of moss, the buxbaumie.

A strong environmental impact

To meet the specifications of the International Ski Federation and secure the snow cover, it was also necessary to dig a reservoir that can contain 170,000 m3 of water. During the public inquiry opened for this project, the France Nature Environnement (FNE) association issued an unfavorable opinion. For her, “Skiing is a sport that has a strong impact on the natural mountain environment. And this impact on a fragile natural environment is increased tenfold by the consequences of frequent competition (…). »

But the FNE also recognized the efforts made to limit the damage. “The reservoir will guarantee snow cover in an entire sector of Courchevel, and not just the Eclipse, justifies Perrine Pelen. It is fed by a stream and did not require an additional water right. » Regarding deforestation, reforestation has been carried out elsewhere in Courchevel and the endangered moss has been moved.

Limit your carbon footprint to exist

The organizing committee itself wants to limit its carbon footprint. “It becomes essential if we want to be able to continue to organize great events, in particular for outdoor sports dependent on the weather”analyzes Émilie Meynet, CSR (corporate social responsibility) manager for these world championships.

The program is wide. It ranges from a transport plan to reduce the use of individual vehicles to the use of reprocessed cooking oil to serve as fuel for snow groomers. “There will also be a legacy there, continues Emilie Meynet. All good practices that work will be shared. » This component is also integrated into a study conducted by the University of Savoie-Mont-Blanc in favor of a ” sustainable tourism “.

A budget affected by inflation

The budget for these 2023 Worlds, initially set at 43 million euros, should exceed 50 million, inflated by inflation, soaring energy prices and last-minute additional costs. The deficit will have to be absorbed by the two municipalities concerned. Jean-Yves Pachod sees investment as a guarantee for the future. “At a time when skiing is criticized, we want to put it back in the center of the village, he pleads. We are all aware of climate change and that we must be careful. But it is thanks to skiing that we have work and that we can keep our young people. »

The chosen one also likes to remind that Courchevel is not reluctant to develop a summer season. In July, the resort will host the Tour de France for a summit finish. In the meantime, the weather will at least have spared the organizers of the world championships from embarrassing images. After the December thaw, the January snowfalls gave the landscape a wintry tone. For the opening ceremony, Sunday February 5, it could even freeze.


Thirteen events in twelve days

600 skiers, representing 75 countries, are going to take part in the Alpine Skiing World Championships.

Thirteen events are on the program in Courchevel and Méribel: 6 February: women’s combined; February 7: combined men; February 8: ladies’ super-G; February 9: men’s super-G; 11 February: ladies’ downhill; 12 February: men’s downhill; February 14: team parallel; February 15: individual parallel; February 16: Giant Ladies; February 17: giant gentlemen; 18 February: ladies’ slalom; February 19: men’s slalom.

Complete schedule of eventsand animations on the official website: www.courchevelmeribel2023.com.

The races will be broadcast on France Télévisions and Eurosport.


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