“Impossible to open without them”, sums up Arnaud Libilbehety, general manager of the Epsa establishment, manager of the station located in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, at an altitude of 1,400 m.

Every morning, 16 pisteurs normally ensure the practicability of the pistes before they open to customers.

"They are also first aiders so, if there is an accident, they are the ones who intervene," he adds.

With their sign on the gondola which transports skiers from the car park to the area, two ski lift employees show their support for the protest movement of their fellow trackers, who have gone to demonstrate in Pau, an hour further north.

"I didn't go to demonstrate so as not to cut my salary, but the heart is in it," said one of them, preferring to remain anonymous.

So no skiing this Tuesday, no lessons or rentals.

"It's a food chain", summarizes Patrick Barroso, owner of an equipment rental shop, installed there for 45 years.

"We are the only station in France to be closed!", He annoys.

In the Alps, the stations have indeed been very little affected, with a mobilization "of the order of 4%" of the 17,000 seasonal workers in the sector, according to "Domaines skiables de France", the operators' union.

At the foot of the 42 kilometers of slopes of the Gourette area, while the snow is falling, the crowd is sparse.

Refunds "will be made at the end of the week", indicate the employees of the counters.

Sparse crowd at the foot of the closed slopes in Gourette, in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, on February 7, 2023 © GAIZKA IROZ / AFP

The school holidays, which began on Saturday in eight academies, including the three in the New Aquitaine region, constitute a major period for the activity of the station, which estimates that the strike will cost it "several tens of thousands of euros", according to Arnaud Libilbehety.

Lack of snow

In December, the lack of snow had prevented the opening of several resorts in the Pyrenees for the holidays.

Gourette only started its season on January 20 and last weekend it welcomed 10,000 holidaymakers, more than half of them skiers.

The French Ski School (ESF) "had to cancel all lessons today", said, bitterly, an instructor, Gauthier Burtre.

“A day like today for the ESF, with 80 instructors, all self-employed, is a loss of 25,000 euros,” he estimates.

Chantal Seillan, owner of a shop, would have "liked other solutions to be considered instead of a one-day closure in an already complicated season".

Skiers relativize.

"It's their right to strike, we understand, it's only ever been a day less, instead we'll go for a walk", comment Margaux Daniaud and Guillaume Bouhier, on family vacation.

Emmanuelle Larigaldie, 51-year-old Charentaise "will go squash this afternoon".

His sister, Cécile Dedieu, is more divided: "Of course we understand, but we are a little disgusted because we had booked all week, taken the packages, blocked the lessons and rented the equipment".

Ski lift closed in Gourette, in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, on February 7, 2023 © GAIZKA IROZ / AFP

The restaurants themselves have not filled up.

"Usually, I turn to 200 covers at lunchtime and there I have barely 50", sighs Gérard Honthaas, owner of a hotel-restaurant.

Bastien Lebegue, a seasonal snack worker "sold five pancakes and seven coffees" for a "profit of 15 euros".

The strikers have not yet indicated whether they will participate in the next day of mobilization against pensions on Saturday.

The general manager of Epsa, however, called on them to become "aware of the particularly negative impact on the whole station".

© 2023 AFP