“Once upon a time, there was a high country covered in forests… If the history of these lands between the Arve and Giffre Valleys is ever written, it will have to start there!” André Louis Trabut
85 YEARS OLD. A GOOD AGE. A SENIOR AGE.
There were 367 inhabitants at the beginning of this new era for the resort… Their life’s vocation has evolved with the passing of time… From farmers and watchmakers, they have become ski instructors, ski patrollers and rescuers, ski lift employees, shopkeepers, etc.
In 1936, the first paid holidays were introduced, kick-starting a boom in tourist migration.
But Les Carroz wasn’t built in a day! Tracing back these years of great change – sometimes rapid, sometimes slow – are still defining moments spanning the years and the people.
THE FIRST SKI LIFT
To understand the pioneering nature of this construction, we need to look at the context. In the mid-1930s, skiing had not yet become a popular leisure sport. Even if some rural and mountain folk practised it, having learnt it while in the uniform of the Alpine regiments. The first “ski lift” was designed by Charles Pons and Léon Carpano. They were clock and watch manufacturers. Work began on creating the first ski lift in 1936. A concrete seat buried in the ground was found, marked with the same date. It was brought into service at Christmas 1938 and inaugurated with a blessing in January 1939.
The resort had the longest ski lift ever built (1,600m for a vertical drop of 560m), and the publicity at the time was full of praise for it.
This equipment could carry 180 people an hour, and it took fourteen minutes to climb from Les Moulins to the top of Kédeuze via a wide corridor in the middle of the forest, sheltered from the wind. Fernand Passy at the cash desk and Prosper Renaud as the boom operator were the first employees of “the” ski lift, which was transformed into a cable car in 1954 and is still known as the “Kédeuze”. The first ski pass was sold in 1938! The “ski tow” allows skiers to discover the joys of skiing on three slopes:
the “Frison Roche” red run: a 4.5km sloped run for intermediate skiers; it joined the current Zorta and then the Combe until its destination.
the blue “Timalets” run: this followed the route of the current Timalets run down to Les Servages. This run, for highly trained skiers, would become the Olympic run once further work enabled it to be widened by 10m along its entire length. Today, this slope is the resort’s iconic red run that takes you back down to the village on skis, the only slope you can see from the valley!
the yellow “Mouillets” run: this 6 km-long beginner’s run is approximately the same length as the current Sarbotte run.
The Kédeuze ski lift is undoubtedly the defining symbol of the birth of the resort!
POST-WAR 39-45: A SECOND START
The war of 1939-40, with first the Italian occupation, then the German… The post-war period, when people were more concerned with putting food on their plates than going on holiday, was a protracted interlude to the development of tourism in Les Carroz.
It would be more than seven years before a second ski lift saw the light of day: the “Figaro”. It wasn’t an easy birth! Fernand and Hubert Moret teamed up with René Pastore, a coachbuilder with a passion for skiing and a friend of Jean Pomagaski, the future ski lift manufacturer.
Their idea: a ski lift to link the village to the departure station of the Kédeuze ski lift while providing continuous service for children, beginners and cautious skiers reluctant to tackle the rough slopes of the first ski lift built in 1939.
The second ski lift went into service in the winter of 48/49 after obtaining permission to cross private land. It also welcomed pioneering instructors who gave their first lessons. This was the third “Poma” project, using rigid, non-telescopic poles.
In those days, there was no such thing as a ski lift pass; skiers could buy a card for a single ascent or a punch card for 10 ascents.
The Figaro run and the carpet of the same name are still home to the first trails taken by apprentice skiers.
THE FIRST CABLE CAR
If the construction of the first ski lift was an event, what can we say about its replacement by the cable car? The good old “ski tow” was ageing badly because of its wooden infrastructure and its route through the forest, sometimes tilting badly.
If Les Carroz was to keep its place in the chorus of emerging resorts, it had to be replaced!
The first cable car, built in 1954 using the “Applevage” system, took a different route to the ski lift, reaching the top of the Kédeuze ridge at 1800m. At the time, it was a very modern achievement: Eighteen 4-seater cabins made of Plexiglas and riveted aluminium. The growth of the resort, like the hourly throughput, was accelerating!
On 3 April 1954, the inauguration took place with great pomp and ceremony, with a Minister in attendance for the first time in Les Carroz. The skiers for the Guard of Honour’s Club, the brass band of the 27th Battalion of Alpine Hunters (B.C.A.), Mayor Fernand Moret and his tricolour scarf, a big banquet… A famous day and a great moment in local life!
The momentum gained was not sustained in the immediate future. There was a reluctance to step up development, and differences between agriculture and tourism meant that it would be some time before a new step was taken. So much so that projects such as the Combe de l’Airon and Vernant facilities, planned as early as 1957/1958, did not see the light of day until much later. At the same time as the planned creation of Flaine, the resort of Les Carroz acquired a post office, the first doctor’s surgery and a tourist office.
In 1962, the Gron ski lift was completed, followed by the Plan Moulin ski lift the following year to complete the technical potential. In 1964, the resort had five ski lifts, five main runs, five E.S.F. instructors and two thousand tourist beds.
From its pioneering days, Les Carroz had now moved into the age of tourism. And then there was the question of how to manage all the mechanical ski lifts. These would then be managed successively by several entities. From this management waltz, a solid and ambitious company emerged in 1984: SOREMAC, still the manager and operator of the Les Carroz ski area.
Text taken from the publications “60 years of skiing” by André-Louis Trabut and “70 years of skiing”.