Saint-Firmin: Village in French Alps demolishes its ski lift because there is no more snow

Paris (CNN) — After a few squeaks, the rusty wheel was finally torn free from the dull white pole that once stood proudly on the mountainside.

From the sidelines, about a hundred people gathered in the small French mountain village of Saint-Firmin to say goodbye to their ski lift as a small team worked late last month to dismantle it.

The reason? It hasn’t been used for years — because there was no more snow.

“Global warming has happened, and that has changed our view of this site,” Didier Beauzon, 63, a lifelong resident of Saint Firmin and an elected official serving the village, told CNN.

“Well, we had to give it back to nature,” he added.

The French environmental group Mountain Wilderness has been commissioned to dismantle the ski lift.

The French environmental group Mountain Wilderness has been commissioned to dismantle the ski lift.

OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE/AFP via Getty Images

The ski site was originally built in 1964 to help village children learn to ski somewhere close to home before taking on more challenging trails in the Alps.

While it once regularly snowed in winter, it had deteriorated in recent decades. It is a situation currently being experienced in other French and European ski resorts, as the climate crisis has been blamed for shortening ski seasons and reducing mountain snow and glacier cover.

“The lack of snow meant the last time it ran was about 15 years ago and for just one weekend. It hasn’t been used since,” Beauzon said of the ski lift in his village.

Pleasure and joy

The ski lift has rusted away in recent years, unused.

The ski lift has rusted away in recent years, unused.

OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE/AFP via Getty Images

But that wasn’t always the case, Beauzon recalls his childhood, when the village organized activities for children in the ski area in winter.

The local sports club would hold competitions on weekends and open fun events for all on Wednesdays, followed by awards ceremonies in the main square of the village.

“Anyone could win a prize, you just had to get to the bottom of it anyway,” said Beauzon.

The prizes were usually modest — a pair of socks, a chocolate bar — but still cheerful, he said. At the end of each ski season, trophies were awarded to the strongest skiers in the village.

“Personally, I’ve never won a trophy,” said Beauzon. “But it was always a good laugh for everyone because there was always a good atmosphere.”

The lift was built in 1964 to help local children gain experience before moving to bigger slopes.

The lift was built in 1964 to help local children gain experience before moving to bigger slopes.

OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE/AFP via Getty Images

Unfortunately, such traditions melted away along with the snow. And as the elevator quietly rusted away like a sad reminder of the good times gone by, the village decided to get rid of it – a challenge that proved trickier than any descent.

“Inside the pylon, we found it to be much stronger than we expected,” said Olivier Bustillo, manager of environmental group Mountain Wilderness, charged with tearing down the ski lift.

“We spent maybe half an hour, maybe almost an hour more per pylon,” Bustillo added.

Record heat wave

The costs of dismantling the elevator would be 20,000 euros.

The costs of dismantling the elevator would be 20,000 euros.

OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE/AFP via Getty Images

It took the team of about 20 workers two days to dismantle the entire ski lift system — the group has already dismantled about 10 similar ski lift systems in France, according to Bustillo.

The cost of the complete dismantling of the Saint-Firmin lift is approximately 20,000 euros ($20,691), mainly funded by the local government with the help of charities. The recovered metal was collected by a company that specializes in scrap metal and will be recycled, Bustillo said.

It is unlikely that this is the last decommissioned elevator. This year, a record-breaking heat wave swept through France and most of Western Europe, driving temperatures near or above 40 °C (104 °F) in summer for a sustained period. Wildfires raged in the south and west of the country.

According to data from the French Ministry of the Environment, 62% of the French population is currently exposed to “significant” or “highly significant” climate risks.

The effect of climate change is being felt in ski resorts across France and Europe.

The effect of climate change is being felt in ski resorts across France and Europe.

OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE/AFP via Getty Images

France could also face a much more challenging future, as temperatures are expected to rise by 3.8C by 2100, and as much as 6.7C in the worst-case scenario, according to a study published by researchers at the French National Meteorological Service Météo France in October.

“Comparing our results with those based on previous generations of climate model ensembles shows that our ranges assessed are significantly higher than previously reported,” the study said in its conclusion.

Gone forever

The dismantled ski lift equipment was collected for recycling by a scrap metal company.

The dismantled ski lift equipment was collected for recycling by a scrap metal company.

OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE/AFP via Getty Images

Earlier this month, France’s Val Thorens ski resort, Europe’s highest resort, announced it was delaying the opening of its ski season by a week to November 26 due to “warm autumn weather”.

In Saint-Firmin, the locals have decided to build something on the old site of the ski lifts, to remind their children of this piece of history. Many were happy that the village can finally move on and make the site usable again. Still, the feeling of loss remained.

“I think people are becoming aware of the evolution of the climate. Indeed, that’s what it’s all about. When we talk about the ski lift, people are talking about the climate,” said Beauzon.

“I felt a little nostalgic. We had to mourn for an entire era that will never return.”

Top image credit: OLIVIER CHASSIGNOLE/AFP via Getty Images

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