France warns the British to tone down their apres ski

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The Independent Online
BRITISH skiers begin their winter migration to the Alps this week facing the prospect that any holiday high jinks will be met with tough action from local police.

Warnings, especially from the French authorities earlier this year, said that apres piste entertainments would not be condoned this winter. The French ski resorts, especially locations attracting up-market clientele, are worried that their reputations will decline into winter Benidorms if they fail to clamp down on drunkenness and drug abuse.

Although politicians and police chiefs from the French Alps stress that they do not intend to single out the British, their initiative is largely aimed at tourists 'from across the Channel'.

Action was signalled in a letter signed by the mayors of nine French ski resorts last June, when they warned against 'riotous behaviour . . . hooliganism, fighting, alcoholism and drugs'.

Written by the mayor of Val d'Isere, Andre Degouey, the letter called on tour operators to price the 'hooligans' out of the market. A curious strategy because Val d'Isere is already one of the world's most expensive ski resorts.

Mr Degouey stated: 'Promotion should only be aimed at the certain level of clients that we require by setting an appropriate price level.'

Although UK tour operators ignored the demand for a price hike, the cost of this year's French and Swiss ski holidays have increased due to currency changes. Bargain basement ski holidays are this year confined to Spain and Italy.

British travel firms dismissed the French mayor's outburst as xenophobic and 'ill-informed'. They said the resorts had nothing to fear.

Annie Constantinou, public relations executive for Bladon Lines, in London, one of the UK's largest operators in Val d'Isere, said: 'At the first downhill race of the season . . . the resort was packed with the British. The nightclubs were full; the chalets and hotels were full.

'Yet the only trouble we encountered was a drunken French driver crashing into another French car at 4am.' Ms Constantinou added: 'The British spend a lot of money in Val and its unfair to single out the people who've essentially made this resort's reputation.'

Keith Betton, from the Association of British Travel Agents, branded the mayorial outburst as 'totally unrealistic and out of touch'. ABTA had received few complaints and claimed if Mr Degouey had 'done his homework' he would have chosen another way to attract publicity.

The French local politician also warned of 'on the spot' action against drug and alcohol abuse, and promised a clampdown on foreigners living off drug dealing.

The message was echoed by Patrick Pluquet, of the Val d'Isere police. 'We have worked hard on the drug problem here . . . We have come across heroin, hashish, ecstasy and acid. We arrest those found with drugs,' he said.

'Yet local people . . . are more concerned by the level of rowdiness and drunkenness. When you get groups of up to 30 people shouting, screaming or whatever until 6am, it's upsetting. It's not only the English. Swedes, French and others are involved.'

Nevertheless, Mr Pluquet said that many of Val d'Isere's bars were owned by the English and attracted British clients who 'stick together and consume large amounts of alcohol'. He said his officers were under instructions - anyone found drunk in the street would be arrested.