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New lift station plans causing a stir at Le Tour

How far will the Le Tour lift renovation go?

featured in News & reviews Author Alison Shayler, Chamonix Reporter Updated

Plans are underway to completely overhaul the Le Tour lift station within the next few years, possibly with a view to changing the location and redesigning the whole area.

The green gondolas of the Charamillon telecabine have been in service for over thirty years and are long overdue an update. The six seater gondola was designed to carry 1500 people per hour, but in reality the creaky old mechanisms are not reaching anywhere near that number. Plans are being made to replace not just the cabins but the entire lift station by winter 2018/19.

Hiking from Le Tour to Chamonix

With Le Tour being the tiny little village that it is, and in such close proximity to the lifts, any renovations clearly need to be done in such a way that they will benefit rather than disadvantage the local residents. And there is quite a debate heating up about it already!

Le Tour lift station

The Compagnie du Mont Blanc has been working with specialist consultants for the past two years to decide how best to redesign the lift station and a document was published this week by the Mairie (town hall). There are two possibilities regarding where the new lift station should be; one is to rebuild on the current location, the other is to relocate to the bottom of the car park on the right bank of the River Arve. The aim of the new lift station is not just to whisk people up the mountain quicker than ever before, but also to improve circulation of traffic in the village. At the moment, the parking at Le Tour is often congested and this causes increased pollution from cars and ski buses.

The new plans include a complete overhaul of all the buildings that make up the lift station, with a view to offering visitors better facilities in terms of ticket desks, toilets, first aid, ski school office, etc. The beginner slope at La Vormaine will also hopefully be easier to access and will have more of an open snowfront where events and activities can take place.

Le Tour lift station

As with all big projects, there are those who are not so keen. Local residents fear that the renovations may destroy the authenticity of what is one of the oldest hamlets in the Chamonix valley. Many have raised concerns about destruction of natural habitats and the environmental impact of such a large construction project.

The main point of contention seems to be the proposal to relocate the lift station to the bottom of the car park. Many residents are concerned that this will lead to cables and pylons being installed too close to people’s houses, would destabilise the land on the Posettes face and possibly cause avalanches and/or flooding, would increase the amount of noise and traffic in the centre of the village, and may harm other local businesses that rely on the land such as farming.

However, many are also in favour of breathing new life into a long neglected part of the valley and are keen to have their opinions heard on how it can be done. If successful, the new development should ease noise and air pollution from traffic, make the centre of the village more attractive, and provide commercial opportunities for residents who operate local businesses such as café and ski rental shops. You can follow the discussion on the Facebook page La Torzeraine.

Le Tour ski area in Chamonix

Le Tour and Vallorcine make up the resort of La Balme, the northernmost ski area in the Chamonix valley, right on the border with Switzerland. It has long been overlooked in the valley’s more recent upgrades, such as those at Les Grands Montets and Brevent. Renovating the lift station will be the first phase of a project that aims to improve the ski area by widening the "Bas de Solonge" piste, removing the three drag lifts at the bottom of the Posettes to replace them with a chairlift from the Plat du Caiset up to the Tête de Balme ski lift, and replacing the Autannes chairlift with a newer model.

The cost of the actual work is to be borne by the Compagnie du Mont Blanc and is expected to come in at around 16.6 million euros, plus an extra 2 million euros for securing the work site and the safety of the slopes. The cost of developing the surrounding area of Le Tour village is to be shared between the commune of Chamonix and the Compagnie du Mont Blanc, the amount has not yet been proposed as the details are still under deliberation.

Offices have been set up in Chamonix and Argentiere where anyone can go and view the proposed plans during the week of 20 to 24 March 2017. They will be available at the Maison de Village in Argentière on Monday 20th March from 09:00 to 12:00 and on Thursday 23rd March from from 15:00 to 19:00, or at the Mairie in Chamonix on Tuesday 21st March from 15:00 to 19:00, Wednesday 22nd March from 14:00 to 17:00 and on Friday 24th March from 15:00 to 19:00. You can also view the plans here.