A French ski resort has angered ecologists by using a helicopter to move snow from higher up the mountains after exceptionally mild weather left its slopes bare.
Officials at Luchon-Superbagnères in the Pyrenees authorised the “exceptional” emergency operation overnight on Friday.
The helicopter spent two hours transporting 50 tonnes of snow to drop on the lower slopes used by beginners and ski schools.
Hervé Pounau, the director of the local department council, said the cost of the operation would be recouped many times over by the business that would have been lost to a lack of snow.
“It will cost us between €5,000 and €6,000, in the knowledge that over the long term we will get at least 10 times’ return on that investment,” Pounau said in a statement.
Keeping the station open safeguarded 50 to 80 jobs, including lift operators, ski school teachers, childminders, ski equipment rental shop staff and restaurant owners, he added.
“We’re not going to cover the entire ski station in snow, but without it we would have had to close a huge part of the ski domain, and it’s during the holidays that we have the most activity for beginners and the ski schools,” Pounau said.
He admitted it was not “very ecological”, but added: “It’s really exceptional and we won’t be doing it again. This time we didn’t have a choice.”
The operation has angered French ecologists. Bastien Ho, the secretary of Europe Écologie Les Verts party, said the snow transfer operation was evidence of an “upside-down world”.
“Instead of adapting to global warming we’re going to end up with a double problem: something that costs a lot of energy, that contributes heavily to global warming and that in addition is only for an elite group of people who can afford it. It is the world upside down,” he told French television.
The February-March half term holidays in France – known as the “winter sport holidays” – are staggered over four weeks across different regions and are the busiest time of the year for the country’s mountain resorts.
Luchon-Superbagnères depends on this period for 60% of its income, but exceptionally mild weather has forced the resort to close all but six of its 28 slopes.
It is the first time helicopters have been used to transport snow from higher altitudes to lower resorts in the French Pyrenees, though similar operations have been carried out in the Alps.
Local officials said the snow would guarantee that beginners could enjoy the lower slopes and ski instructors could continue with classes for the next two weeks.