A Statistical Nightmare – Morzine Mountain Biking in Numbers

By Rob Purver

This article is from the Summer 2015 issue of Source Magazine – all statistics collected are based on information gathered around that time.

The summer of 2014 was one of the worst on record for rain here in the mountains. If you weren’t here, consider yourself lucky. During June there were only four days on which it didn’t rain and a significant part of the summer season was a complete washout. Newly built mountain bike (MTB) tracks never had a chance to harden up and even tracks that had been setting for years simply melted into an impassable quagmire.

Luckily for the hardened mountain biker, a little bit of rain wasn’t going to stop the fun train. But it certainly dampened spirits among many holidaymakers and bike hire shops reported that drivetrain and suspension damage was up significantly because of all that claggy mud getting in places it shouldn’t.

There’s no denying that it was a shocking summer for all. Figures released by the Portes du Soleil (PDS) show that just over 50,000 MTB passes were sold across the entire area during summer of 2013. In 2014, just 37,634 PDS passes were sold – that’s a 24% fall in business directly attributable to the weather.

However, when you put aside the figures from the disastrous #summerofmud, it looks like there’s solid growth in the area’s MTB market. There’s been a steady increase in the number of PDS passes sold every year since 2001, during which just 17,614 PDS passes were purchased. It’s these figures that the local decision makers consult when they’re deciding whether investment in the area’s MTB infrastructure is necessary or not.

So everything’s rosy in the MTB garden, right? More passes sold = more investment, surely? No. Not by a long shot.

With the growth of rival resorts and an overall increase in the size of the European MTB market, the steady rise we’ve seen in PDS lift pass sales isn’t that impressive. Morzine, Les Gets, Avoriaz and the rest of the PDS is falling behind in terms of market share, it seems. Maybe a huge problem lies in the sales figures themselves. As long as they continue to show a constant and steady rise, it must be difficult for resort management to see the need for greater spending or increased effort, especially as it’s unlikely that those in charge are out there putting tyres on the dirt themselves.

It used to be easy to remain ignorant to the differences between the growth in the overall cycling market and the number of lift passes sold in the Portes du Soleil each summer. But last year something changed.

After many summers of muttered complaints and whispered criticism about the lack of progression and investment in Morzine’s mountain bike offering (whilst we quietly watched Chatel and Avoriaz set the bar higher each year), a collective of local businesses went to the Office de Tourisme with a dossier of constructive criticism. Experienced and knowledgeable locals developed some simple solutions to bring Morzine up to standard and into line with some of the more progressive resorts.

Much to everyone’s surprise, notice was taken. One of the simplest and easiest suggestions was to keep the Pleney lift open for another week at the end of the summer. During September 2014 our usual beautiful weather returned and everyone was keen to claw back a little bit of lost summer revenue. Unfortunately it was a double-edged sword. The extended lift opening dates were never formerly announced, many local businesses had no idea about them and very few holidaymakers had time to organise an end of season trip to Morzine. Consequently, during that final week of the season – the week that so many local businesses had campaigned for – the lifts were almost empty, signalling to the lift operators and resort management that extending the season was a complete waste of time and money.
It’s been easy to blame one resort body or another for the lack of local progress when it comes to MTB. In reality, a number of organisations work together to plan the resort’s resources, but the Mairie (local town council) hold the real power. This winter, Source Magazine was invited to join the Mairie’s consultation committee for resort development, and we made sure the subject of summer was firmly on the agenda.
The first step taken by the Mairie was to take stock of the current situation. A survey was undertaken, asking real mountain bikers for their opinions. Here’s our significantly abridged analysis of the results, which can be viewed in more detail online.

The results seem to show that the average cyclists in Morzine each summer is a British bloke in his late 20s to early 30s, predominantly downhilling with reasonable amounts of disposable income. Stop and take a look around the bottom of Pleney on any given summers day and you’ll be forced to agree with that.

It’s only when we get to the section on trail condition, maintenance and grooming that we see any real diversion from the generally positive opinion. Only 16% of visitors stated that they were very satisfied with the condition of the trails.

How can MTB in Morzine improve?
The percentage shown indicates the amount of people who selected that as the main area in need of improvement.

But there’s still plenty for resort businesses and visitors to feel positive about. When asked why they choose Morzine as an MTB destination, the survey said…

From the results in last summer’s MTB survey, it seems people are generally happy with the resort and its facilities. The most obvious area for improvement is the quality of the tracks, maintenance and the initial design.

The survey results do highlight one more problem however. When the majority of visitors to Morzine are here to ride downhill tracks, the scale of the problem becomes apparent. There are too many riders on too few, badly maintained downhill trails. There’s a whole science dedicated to track building, and if you ignore it then you get all kinds of problems. The primary two are waterlogging and breaking bumps. There’s absolutely no excuse for either, not in the levels we’ve seen in Morzine over the last few years.

Luckily, the solution is a simple one. Do more research into track building (or hire someone who knows what they’re doing) and have a well-trained track maintenance team who run constant repairs, as you’ll find in every other bike resort the world over.


The Verbier Comparison

Verbier is just one European resort that’s upped its game significantly in recent years, and we’ve managed to get our hands on ticket sale numbers for Verbier Bikepark. The summers of 2012 / 13 were a period of huge growth in the overall bike industry and the British cycle market, thanks to our multiple successes at the London 2012 Olympics. Lift pass sales increased by 40.6% in Verbier during this period, compared to an increase of just 1.4% in the PDS.

Verbier is just one of a hundred smaller, newer resorts, hungry for a share of the summer MTB market. They’re developing their tracks, building infrastructure to support MTB and (crucially) spending money on advertising. They’re slowly chipping away at Morzine’s summer market, and that’s not good for anyone – unless something changes, we’ll be left behind and no one wants that.

What’s Morzine doing wrong?

Over the past few years, Morzine has sat on its title of being Europe’s number one MTB destination while development has slowed down massively. Other resorts such as Verbier, Pila and Les Deux Alpes are rapidly improving and for Morzine to keep up, there needs to be some serious investment in the trail network by the local council and lift companies.

A Statistical Nightmare – Morzine Mountain Biking in Numbers
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