French ski resort feud worsens as mayor accused of trying to 'annex' territory over $21M ski lift bill

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A pair of popular French ski resorts are locked in a bizarre battle over a ski lift that has descended into accusations of attempted annexation and comparisons to Hitler, proving that even at an altitude of 15,000 feet, you’re never far away from local government drama.  

Mayors of the neighboring Haute-Savoie ski resorts of Saint-Gervais-les-Bains and Megève have been locked in an acrimonious battle over public funds, tracked in detail by French local publication Le Dauphiné Libéré.

In an increasingly bitter game of high-stakes local diplomacy, Saint-Gervais mayor Jean-Marc Peillex accused Megève mayor Catherine Jullien-Brèches of trying to annex part of Saint-Gervais territory. 

Ski passes used by locals and holidaymakers cover both the Saint-Gervais and Megève ski resorts, often forcing the acrimonious pair into more cooperation than they would like.

They are in disagreement over the construction of a ski lift and its eventual resale value, which will require up to €76 million ($82 million) of investment. 

It is estimated that the sellable value of the lift will drop by €20 million ($21 million) in 20 years’ time. Megeve mayor Jullien-Brèches is skeptical that the depreciation will be that substantial, citing low snow levels in recent years and the specter of climate change. 

In a case of awkward bureaucracy, the ski lift begins in territory controlled by Megève, but finishes in the Saint-Gervais commune. The pair have now come to an impasse over who they will commission to build the lifts, leading a few sections to shut.

‘I will seek advice from Donald Trump’

The feud between Peillex and Jullien-Brèches is increasingly becoming the stuff of fiction, reminiscent of an episode of U.S. comedy series Parks and Recreation and carrying undertones of the U.K.’s viral Handforth Parish Council meeting featuring Jackie Weaver.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, with the subject heading: “Conflict Megève vs Saint-Gervais – or when the mayor of Megève actually seeks to annex the municipal territory of Saint-Gervais,” Peillex laid into Jullien-Brèches in a bizarre rant that attacked the town of Megève while accusing its mayor of trying to take control of part of his village.

“Whatever it takes, if necessary, we will erect barriers at the border of our two communes. And if necessary, I will seek advice from Donald Trump, a specialist in fences!” he wrote in response to claims that Jullien-Brèches had written to French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal to gain control of part of Saint-Gervais.

While they share a ski resort, Saint-Gervais has often lived in the shadow of its more affluent neighbor. According to real estate magazine Résidences Immobilier, property in Megève goes for an average of €14,731 ($15,823) per square meter, while in Saint-Gervais homes are priced at an average of €9,582 ($10,293). 

In that context, it’s easy to detect a hint of jealousy.

“We can no longer tolerate you collecting ski passes in Megève, with the SRMM (Mont d’Arbois ski lift system) pocketing the revenue, while your skiers enjoy free skiing in Saint-Gervais due to lack of snow on your territory, insufficient staff and unattractive ski lifts,” Peillex wrote.

He went on to share a comparison of the growth of residents in Saint-Gervais since 1980, now overtaking the number of people living in Megève.

Frosty relations

It was the latest in a war of words leveled mainly from the Saint-Gervais mayor’s side.

Peillex is reported (link in French) to have shared a video of a scene from the Adolf Hitler biopic Downfall, tracing the Nazi dictator’s final days in power in 1945. 

The video has often been used as parody, but in this case it doesn’t appear to have been well received, particularly given Peillex’s comments about annexation. It was also shared on the eve of the anniversary of the end of the Second World War.

Representatives for the Saint-Gervais and Megève mayors’ offices didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Saint-Gervais mayor Peillex has made international headlines in the past for his outspoken comments and unique policies.

In August 2022, he said he would begin charging prospective climbers of Mont Blanc a €15,000 ($16,000) deposit that would cover rescue costs and funeral costs if they didn’t make it. 

Saint-Gervais controls the main access point for climbers of Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Western Europe. 

Peillex adopted the policy after a wave of amateur climbers found themselves in need of rescue after attempting to climb the peak.

“People want to climb with death in their backpacks,” he added. “So let’s anticipate the cost of having to rescue them, and for their burial, because it’s unacceptable that French taxpayers should foot the bill.”

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