The end of a lengthy procedure against snowmobiles’ use

For many years, three snowmobile rental companies took advantage of an illegal municipal authorization to operate 70 of these machines in the French ski resorts of Les Menuires and Val Thorens (Savoy). Minutes by the Police lead to the conviction of three operators by the Moutiers Court on 16 May 2007. The town of Saint-Martin-de-Belleville, to which belong these resorts launched a New Tourism Unit (Unité Touristique Nouvelle – UTN) procedure to request the opening of two snowmobiles’ leisure fields, one in Les Menuires, the other one in Val Thorens.

On October 14, 2009, a decree of the Alps Range Prefect opened to snowmobiles traffic two “circuits”, one 9.5 km long over Les Menuires, the other 8 km long in Val Thorens. The nature protection associations nevertheless explained to the decision-makers that these “circuits” did not meet the criteria to be allowed. So the FRAPNA Savoy and Mountain Wilderness France logically challenged this authorization before the administrative court, arguing that it did not observed the rules of the 1991 Lalonde Act and would create a dangerous jurisprudence.

In its judgment of 30 December 2011, the Grenoble Administrative Court annulled the decree on the ground that the ways authorized by the UTN procedure did not actually constituted circuits under the provisions of the 1991 Act. The town of Saint-Martin-de-Belleville having appealed this ruling, the Administrative Appeal Court of Lyon, by a decision of 13 November 2012, confirmed the cancellation of the authorization. The town, which presents itself as a model of sustainable development decided again to appeal this ruling.

By a judgment of 5 November 2014, the State Council has supported the position of the associations and confirmed the cancellation of the UTN order of October 2009. The town must now remove the municipal authorizations to the snowmobiles’ rental companies.

This judgment calls in a debate on the handling of snowmobiles and assimilated devices in the mountains.