I have been going to the Chamonix valley to ski for over 15 years so I tend to take the ski lifts and areas for granted. But in looking into the background to some of the lifts I find that their history is not that old and can be quite controversial. This is a short summary of what it seems happened at the Argentiere ski area and specifically the Retour Pendant chair lift. I have not been able to find a definitive account so this information has been gathered from a number of websites.
The Argentiere ski area celebrates its’ 50th anniversary this year. On the 6th April there is a celebration day and I hope to be there. In fact the society that initiated and managed the lifts at the outset SATAL (société d’aménagement touristique argentière lognan) was formed in 1961. The cable car from Argentiere to Lognan was opened in 1963 and the second one to Grands Montets in 1965. SATAL was incorporated into the company that currently runs lifts in the Chamonix valley Compagnie du Mont Blanc in 2000-2001.
In 1968 the first Bochard chairlift was completed. This was followed by another version in 1981 and a third, the current one, in 1996. I can well remember on my first visit to Chamonix taking the previous version of the lift and struggling to get skis and sticks arranged before the doors closed and disentangled to get out. The photo below is of the first Bochard lift but the second one, the one I rode on, had similar folding doors with skis dangling beneath. I believe it also took 4 people not 2 as in the picture.
The Bochard lift opened up the possibility of skiing in a large area of the mountain known as Pendant (see the map below). Around 1977/8 the tourist interests in the Chamonix valley, in an effort to increase winter tourism, started to exert pressure on SATAL to invest more in the Argentiere area by building a new lift Retour Pendant which would allow easy access to the Pendant area for skiers. SATAL resisted on economic grounds. But, eventually, they were persuaded by a plan that allowed SATAL to also build properties in Argentiere. Both ideas were hotly contested by local residents, the French Alpine Club and environmental groups. However, post 1976 development above 2000m, and this would have been above that height, was under national rather than local control. In 1982 the state approved of the development subject to classification of part of the Argentiere forest as a nature reserve and the formation of a regional tourist board.
There followed a 3 year legal battle with the French Alpine Club arguing against the decision on environmental grounds and the Association for the protection of the haut vallee d’arve arguing against the development in Argentiere. Eventually in 1985 the State Council gave final authorisation for the project and SATAL opened the Retour Pendant lift in 1986.
At the same time SATAL also completed the Plan Joran and Plan Roujon chair lifts.