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Past, present and future

Chronology

The Maurienne Valley lay covered by glaciers until the end of the Quaternary Period. Its earliest inhabitants settled on the flanks of the valley, waiting for the ice to retreat. Tangible proof of these early settlers can be found in the various roches à cupules, primitive carved stones, found in the Merlet (St Alban) and Col du Glandon (St Colomban).

The Médule period : first invasion. During the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, the valley was invaded by Médule settlers from provence. These people lived off the land, constructed wooden huts or lived in caves carved into the rock, such as those found today beneath Montrond (alongside the road leading to the Col du Glandon).

The Roman era : the valley began to enjoy the peace imposed by the Romans, who also constructed the first roads, inclunding the route up the Vallée de l'Eau d'Olle (alongside the present Barrage de Grand Maison).

During the 11th and 12th centuries : the Vallée des Villards experienced a period of rapid growth, with churches and chapels being built in even the most isolated villages. It is thought that at some time a Benedictine priory was built above Saint Colomban. Today just an iron grid survives, which now serves as a portal at the Chapel of St Roch in the hamlet of La Chal.

In 1561 : official records for the gabelle or salt tax listed 1,699 inhabitants residing in the Vallée des Villards.

In 1793 : priests who rejected the civic oath were persecuted and religious or sacred place names were changed. As a result, St Alban des Villards became Merlet and St Colomban becane Glandon, names for the mountain streams that pass through the two villages.

1860 : marked not just a turning point in French political life, it also highlighted an important demographic shift - a decline that began in 1848 and would last for well over a century - as a consequence of technological progress and eventually as a way of thinking. At this point the valley had a population of around 3,000 inhabitants.

From the Middle Ages onwards : the inhabitants of Savoie had begun to leave home in search of work. In spite fo famine, epidemic and war, the population expanded rapidly during the 18th and 19th centuries, producing large families of between 8 and 10 children.

Ressources were insufficient to support entire families. During the winter months, the dead season, the women, children and elderly were able to look after work on the farm by themselves. So the menfolk left home to earn money as chimneysweeps or peddlers.

With their bundles and baskets weighing as much as 40-50 kg, the peddlers travelled from village to village and from fair to fair, selling their modest wares : fabrics, handkerchiefs, bonnets, scarves, ribbons, buttons, needles, combs. They travelled on foot, occasionally with a mule or a donkey to carry their pakcs. And when the fine weather returned, they would head back to their villages with their meagre savings.

As almost everywhere in France, the first World War marked a decisive watershed and accelerated the decline of Villarin society. No one who heard the bell ringing that day in early August 1914 could have predicted the significance of its grim chiming...

For the war was to drag on, cutting a swathe through the promise of Villarin youth : 67 names are inscribed on the war memorial of Saint Colomban; 49 names on that of Saint Alban. The numbers represent at least a third of all those mobilised in the valley, and left many families mourning the loss of two or three of its members killed in action.

A few key dates

  • 1905 : Two hotels at the heart of St Colomban open their doors to the first holidaymakers
  • 1958 : Opening of ski tow at Le Châtelet
  • 1966 : Opening of ski tow at La Pierre
  • 1972 : ESF ski school established
  • 1977 : Opening of the first municipal gîtes (hostels)
  • 1986 : Construction of tennis court
  • 1988 : Opening of l'Ormet chairlift and Le Coin ski tow
  • 1989 : Office de Tourisme established
  • 1990 : Construction of football pitch
  • 1992 : Construction of artificial climbing wall
  • 1994 : Construction of Residence La Perrière (37 appartments)
  • 1996 : Installation of snow cannons at the foot of the slopes
  • 1997 : Opening of a village store (grocery/bar/bread) at St Alban. Construction of a reception building at the foot of the ski slopes (ESF/lift passes/first aid point/ski lift maintenance/ski lockers/ indoor picnic area).
  • 1998 : Construction of the via ferrata at La Chal, including climbing route for school use. Initial phase of Bellard project realised: construction of La Charmette chairlift and Le Cuinat ski tow ( 2080 m). Initial phase towards developing the ski area at L'Ouillon.
  • 1999 : Construction of hostel accomodation (gîte) at La Pierre (15 beds). Launch of first phase of real estate and construction programmes.
  • 2000 : Network of artificial snow-making facilities goes into service on L'Ormet (17 cannons). Work begins on campsite development at Saint Colomban (40 sites).
  • 2001 : Opening of municipal campsite at Saint Colomban. Displacement and reinstallation of ski tows at Rougemont and Le Coin. Installation of 10 additional snow cannons.
  • 2002 : Construction of the Bellard chairlift (2230 m). Creation of a multi-purpose sports facility.
  • 2003 : Creation of recreation area and small lake at La Perrière. Opening of Les Sybelles ski area (linking the 6 resorts of Saint Colomban des Villards, Saint Jean and Saint Sorlin d'Avres, La Toussuire, Le Corbier and Les Bottières) with 310 km of ski trails.
  • Winter 2007 : Publication of a topographical guide featuring 60 ski touring routes in the Vallée des Villards, including classic itineraries such as the Col du Merlet, Cime du Sambuis, la Selle de Puy Gris, la Combe Madame.
  • Winter 2007 : Creation of the new Maison du Tourisme et de la Montagne and restoration of the Salle des Fêtes.
  • Summer 2007 : Access to L'Ormet chairflift for mountain-bikers.
  • Winter 2008 : Opening of the campsite at La Perrière during winter season.
  • Spring 2008 : Development of a recreation area at the hamlet of Premier Villard (boules court).
  • Summer 2008 : Development of the Jean-Noël FAVRE-BONTE recreation area (boules court / children's play area).

Innovations

- New road with direct access to the foot of the ski slopes, avoiding the village centre and creating a more welcoming environment for pedestrians and coaches.

- Complete brush-cutting of the En Tarchant blakc trail from L'Ormet chairlift.

- Creation of new storage facility for explosives in L'Ormet sector to improve the task of piste security.

Projects

- Erection of new mobile telephone relay antenna at L'Ormet.

- Residential tourist facility. New upscale accommodation at the foot of the slopes in the hamlet of Balmettes; 415 beds in chalets of stone and wood construction with integrated swimming pool.

- Extension of the Residence La Perrière, including construction of a new building with approx. 60 beds adjacent to the recreation area.

- Upgrading of traffic routing through the village centre, with a specific focus on safety, redevelopment of the square and parking facilities.

- Upgrading of ski slopes and platform at resort base; Rougemont slope to be redesigned (closure of old route used in summer).

- Improvements to security measures returning from Charmette chairlift (Ecolors sector).

- Creation of a blue return sloe for L'Ormet sector to facilitate returning to resort base.

- Commercial development of resort base area, including four two-storey buildings with flat roofs to provide a fixed link between buildings and access to essential services and shops (bar, children's area, etc.)

- Second phase of development at La Perrière, with extension to the tourist residence adjoining the artificial lake and campsite.