A French Alpine ski school lost 90% of its Russian oligarch clients this year — but it stayed afloat thanks to its wealthy Arab customers

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  • Few Russian tourists have visited the Alpine ski resorts of Courchevel amid the Ukraine war. 
  • Their absence is keenly felt by a ski school where 90% of its Russian clients canceled bookings. 
  • The owner of Ski5 Star told Insider he is not hopeful about Russian reservations next year either. 

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The owner of a ski school nestled in the French Alpine resort of Courchevel said the majority of his high-profile Russian clients canceled bookings as a result of the Ukraine war. 

Filippo Casaccia of Ski5 Star, a private ski instructor and concierge service, said his company is popular among Russian oligarchs and ultra-wealthy Arabs, including the latter country’s royal family.

Before the war, business was steady, Casaccia said. But then his Russian clients got hit with sanctions. He told Insider that his ski school experienced a cancelation rate of 90% from its Russian customers as a result.

Casaccia says his business was saved, however, by his wealthy Arab customers. “We’ve been lucky because we still work with Arabs, which compensates the missing Russians,” he added.  

Wealthy Russians have appeared to desert luxury Alpine ski resorts ever since Russia invaded Ukraine. Their disappearance, especially in the exclusive neighborhood of Courchevel 1850, has left high-end chalet operators concerned. One told Insider there was a noticeable absence of requests for next year from Russians, who tended to book the more expensive properties, which can cost up to $250,000 a week. 

Five-star hotels in Courchevel have also felt the impact of fewer Russian visitors. The head of reservations at Six Senses Residences and Spa, Angela Lavandier, told Insider that almost all its big-spending Russian guests forwarded their deposits for use the next ski season after the war broke out. 

Some Russians even struggled to pay their hotel bills, according to Casaccia. He said some of the Courchevel-based hotel staff he knew mentioned that there were at least one million dollars in outstanding bills from Russian customers.

Russian oligarchs have reported the hardships they endure in the face of Western sanctions. Sanctioned oligarch Petr Aven told the Financial Times last month that he was struggling to pay bills and didn’t “understand how to survive,” amid the penalties levied against him. 

In Casaccia’s case, his Russian clients gave very general reasons for canceling. He added that there had been no Russian reservations for next year and that he and his team were “not positive” about the outlook. “I think it’ll take more than a year until they come back,” he said. “The situation will not be stabilized by next winter.”

In absence of rich Russian customers, Casaccia said his team will be working to expand their customer base, with a focus on building relations with a recent influx of Brazilian clients. 

“We discovered a lot of Brazilians this winter since they couldn’t go to America due to COVID-19 regulations, and so they were attracted to ski resorts in Courchevel,” said Casaccia, adding that he anticipates there will be even more Brazilians arriving next year. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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