By taking the cable car connecting one of the summits of the Swiss ski area of Verbier, where the staff wear plexiglass visors, it is clear that the Covid has, as in town, changed habits.
“The gondola windows are open all day. Ventilation, masks, hydroalcoholic gel, distancing: it is an addition of protective measures ”, explains Laurent Vaucher, director of Téléverbier, one of the largest ski lift companies in French-speaking Switzerland. In Verbier (VS), as in other areas, the police, not far from the departure area of the cable cars, ensure that the anticoronavirus rules are respected.
After the end of the season cut short in mid-March by the first wave of the pandemic, Swiss ski resorts are banking on strengthening health measures and on Swiss city dwellers’ thirst for escape. And, even if the younger generations are less attracted to winter sports than their parents or grandparents, “that does not mean that they do not ski”, explains Laurent Vanat, author of an annual report on the global ski market.
In addition, adds sport historian Grégory Quin, “the diversification of tourism made possible in particular by low-cost airlines works against skiing, which is very expensive and must compete with other activities”. But with the Covid, he said, “the Swiss may have learned to prefer to go to Verbier rather than Bali”.
If the restaurants are closed, the slopes of Verbier are taken by storm by regional customers at the start of the season. Like Ludovic Guigoz, 40, who wears a neck strap with a Covid filter. “The virus is a drag. But coming to ski in the morning, it’s reasonable. I feel safe, ”he says, before hitting the trail with the family.
The closure of the slopes in March raised fears of the worst for the sector. Especially since the second wave hit Switzerland hard this fall, with regional incidence rates among the highest in Europe. But the ski areas have adapted: wearing a mask is mandatory not only in closed cabins, but now also on outdoor facilities (chair lifts and ski lifts) and in queues, including those at open sky. “Wearing a mask is compulsory everywhere. Except on the slopes, in order to enjoy the great outdoors, ”summarizes the former Olympic ski champion Didier Défago, president of the Valais ski lifts (RMV).
Do as well as in summer
The resorts also hope that the Swiss, who took the mountains by storm this summer, will also be more likely to come and enjoy the ski areas. “Everyone on the track!” Is the slogan launched in the fall by the Swiss ski lift association.
“This is where we have a card to play,” assures the director of Téléverbier, who has given up on American and Asian customers. Beam of hope, European tourists should be able to come to Switzerland to ski in Switzerland at Christmas, as the government has taken most European countries off its red quarantine list. It remains to be seen whether they will be able to leave their country, many of them being confined, like the British, very fond of Swiss slopes.
Covid obliges, a good number of resorts should not be able to count on the receipts of the après-ski, nor on the school camps, banned by several cantons. However, these camps “represent between 5 and 30% of the turnover of the resorts, depending on their dependence on this type of tourism”, notes Grégory Quin, sports historian at the University of Lausanne.
For the moment in any case, the skiers are there. By the end of October, some 110,000 people had already subscribed to the Magic Pass, which allows skiing in more than 30 resorts, mainly in French-speaking Switzerland. The low cost package thus attracted more customers than the previous season.