In theory, as the Christmas holidays approach, it is the amount of snow that should primarily worry ski enthusiasts in Europe. But this year, they must first deal with the uncertainty hovering over the opening of the stations, for fear of worsening the Covid-19 epidemic.
The European Commission said the decision to open the stations was up to governments. “The first thing to know is that the decision to authorize skiing or not is a national competence. It is not a European competence,” said a spokesperson for the committee Stefan de Keersmaecker. And “obviously, he added, there is no single approach for the gradual, scientific and effective lifting of containment measures.”
The EU therefore does not intend to impose a common rule, to the chagrin of Berlin, which calls for a general ban. Between Germany, which will close its slopes to skiers, and Austria, which does not want to sacrifice its tourism, the white gold season in Europe will start in dispersed order. Mountain horizon tour.
Having invited its population not to go abroad during the Christmas holidays, in particular to skiing, Berlin will ask the European Union to ban stays in winter sports resorts until January 10, which are favorable to the spread of the virus. Bavaria has already decided and will not open its ski areas for the end of the year.
“We still have to make efforts (…) the number of daily infections is still at a much too high level,” Chancellor Angela Merkel explained at a press conference. “We simply cannot envisage a classic ski vacation,” says Bavarian State President Markus Söder. And beware of those who want to cross the border to hurtle down the slopes of neighboring Austria. It will cost them ten days of quarantine on their return, even for a day trip.
- France without a ski lift
Snowshoes, tobogganing, hiking, sledding in open resorts but … without the possibility of skiing: the government decision presented Thursday by the Prime Minister arouses the incomprehension of the actors of the mountain who speak of “aberration” and intend to fight to save the crucial Christmas season.
After the presidential cold shower on Tuesday, Jean Castex detailed the possible “opening” of ski resorts for the end of the year holidays: a “yes but” without ski lifts or “public facilities”. In the name of “very important flows of population” and activities “likely to solicit” hospitals.
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The government’s announcement, “it’s totally incomprehensible,” responded Jean-Luc Boch, president of the National Association of Mayors of Mountain Resorts (ANMSM) and of France Montagnes, an organization promoting the destination. “We must be told clearly that we want to kill the stations. We must be told!”, The president of the ANMSM angry.
As for the argument of the situation of hospitals close to saturation because of the Covid-19, “remember that 92 to 94% of ski accident victims are treated in resort surgeries. And there is also a lot of space in clinics private, “he insisted.
Cancellations, if it is not possible to ski, will be “gigantic”, warned Alexandre Maulin, president of Domaines skiables de France (DSF), operator of ski lifts for 250 French resorts. Especially since restaurants and bars must still remain closed until at least mid-January.
- Austria resists
Although Austria will be confined again until December 7, its ski lifts plan to restart in time for Christmas. The country is Europe’s leading ski destination and one of the most dependent on winter tourism.
A Christmas shutdown would be “catastrophic not only for us, but for the whole country,” said Conservative MP Franz Hörl, director of the Association of Ski Lift Operators. “We live not 100% tourism, but 110%”, emphasizes Andreas Steibl, responsible for tourism at the Ischgl resort, who fears the specter of a white season.
According to the Conservative Minister of Finance, keeping infrastructure shutdown would result in a loss of two billion euros. “If the EU really wants this, then it will have to pay,” said Gernot Blümel, suggesting that his country would demand compensation. Each winter, the snow-capped slopes of the province of Tyrol alone attract more than six million tourists.
- Switzerland and Bulgaria open anyway
Some areas have already opened in Switzerland and the country, which is not part of the EU, intends to combine health protocols and economic imperatives to open its stations during the holidays, for economic reasons similar to those put forward in Austria. “In particular in French-speaking Switzerland, we have taken decisions with serious consequences – the closure of restaurants to take this example – precisely to preserve the holiday season because these are essential from an economic point of view”, explained the Minister of Vaud economy Philippe Leuba at RTS.
“In Switzerland, we can go skiing, with protection plans,” Health Minister Alain Berset assured Thursday, stressing that the government would re-examine the situation before the end of year celebrations. Because even if the cantons decide on the opening of the stations, the government can have a say.
The health protection plan drawn up by the Swiss ski lifts for more than 2,400 installations (ski lifts, chairlifts, cable cars, etc.) was favorably received by the authorities. This concept “including the compulsory use of protective masks in and on all ski lifts, as well as in waiting areas, constitutes a good basis for safe winter sports”, explained on public television SRF, Rudolf Hauri, President of the Association of Cantonal Doctors of Switzerland. Everything doesn’t always go perfectly, and a photo of skiers huddled together in a queue in Zermatt in November shocked and forced the police into it.
For a few weeks now, the Swiss have been able to hit the slopes like in Verbier, Gstaad or Saas-Fee. In Valais (southwest), one of the country’s main ski regions alongside Graubünden (east) and the Bernese Oberland (center), the president of the cantonal executive, Christophe Darbellay, assured the l ‘AFP: “We will ski at Christmas”. In the region, hotels are already open, and restaurants are due to open in mid-December.
Another popular destination, the Bansko resort in Bulgaria, a European mecca for “low cost” skiing, is also planning to open as the country faces an outbreak of the epidemic and saturation of hospital services.
- Italy and Spain wait-and-see
The head of the Italian government Giuseppe Conte this week evoked the idea of coordination with France and Germany with a view to a “common European protocol” on the ski season. “It is not possible to allow a vacation in the snow, we cannot afford it,” he said. The main ski regions (Piedmont, Lombardy or Alto Adige) are currently in a “red” epidemic zone where all trips outside their own municipality are prohibited, except for justified reasons.
Negotiations are open between Rome and these regions, which fear major economic consequences in the event of prolonged closure of the estates. Giovanni Brasso, boss of the company which manages the Via Lattea estate in Sestriere explains that he earns “45% of (his) income for the whole season during the Christmas holidays”.
Spain, meanwhile, plans for now to open its ski resorts, but the conditions remain to be defined between the central government and the regions, according to the Minister of Health, Salvador Illa. “For now, we plan to open on December 11 (…) nobody told us that we could not open,” said a spokeswoman for the private manager of the large Baqueira Beret station located in the Val d’Aran (Catalonia). However, the resort offers insurance on its website in the event that it is impossible to ski because of the pandemic.
Lbest of all worlds