Talks Continue for a Coordinated Opening of Ski Slopes in the Alps
27th November 2020
Last modified on November 29th, 2020
Austria has indicated it will not support the move led by Germany to stop resorts opening in December and postpone any openings to January. Switzerland will likely keep its resorts open. Pressure is mounting and it is getting highly political. UPDATED
On the one side is France, Italy and Germany.
These nations want the ski lifts to remain shut and are backing a plan not to allow them to open until January 10th as Covid-19 continues to spread.
The Chancellor, Angela Merkel, told the German parliament that efforts were being made to reach a Europe-wide decision.
“The skiing season is approaching, and we will push for a vote in Europe to close all ski resorts,” she told MPs this week.
“I will say this openly that it won’t be easy, but we will try,” Mrs Merkel said after speaking to Germany’s regional leaders.
We reported on the developments on Wednesday, Alpine ski nations discuss a co-ordinated plan to opening.
The State Premier of Bavaria in southern Germany, Markus Söder, has said he planned to keep the resorts in his state shut over the Christmas holidays to combat Covid-19.
He has urged European nations to follow suit.
“I would prefer to have a common agreement on a European level: no ski lifts open, no ski holidays anywhere,” said Söder.
“If we want to keep the borders open, we need a clear agreement on skiing. Otherwise things will get difficult.”
Austria though has taken a very different view.
The Austria Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, said has said it was “not a matter in which the EU should interfere”.
The tourism minister, Elisabeth Köstinger, has joined in saying “Winter holidays in Austria will be safe.”
The Finance Minister, Gernot Blümel, said that if the EU forced the resorts to remain closed, “then they will have to pay for it.”
He has therefore indicated it as a possibility.
“If the European Union actually specifies that the skiing areas must remain closed, then that means costs of up to two billion euro. If the EU really wants that, then it must pay for it,” he said.
If ski resorts have to remain closed, then the EU must pay compensation for lost skiing revenues.” Blümel added.
Covid-19 is surging in Austria with 383 cases per 100,000 people over a 7-day period.
In France it is 174 and Germany 154.
Switzerland stands at 439 and Italy 360.
Wintersports are the life-blood of many parts of the Austrian economy.
In the Tirol one in four jobs is connected to tourism.
The Salzburg governor, Wilfried Haslauer, said his state’s ski resorts are ready to open on December 19th, and said the resorts are well prepared to deal with the annual influx despite the coronavirus pandemic.
Leo Bauernberger, the managing director of the Salzburger Land Tourist office, simply called the German initiative “a crazy idea.”
“I am an ardent European. And tourism thrives on international networking and open borders,” he said.
“Such statements are really from the bottom drawer. You’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater again just for a popular headline,” he said to local media.
Even if Austria remains open then it will likely have very few international visitors due to quarantine regulations.
The all-important German market along with the Dutch and the British will likely stay away, both for fears of covid-19 and quarantine regulations on return to their home country.
Some hotels are considering not opening, whatever the rules, as they have so few bookings anyway.
It simply doesn’t make economic sense.
It is the same for some bars, restaurants and other service providers.
Switzerland, which is not in the EU, has resorts open and is preparing to open more.
At this stage it is highly unlikely it will shut its ski resorts.
We understand Swiss officials are involved in the discussions and one official is quoted as saying “It’s difficult to have only one country open its ski slopes when others close theirs. There needs to be coordination.”
Some in Switzerland are looking to benefit as other nations keep their slopes closed.
“We now may see much early season opportunity for us,” was how one ski business in Verbier put it.
If resorts in Switzerland are seen to be doing well as one of the few alpine nations open then resorts in neighbouring France, Germany and Italy that are closed will not be best pleased – and that is putting it mildly.
Markus Häsler, the chief executive of Zermatt’s ski lift and railway operator, said to the Swiss news web site, SwissInfo, that Italian and German calls to close resorts were nothing but “hot air”.
Switzerland, he said, “will never ever go along”.
The Luzerner Zeitung, a Swiss newspaper, warned its readers to prepare for a “ski war” with Europe.
“In Switzerland, we can go skiing, with protection plans in place,” said the Swiss Health Minister, Alain Berset.
He did though indicate the possibility of a change of position.
“The situation remains very serious and very unstable…and we have not decided yet how it will go in future.”
He said Bern was in close contact with neighbouring countries and Swiss cantons.
He admitted tensions would grow if Swiss ski resorts were the only ones open.
“We will have to discuss this with the cantons but we are a sovereign country and can decide ourselves what the facts are on our territory,” he added.
Decisions on what parts of the economy are shut down are generally left to the Swiss cantons at a local level.
Tourism bosses have strong influence.
The Federal Government in Bern can step in if it deems the situation unsafe and the snowsports industry has less, but still significant influence, at this level.
It should be stressed that Switzerland, like Austria, has strict social distancing measures and anti Covid-19 measures in place.
Earlier this month the police came out in Zermatt after reports of over-crowding.
If some countries open their slopes and others don’t, then there are going to be some strange situations for resorts that share cross border ski areas.
Zermatt in Switzerland will remain open, but the linked Italian resort Cervinia will be closed. They have a joint lift pass.
Italians living in the Aosta Valley, which has four times the national average of Covid-19 cases, will not be able to ski in their local resorts.
But they will be able to drive through the St Bernard tunnel and ski in Verbier which is just over an hour away in Switzerland.
The Portes du Soleil straddles Switzerland and France.
So, the French resorts of Morzine, Les Gets and Avoriaz will be closed.
But Champery, Les Crosets and Morgins will be open.
There are already quarantine measures in place between various alpine countries that affect travel between the various countries.
Last month Germany issued travel warnings for ski regions in Austria, Italy and Switzerland.
The nuclear option would be closure of borders to skiers to stop nationals of France, Italy and Germany going to the countries that keep their slopes open.
At the moment this is not being talked about.