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Crucial Week for Ski Season Start in the Alps

Some ski nations want the slopes to remain closed until January in a co-ordinated effort to fight Covid-19. Others say ‘No Way’. Talks this week will likely decide the outcome.

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If you want to ski we should know soon whether ski resorts will open in December, allowing you and others to hit the slopes over the festive period, have fun and benefit the local snowsports economy.

Or if you prefer them to remain shut as the pandemic is very much around, you’ll find out whether the resorts will remain closed, helping to keep covid-19 at bay, fighting hospitals becoming overrun with patients and saving lives.

The stakes are high and being examined at the very top level of governments across the Alps.

Germany’s Angela Merkel is leading the camp wanting measures in place to keep resorts closed, while at the other end Switzerland is ignoring all calls to shut, saying it is skiing as usual and its Covid-19 measures in place are perfectly fine to stop the spread.

The rest are at varying positions between the two.

The German government has urged other European Union member states to hold off from opening ski resorts until coronavirus infections have gone down.

Today, Monday 30th November, a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel suggested that European countries should take a co-ordinated approach to relaxing restrictions.

“It doesn’t make sense to undermine national contact restrictions… by starting the ski season too early,” said Steffen Seibert.

We have been following events closely this past week.

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Pitztal, Tirol, Austria

So, what is the position of the various skiing nations as we start this crucial week, and what will be the likely outcome be?

Austria

The Austria Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, said has said it was “not a matter in which the EU should interfere”.

The current lock down in Austria comes to an end on December 6th and the plans are for resorts to open, with strict covid-19 precautions in place.

Many are looking at an opening date of December 19th, though a handful of glacier resorts have already opened but have been closed to the general public by current lockdown measures.

The authorities have admitted that closure is a possibility, and if this happens they’ve demanded compensation from the EU.

Austria’s finance minister, Gernot Blümel, said that if the EU really wanted to close a sector that would cost his economy €2bn (£1.8bn), then the EU should foot the bill.

It is claimed closure would cost €500 million per week in Austria.

France

President Macron said coronavirus risks made it “impossible” to envisage winter sports to resume quickly. He wants a plan for a re-opening of the resorts in January “under favourable conditions”.

France has more 300 ski resorts and provides work for 120,000 people, of which around 40,000 are seasonal.

It generates an estimated €10 billion each year.

Many resorts are due to open on December 19th.

The French Prime Minister, Jean Castex, said that the country’s ski stations would not reopen for skiing over the Christmas holidays, although he did not specify what would happen for New Year.

France is committed to making a decision for its resorts in the middle of this week.

It has said resorts themselves may open – but following strict regulations and only ski touring, cross-country and snow shoeing will be allowed.

Germany

Angela Merkel has said “The ski season is approaching. We are trying to come to an agreement in Europe on whether we manage to close down all ski resorts,

She said “Unfortunately… when we hear from Austria it does not seem we can succeed easily, but we will try once again.”

German states called on the federal government at a meeting Wednesday to work at the European level to ensure that ski tourism is not permitted before January 10th.

Germany issued travel warnings last month for popular ski regions in Austria, Italy and Switzerland so citizens may face quarantine or other measures if they head elsewhere to ski.

Resorts in Bavaria have already said that skiing will not be permitted in December.

Italy

The Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, said it is not possible “to allow holidays on the snow. We cannot afford it”. He added that “everything that revolves around holidays on the snow is uncontrollable.”

The current lockdown in Italy ends on December 3rd.

Italians authorities are keen on keeping resorts closed and is supporting the calls from Austria, demanding compensation from the EU which will likely run into billions of euros.

Italian ski resorts bring in an estimated €11bn a year.

The Italian authorities are stressing that it is a ‘European problem’ because if Italy were to decide to close its ski resorts without being supported by similar decisions in Austria and France, Italian tourists could carry home Covid-19 infections from the slopes of neighbouring countries.

Switzerland

Switzerland is not in the EU and can therefore act independently of the bloc, but it will not be free from diplomatic pressure at the highest level to fall in line.

The President of Switzerland, Simonetta Sommaruga, said she was “counting on the population to help us ensure this is a successful winter.”

“In Switzerland, the government, the authorities and the tourism industry are all convinced that the Swiss way is for now the right one, and that the winter season can go ahead safely,” added a spokeswoman for the national tourism office, Veronique Kanel.

Resorts remain open in Switzerland including Zermatt, Verbier, Saas-Fee, Andermatt, Davos/Klosters and Engleberg.

Switzerland has safety measures in place with social distancing in queues, reduced numbers in cable cars, obligatory mask-wearing in ski buses, trains, lifts and gondolas.

The head of the Zermatt lift company, Markus Häsler, has said Switzerland “will never ever go along” with plans to close the resorts.

However it will not be him who makes the decision and he will simply have to follows instructions from higher levels.

At the moment higher levels in Switzerland support staying open.

“We’ll ski at Christmas,” said the regional government chief in Valais canton, Christophe Darbellay.

The real decisions though will be made at Federal level in Bern.

The Rest across Europe

Sweden currently has ski resorts open, including Idre Fjall.

Others are set to open in December.

The country has tightened Covid-19 restrictions in recently, but has never imposed a national lockdown.

Finland has the resorts of Ruka and Levi already open.

No resorts in Norway are currently open.

Norway’s government has just extended coronavirus restrictions by three weeks,

It says it aims for the country’s Christmas celebrations to be as normal as possible.

“We need more time, and we need to see a clear downward trend in infections before we consider opening,” said Prime Minister Erna Solberg.

Bulgaria, which is in the EU, has rejected calls to shut ski resorts.

Slovenia and Spain intend to operate in December, but have not given further details.

There is no firm word from Andorra.

This week will likely see decisions taken in the Alps or at the very least we should get some sort of indication of which way the tide is going.

As always at PlanetSKI we’ll keep you posted…

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