French Ski Resorts Hear Today If They Can Start Their Lifts

The government had said it would make an announcement on Wednesday 20th but it looks as if the half-term ski holidays will not be happening. It is an economic short-term body blow to the resorts, but some think the right decision in the long run to stop the spread of Covid-19. UPDATED

“There is no question of prioritising economic issues over health issues,” said the Prime Minister, Jean Castex, on French television on Monday evening.

“When the President announced the closure of winter sports stations, he had conditioned their reopening on a decrease in the spread of the virus, with less than 5,000 infections per day. However, we are not there at all,” he added.

One senior official in a major French ski resort has told us “We are 99% sure that alpine ski won’t open”.

The news agency Reuters has said “France’s ski lifts will very likely stay closed until the end of the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a government source told Reuters on Wednesday.”

French ski resorts can have tourists but the lifts haven’t opened since the beginning of the season.

Coronavirus cases in France remain stubbornly high and well over the government’s target of 5,000 cases per day.

Infection rates are higher now than last month with 23,608 cases reported on Tuesday.

In the last 7 days there have been 185 confirmed cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 of population.

There are also fears about the multiple variants of coronavirus detected in the UK, South Africa and Brazil.

The comments of the Prime Minister have been reported across French media, though no formal announcement has been made by the government.

The Health Defence Council meets on Wednesday morning at the Elysee Palace to discuss the situation and make decisions.

The government is at pains to point out the unwelcome and significant impact it will have on the French ski industry.

“We know how important February is, but we also have to deal with these variants that were not expected in December and appeared in late December, early January. It is naturally the health situation that will have to guide decisions,” said the Secretary of State for Tourism, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne.

Here on PlanetSKI we reported on Monday morning on the crunch decision looming:

“The government needs to let us know by January 20 if ski lifts can open or not,” says Eric Bouchet, director of the tourist office at the resort of Les2Alpes in the Isere region of the Alps.

“We can’t just snap our fingers and open, it takes some planning. At some point it will just be too late and not worth opening at all.”

Winter tourism is vital to the mountain economies in France with an estimated 120,000 jobs at stake.

February is the busiest month of the season with the half-term holidays – resorts normally do 35% of their business next month.

“It’s clear that if we do not open in February, the season is finished, and the resorts will have real problems of survival,” said Dominique Marcel, chief executive of the Compagnie des Alpes.

“It’s a matter of life or death for certain parties — that’s not an exaggeration.”

Opening ski lifts with tourists descending is of course a matter of life or death in the battle against Covid-19.

If resorts run their lifts it is expected many thousands of people will come to ski and the spread of the virus will increase, putting extra pressure on an already stretched medical system.

In early December there were demonstrations against closures in many resorts, and protests are continuing ahead of this week’s final decision.

In the resort of Grand Bornand, near Annecy, 75 local ski instructors assembled to highlight “the difficulties faced by all those involved in the mountains and express their solidarity”.

The closure of lifts over Xmas and New Year led to an overall 80% drop in the economic activity of ski resorts compared to the previous year.

Some resorts are described as ‘ghost towns’ with barely a soul around.

“Without our foreign visitors, the Christmas holidays were much quieter than usual with an average occupancy across the 2 weeks of 23%,” said Claire Burnett from the Chamonix tourist office.

“In a normal January week occupancy would be around 25%, (143 000 overnight stays) and the town would be buzzing with all nationalities.

“Current figures record 8% occupancy, a fall of 60%.

In Chamonix, as in all other French ski resorts in the Alps and the Pyrenees, bars and restaurants are closed, except for take-aways.

A 6pm curfew has been introduced across France.

Other French resorts have higher levels of British visitors – Val d’Isere reports 42% and Meribel has a similar percentage.

Even if the lifts do turn the British visitors will not return due to travel restrictions.

France closed its border with Britain on December 20th.

At present only certain groups of people are allowed into France from the UK and they must present a negative Covid-19 test at the border:

  • French or European citizens.
  • Those who live in France or another EU country.
  • Essential workers.

Second-home owners, tourists, people going skiing/snowboarding and those visiting family are barred.

It is partly Covid-19, and partly Brexit.

Should the lifts reopen later this season the resorts will be focusing on domestic tourism.

We have reported earlier on how British operators in Morzine have re-invented themselves in the midst of the pandemic.

UK ski businesses in France adapt to survive in coronavirus pandemic

“The consequence of not opening is the risk of the definitive and irreversible destruction of our economic model,” said the National Association of Mayors of Mountain Resorts, ANMSM.

“70 years of economic development in the mountains must not be destroyed in the space of a few months,” said Jean-Luc Boch, mayor of La Plagne and president of the ANMSM.

France has begun a vaccination programme, but it is a slow affair.

At the weekend France had given the jab to 388,730 people – just 0.58 per cent of the populace.

In a recent opinion poll 40% of people in France said they did not intend to be vaccinated.

Here at PlanetSKI we will bring you immediate news when the French government announces its decision.