Ski Resorts in France Await Their Fate

The government will decide by Wednesday if and when the ski resorts can run their lifts. Some fear if there is another delay then the season will effectively be a write off, but it may be necessary to save lives in the battle against Covid-19.

The resorts had been hoping to fire up their lifts on January 8th after the Christmas and New Year holidays.

It was not to be:

Ski resorts in France ordered to keep lifts shut

“The government is well aware of that the sector needs clarity and we are committed to providing this for the rest of the season as quickly as possible,” said the secretary of state for tourism, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, to the AFP news agency at the time.

That clarity is due to come by Wednesday 20th December.

“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.”

Some predict the lifts may turn in early February, other feel the government will not give permission as the factors that caused the earlier closure still exist.

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

The current daily number is 16,642 (Sunday 17th January).

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

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 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 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.

However with cases high and new variants of the virus from the UK, South Africa and Brazil there is no short term end to the current spread of coronavirus.

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 take further sounding ahead of Wednesday and bring you news of whether the lifts will turn when the government in Paris announces its decision.