French Ski Lifts to Remain Shut into February & Likely Beyond

It is a bitter blow for the resorts and means the half term holiday period is likely gone with a huge impact. The government says it is a necessary measure and it puts the health of the nation above economic issues. UPDATED

The Secretary of State for Tourism, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, said on Wednesday that there would be “no reopening of the ski lifts by February 1st”.

He went on to add that “the prospect of reopening in mid or late February” also seems “highly improbable”.

He held a video conference call with senior figures in the French snowsports industry to convey the news.

Over the next few days the Prime Minister, Jean Castex, will have talks with mountain representatives to discuss, and offer, economic support measures.

Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said “the snow cannons are not going to work, the compensation cannons must be there”.

In the main  Savoie Mont Blanc ares, home to 112 resorts, it is estimated  the tourist revenue drop will exceed €4 billion by the end of the February holidays and could be increased to €5.8 billion  in the event of subsequent restrictions.

The overall French ski market across the Alps and the Pyrenees is worth €12 billion.

The news has come as no real surprise and was widely predicted.

One major resort in France that we heard from on Wednesday morning ahead of the decision said “we are 99% sure that alpine ski won’t open.”

The Reuters news agency, quoting government sources, said “France’s ski lifts will very likely stay closed until the end of the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

So it turned out to be.

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

A more infectious coronavirus variant is expected to spread rapidly through France in the coming month, medical advisors said on Wednesday, raising fears of hospitals being swamped and another lockdown required.

“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.

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

The eastern Alpine areas are among those particularly badly hit, with local hospitals under severe pressure.

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, earlier this month.

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

Economic Impact

The news is an economic body blow for the resorts that make around a third of their revenue in February and that now appears to be a non-starter.

Some businesses are considering writing off the entire season.

“At some point it will just be too late and not worth opening at all,” said Eric Bouchet, director of the tourist office at the resort of Les2Alpes in the Isere region of the Alps.

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

Appealing to the domestic French market as UK visitors are unable to travel.

The continuing closure of lifts will be a further blow to them, and the other resorts in France that have a strong British presence.

Some UK operators have already shut their entire winter programme to France.

Others have limited them.

Inghams suspends all ski holidays until the end of February

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

“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.”

See here for further reaction on the decision in a separate story on PlanetSKI:

Reaction as ski lifts remain closed in France

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.

Opposition from the Mountains

One resort in the southern French Alps, Risoul  said this ahead of the decision and gave a demonstration of how things could look using seasonal staff.

“We are ready, we have had time to prepare for this special season. We demonstrate it in pictures. The decision is no longer ours. Whatever happens with or without a ski, Risoul will welcome you with a smile.”

In early December there were demonstrations against closures in many resorts, and protests continued  ahead of today’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.

British Absent from the French Alps

“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 did 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.

Many resorts are focusing on domestic tourism, though that is now limited with the decision to keep lifts closed into February.

“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.