Coping with Covid-19 in the Alps
17th February 2021
Last modified on May 20th, 2021
It is a year since coronavirus started to spread widely in Europe. In our occasional series we hear from PlanetSKI readers who have lived through it out in the mountains. Here’s Kevin Young from near Chamonix…
I met James Cove from PlanetSKI more years ago than I care to mention when I worked in snowsports retail in the UK.
During the 2019/20 season I had been in touch with James, he is a big fan of the Elan Ripsticks and was keen to test the latest versions.
He was living in Aosta in Italy last winter just through the Mont Blanc tunnel from where I live.
We made a plan to ski together for a day in Courmayeur, I had five pairs of test skis for us to play with, we penciled Wednesday the 4th of March into our diaries.
Then things changed.
We had to cancel our plans. Lots of plans had to be cancelled.
The ski lifts all closed, then came lockdown.
There were two days of bliss, ski touring around deserted ski resorts, then came the real lockdown.
I was only allowed to leave home with a signed paperwork stating that I was out for an approved reason.
I was allowed to exercise away from home for 1 hour a day within a 1km radius of my house.
This lasted for 2 months, it was tedious.
Springtime in the Alps was sunny, the garden got lots of attention, as did all those DIY jobs lingering at the bottom of the jobs list.
Dogs had never had so many walks.
And we saw no one.
Socialising was not allowed during that time, and we were being cautious, trying to stay healthy.
In late spring restrictions eased and by the time the summer holiday period arrived bars and restaurants were allowed to open so long as they observed the social distancing rules.
The tourists flooded into the Alps.
One afternoon in late June I came back from the supermarket (probably my most dangerous activity) shocked by what I had seen.
The car park was chock-full, there were cars from all over France and many other countries.
There were families shopping together in the supermarket with trolleys piled high, stocking up their holiday homes.
It was hard to move freely around the shop, and the queues were like you see the week before Christmas.
Visiting tourists were pleased to find others also enjoying summer in the Alps, rather than spending their holiday in a ghost town as some expected.
This mystified me.
Why would you be pleased to be in a crowded place full of strangers during a pandemic?
Why did you all come here at all?
Holidays are not essential travel.
Summer continued like this until September came and people went home.
I spent the summer avoiding crowded tourist spots as much as I could and there was a collective sigh of relief among the locals when the tourists had gone.
Living here tourism is just a normal part of life, but this year was different and we were pleased to get our town back.
The autumn weather was perfect.
I spent many days motorbiking, mountain biking and hiking.
I started to think about getting fit for the ski season, I bought my season pass, winter was in the air.
There was a second lockdown.
Then the rumours came.
Would the ski resorts open for Christmas?
Covid cases were rising fast, local hospitals were full.
Some were sending patients to other hospitals, some as far away as Germany.
In France the Alps were second only to Paris in numbers of Covid cases.
A legacy of the summer tourist season and the relaxed regulations of summer?
I certainly think so.
Businesses thought the summer season was tough, but not to open for Christmas was unthinkable.
As I write this it’s February and everything is still closed and no sign of an opening date.
The tourists came back over the Christmas period despite the 8pm curfew and no ski lifts.
The streets were busy again, there were outside bars for takeaway only (but no one moved too far from the bar).
I stayed home away from the crowds.
On the mountain there were lots of people ski touring around the closed resort runs, and snow shoeing has never been so popular.
Cross county ski areas are open and were very busy over the holidays I avoided it.
I’m fed up of reading how skiing is an outdoor sport and isn’t going to spread the virus.
Or that tourism is safe because a government has allowed it.
The virus can’t spread itself; people spread it by travelling around and interacting with others.
It’s that simple.
Maybe it didn’t feel like that in back in March 2020, but in hindsight it is that simple.
When people travel they contact people along the way in airports, ferries, train stations, bus stations, petrol stations, car rental desks, snack bars and coffee shops.
All great places to share germs.
Then they arrive here and relax into their holiday.
While on holiday they go to shops, use public transport, visit attractions and take part in various activities.
Then they go home leaving their germs behind for the local community to deal with.
My 82 year old neighbour has to stand in the same queue at the supermarket as the tourists.
It adds a lot of risk for people like her, is that an acceptable risk, or an unnecessary risk?
The tourist makes a decision based on their level of acceptable risk but they don’t realise the wider risk they impose on others more vulnerable than them.
Living here I am lucky that I can go ski touring, and I feel lucky every time I go.
However, I have not been able to visit the UK to work as I usually would or to visit my family.
My father has been admitted to hospital twice since Covid arrived in our lives but I have not been able to travel to see him.
He’s fine now, but there were some tough days.
When I decided to live here 5 years ago I was only a day away from the UK if there was an emergency.
Not any more, not until a vaccine gives us back our freedom.
I hope it comes soon.
In the meantime there is much to be grateful for.
All images c/o Kevin Young.