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French ski resorts have been warned they are unlikely to be allowed to fully reopen in time for the half-term school holidays, normally one of the busiest times of the year.
The government has announced that lifts and cable cars must remain closed due to the continuing Covid-19 spread. Ski resorts had been hoping to restart the lifts on 1 February in time for what are known as the winter sports holidays, when they are usually packed.
The government decision means the season is likely to be a write-off for the winter sports sector in France that employs up to 400,000 people directly and indirectly and is worth around €11bn (£9.7bn) a year.
France’s mountain resorts are open, but restaurants and bars remain shut and there is a 6pm curfew across the country. Cross-country skiing and snow-walking continue but the more popular downhill skiing and snowboarding is not possible without lifts and cable cars.
The ski stations had hoped ministers would allow this vital infrastructure to reopen on 1 February, but the tourist minister, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, has announced this will not happen. And he warned that reopening in mid- or late-February “seems highly unlikely”.
Speaking after a defence council meeting headed by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, on Wednesday to consider easing or tightening coronavirus restrictions, Lemoyne acknowledged the government’s decision was a blow for the sector.
“We are looking at a saison blanche (a white season),” Lemoyne said. The term does not refer to the amount of snow, which has been copious this year, but that it will be a non-event.
The decision is particularly galling as ski lifts are open in neighbouring Switzerland. Resorts in Italy will not reopen before mid-February at the earliest, and ski stations in Spain and Austria that remain open are open only to locals.
“The government is well aware that the sector needs clarity and we are committed to providing this with regard to the rest of the season as quickly as possible,” Lemoyne added.
Domaines Skiables de France (DSF), the professional body representing 200 of France’s ski stations, had demanded a “firm decision” from the government by Wednesday but did not get the one it had hoped for. DSF officials described Lemoyne’s announcement as a “catastrophe”.
France’s February school break is stretched to four weeks for maximum benefit to the winter sports sector. The country is divided into three geographic sectors each of which has a fortnight off, with at least one concurrent week a sector.
Alexandre Maulin, DSF president, said members felt “frustrated and angry” and that they had been “sacrificed”. Maulin said he did not believe the ski resorts would be able to resume normal business at all this season. “We had our very last hopes for February … and we just took a massive hit in the face,” he told AFP.
“Now, we will have to take the president’s word, that everyone in the sector will be saved ‘whatever the cost’. Everyone. A rescue plan is needed quickly. We can’t allow ourselves to be left to die.”
Maulin told Alpes1 radio: “We have let people travel to many countries, to Dubai, the Maghreb the Caribbean … so why deprive the mountains of tourists? How is it less of a risk to go to Dubai than go to the mountains? These are things we don’t understand. We have worked on a health protocol covering everything and everyone in all the stations. It’s incomprehensible. We have been sacrificed.”
The French prime minister, Jean Castex, is expected to meet representatives from the sector in the next few days to “finalise economic support measures” for those hit by the closures.
In normal years, tens of thousands of skiers from across France and Europe head for the Alps and Pyrénées from December to March.
Source: The Guardian
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