France to allow winter resorts to open… but ski lifts will remain closed

French winter sport resorts are free to open for the Christmas holiday season, Prime Minister Jean Castex said Thursday, but ski lifts will have to remain shut.

France to allow winter resorts to open... but ski lifts will remain closed
People ski on the opening day of the Les 2 Alpes French resort on October 17, 2020. Ski resorts have since been closed. AFP

President Emmanuel Macron warned Tuesday that coronavirus risks made it “impossible” to allow winter sports to resume quickly, adding he hoped that restrictions could be lifted in January.

France's 350 ski resorts have been up in arms over the decision, saying the weeks around Christmas and New Year are crucial for their survival as they account for up to a quarter of their annual revenues.

Castex said mountain holidays were still on the cards but downhill skiing — by far the most popular pastime for crowds of French and foreign skiers in Alpine and Pyrenees resorts — was effectively ruled out.

“Naturally, everybody is free to travel to resorts to enjoy the clean air of our beautiful mountains, and the shops which will be open, although bars and restaurants won't be,” Castex told a news conference.

“But all ski lifts and collective infrastructures will be closed to the public,” he said.

READ ALSO: Where and when in Europe can you go skiing this winter?

Cross-country skiing, sledding and snowshoe hikes are among snow activities that do not usually require mechanical lifts.

France's winter sport sector says it generates some 11 billion euros ($13 billion) in revenues per year and employs 120,000 people during the season.

The Haute-Savoie region in the French Alps has reported the highest number of virus infections per 100,000 people in the entire country, followed by the neighbouring Savoie region.

Health authorities have warned that regional hospitals could be overwhelmed quickly if crowds of skiers from France and abroad were allowed to travel to those regions.

France aims to lift a nationwide lockdown on December 15, with shops authorised to reopen as early as Saturday after weeks of closure.

According to health authorities, the second virus wave reached its peak last week, with numbers of new infections, new hospital admissions and new intensive care patients all declining, while death figures have stabilised.

But Macron warned that “if we don't want a third lockdown, we must intensify our efforts”.

Castex said the government was consulting with its EU partners to coordinate reopening dates for ski resorts.

Neighbouring Germany said Wednesday it will seek a deal with European partners to close ski slopes through to early January, setting it on a collision course with resort operators and Austria.

Member comments

  1. Wouldn’t a more sensible alternative be to prohibit indoor dining and other collective activities, close enclosed lifts (gondolas and trams) but open the slopes and chair lifts? Mandate social distancing in lines. And of course masks, masks, masks.

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Austria avalanche kills three

An avalanche in the Salzburg region killed three people and injured two while they were skiing off-piste, Austria's Red Cross said Saturday.

Snow and avalanche protection fences seen on a clear day on mountains surrounding Lech am Arlberg, western Austria
Some mountains in Austria have snow and avalanche protection fences, like these seen on a clear day on mountains surrounding Lech am Arlberg, western Austria. ALEXANDER KLEIN / AFP

The accident happened Saturday about 2,400 metres (7,800 feet) up in the Lungau district, soon after 1:45 pm local time, Red Cross spokesman Anton Schilcher told the APA agency.

The snow buried eight of the group up to 4.5 metres deep, local emergency response official Christoph Wiedl told local media.

Two of the victims were already dead when their bodies were recovered, while the third died after being airlifted to hospital in Klagenfurt.

The two injured skiers were taken to hospital in the town of Tamsweg.

The skiers caught in the avalanche were from a group from the regions of Salzburg and Upper Austria.

In recent years, an average of around 20 people a year have been killed annually by avalanches in Austria.

The last two seasons were less deadly as the coronavirus pandemic reduced the number of skiers overall.

Avalanches killed four people in western Austria’s Tyrol region last February.