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In pictures: 1,200 Santa Claus ski in Verbier

It wasn’t an everyday sight: 1,200 skiers dressed as Father Christmas, or St Nicholas, took to the slopes of Verbier on Saturday.

In pictures: 1,200 Santa Claus ski in Verbier
Photo: The Local

Skiers in appropriate costume were invited to ski for free in the Swiss ski resort for one day only as part of a special event to celebrate Verbier’s official opening weekend.

Held for the third year in a row, it proved more popular than ever this year as around 1,200 Santas arrived to claim their free day’s ski pass – double the number at last year’s event.

The resort also offered those who booked in advance free travel on a special ‘St Nicholas’ train from Geneva.

Free wine, croissants and raclette were offered throughout the day, as well as the chance to win a season pass in a prize draw.


Photo: Matt Radmore

The festive skiers gathered together at 3pm for a group photo and a mass dance to the Village People’s YMCA, which the resort filmed by drone.

The weather played ball, with clear skies and decent snow on offer to those who made the trip.

Although this was the official opening weekend of the season, Verbier was one of the first resorts to open limited slopes early this year as snow blanketed Switzerland in mid-November.

However there has been little snow since, and resorts will be hoping to avoid a repeat of last year, when fresh snow didn't fall again until after Christmas.

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SKI

Switzerland heavily criticised for welcoming foreign skiers

Italy has hit out at Switzerland for failing to prevent foreign skiers from hitting the slopes. Some have gone so far as to blame Switzerland for the spread of virus mutations across Europe.

Switzerland heavily criticised for welcoming foreign skiers
The mighty Matterhorn lies on the border with Italy. Photo by AFP
Italy's government last week blocked ski resorts from reopening, the day before skiing was due to be allowed for the first time this winter season due to coronavirus restrictions.
There is also a ban on non-essential travel until February 25th.

“It's a disaster. For a week now, we have been readying the slopes for the opening and preparing the health protocol,” said Denis Trabucchi, an Italian ski instructor. 

But the ban has not stopped Italian snow enthusiasts from hitting the slopes on the Swiss side of the border, as Switzerland has kept its ski infrastructure open despite the pandemic.

Many Swiss and Italian pistes lie close to each other so it is an easy commute from one resort to another.

The mayors of Italian border towns are annoyed that local skiers are ‘emigrating’ to Swiss ski slopes, according to the Provincio di Como newspaper.

“Cross-border skiers are not as numerous as cross-border workers, of course, but ski traffic has increased,” said Massimiliano Tam, mayor of Villa di Chiavenna, a town in Lombardy.

He said that despite bans on such border hopping, many Italians rent apartments on the Swiss side of the frontier so they can ski.

Roberto Galli, the mayor of Livigno, a ski resort in the Italian Alps, is also livid at the “cross-border ski mobility”.

“Customs controls are really limited” he said, calling for more rigorous checks “especially for Italian cars with ski racks and snow on the roof”.

Italian authorities even went as far as blaming Switzerland for the spread of the pandemic across Europe. 

Walter Ricciardi, the head of the Italian government's coronavirus task force, said Switzerland's decision to keep ski slopes open throughout winter, while neighbouring countries shut down theirs, allowed the British strain of coronavirus to arrive on the continent.

READ MORE: Is Switzerland to blame for Europe’s third wave of coronavirus?

A similar situation occurred in December, when French skiers tried to sneak into Switzerland to ski.

France’s authorities quickly announced that French residents heading abroad to ski would have to self-isolate for seven days on return and that border checks would be stepped up in certain areas. 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What are the Covid-19 rules for skiing in Switzerland this winter? 
 

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