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UPDATE: Where in Europe will it be possible to go skiing this year?

UPDATE: Where in Europe will it be possible to go skiing this year?
Switzerland has already opened its slopes, but will other countries follow? Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
UPDATE: When it comes to opening ski resorts around Europe countries are not on the same wavelength. Here's what we know so far about where and when a ski holiday will be possible in Europe this year.

The Alps have long made Europe the world's top skiing destination but the industry finds itself having to duck and weave through the daunting obstacles of the coronavirus pandemic.

The European ski industry generates €34 billion in revenue, half the world's total.

The soaring mountain range which stretches from France, along Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Liechtenstein, Austria and into Slovenia helps make Europe the leader in the ski industry.

The Alps alone hold more than a third of the ski areas of the whole world.

The ski industry has not escaped the coronavirus pandemic – an Austrian resort was an early superspreader site – or restrictions meant to slow its spread.

But as the new season gets underway, there is much debate in each country and at a European level about when ski resorts should open.

Countries with a big ski industry recognise that their resorts may lose out if they don't open at the same time those in neighbouring countries.

France's President Emmanuel Macron has spoken about trying to reach an agreement at a European level while on November 25th Germany announced it would seek EU accord banning ski holidays to Jan 10th.

For it's part the EU has said: “The first thing to know is that the decision whether or not to allow skiing is, of course, a national competence. This is not European competence,” said commission spokesman Stefan de Keersmaecker.

“Obviously, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to gradual and science-based and effective lifting of the containment measures.”

Here's what we know so far.

France

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

President Emmanuel Macron warned 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.

France has become increasingly irate about the actions of the Swiss government (see below) and the Prime Minister on Wednesday announced a series of controls – including spot checks at the border and quarantines – to stop French skiiers simply slipping over the border to Switzerland.

Switzerland

Switzerland has decided to go its own way, promising to keep the slopes open through the winter. For the most part it's business as usual in Switzerland with some ski resorts having already opened, including Verbier.

Markus Berger from Switzerland Tourism criticised the efforts to close ski resorts, saying he was confident that the Swiss had the right approach. 

“In Switzerland, the Federal Council, the authorities and the tourism industry are convinced that the Swiss way is right – for the moment – and that the winter season can take place safely,” Berger told DPA

“The approach of a Europe-wide coordinated operating time / season opening of the winter sport destinations was informally discussed in the Alpine countries as early as late summer and was pursued as unsuitable,” said Berger

At the end of October, the Swiss Ski Lift Association tightened measures against the virus, making it mandatory to wear a facemask not only in closed cable car cabins, but also on open-air chair lifts and in queues.


Face masks are mandatory in Verbier. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

There are 339 ski resorts in the Swiss Alps, which operate total of 1,815 ski lifts.

All of them must adhere to the rules mandated at both national and cantonal levels.

Each lift operator can add their own measures on top of those already in place.

READ MORE: Covid-19: Is it safe to ski in the Swiss Alps this season?

There is also a glimmer of hope that European tourists could still flock to Switzerland to ski over Christmas after Bern recently lifted quarantine requirements for people arriving from most of the continent.

But it remains to be seen whether anything like the usual numbers will do so, considering the difficulties to travel from a range of countries currently under some form of lockdown.

Even if the number of skiers remains high, resorts will largely have to do without income from apres-ski activities and ski schools, which have been banned in several cantons.

Austria

In a press conference on December 2nd, the Austrian government confirmed that skiing would again be possible from Christmas Eve.

Hotels are set to be closed until January 7th, meaning that only day trips are possible. 

In a press conference on Wednesday, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said ski lifts would again be allowed to open from December 24th. 

“From December 24th, individual sports outdoors such as skiing will be possible again so that the Austrian population has the chance to engage in sporting activity over the holidays,” Kurz said at a press conference announcing re-opening measures after the country's second coronavirus lockdown ends at the end of this week.

Austria was the site of one of the world’s first superspreader event in the spring. 

Ever since, Ischgl and a number of other ski resorts all across Austria have implemented ‘hygiene and protection plans’ in an attempt to reduce the risk of transmission. 

READ MORE: Austria's Ischgl ski resort 'mishandled coronavirus outbreak'

Andreas Steibl, the Director of Tourism at the Ischgl ski resort said more than €700,000 had been invested into that country’s hygiene and protection plan which “goes far beyond the government’s measures”. 

Aprés-ski parties have been cancelled, with no more loud music or bands – and drinks only available while seated in restaurants. 

READ MORE: Can Austria save its ski season?

Skiers prepare for their run at Pitztal glacier, Austria on October 29, 2020. Photo: AFP

Originally hoping to open on November 26th, some of Austria’s ski resorts have pushed back their opening date until mid-December – although there are some who doubt whether or not the ski season will go ahead at all. 

Others which had already opened – including the Stubai Glacier, Kaunertal Glacier, Pitztal Glacier, Mölltal Glacier, Hintertux Glacier, Sölden, Dachstein and Kitzsteinhorn – had to close again.

While Austrian authorities are well aware of the value of the ski industry to the country’s struggling economy, they are also aware of the perilous situation in the country. 

With Christmas markets already cancelled for much of the country – and with infections failing to decline despite almost three weeks of shutdown measures – there is a chance that the slopes will not open until sometime in 2021. 

Italy

While Italian resorts would usually be preparing to open to snow tourists in early December, things don't look promising for Italy's multi-billion-euro ski industry.

Several of the northern regions that run along the Italian Alps are currently 'red zones', areas designated a high Covid risk and subject to maximum restrictions including a ban on all but essential travel and the closure of bars and restaurants.

The government hopes to ease restrictions in the coming weeks, but Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has already warned Italians that they won't be allowed ski holidays at Christmas.

READ MORE: Will ski slopes be open in Italy this winter?

“Everything to do with skiing holidays is uncontrollable,” he said this week, disappointing regional authorities who had proposed adopting extra safety measures – including mandatory face masks and a cap on the number of people on the slops or in cable cars – in order to get permission for the season to go ahead.

Some governors of Italian regions that border other countries along the Alps have voiced frustration that skiers are already enjoying the mountains in Switzerland, and called for a joint agreement with Italy's neighbours to keep slopes closed over Christmas.

Conte has indicated that he is discussing the matter with France and Germany. Meanwhile the Italian government is next due to update its coronavirus rules, including the restrictions on ski resorts, on December 4th.


Skiing in Bormio, northern Italy. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Germany

Germany said on November 25th it would seek a deal with European partners to close ski slopes through to early January, in a bid to halt coronavirus transmissions.

“I will say this openly that it won't be easy, but we will try,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said.

Previously due to Germany’s current November lockdown ski slopes throughout the country have postponed their start dates indefinitely.

Most of the top resorts are situated in Bavaria, but every year skiers also flock to Arbor along the Czech border, Feldburg in the Black Forest and Winterberg, a popular ski resort in the Rothaargebirge mountain range near Cologne.

On Tuesday, Bavarian state premiere Markus Söder said he would keep slopes closed over the Christmas holidays.

“We just can't have the classic ski holiday,” Markus Söder told reporters.

“I would prefer to have a common agreement on a European level: no ski lifts open, no (ski) holidays anywhere,” said Söder, who has won praise for his handling of the pandemic so far and is often tipped as a possible chancellor candidate.

“If we want to keep the borders open we need a clear agreement on skiing. Otherwise things will get difficult.”

He added that anyone who hopped across the border to Austria – where some sloped have already announced opening dates in December – to go skiing would face a ten-day quarantine upon return.

Sweden

Sweden’s Public Health Agency is expected to issue new recommendations in December for the Christmas holidays, but so far there are no specific guidelines for ski resorts.

The same guidelines that apply elsewhere also apply to ski resorts, for example no more than eight people in the same group at restaurants and no sale of alcohol after 10pm.

Some regions, including some popular ski destinations, are currently advising people not to travel, but those guidelines are set to expire in mid-December. Whether or not they will be extended depends on how the coronavirus outbreak develops in Sweden.

Spain


Skiers in the Spanish Pyrenees where the season opening has been delayed. Photo: Formigal Aramon Resort

Spain’s ski resorts from the Pyrenees to the Sierra Nevada are determined to open – with Covid-19 restrictions in place –  as soon as regional border restrictions are lifted and there’s enough snow.

Spain’s Association of Ski Resorts (ATUDEM) presented plans for the winter season insisting that ski tourism lends itself well to coronavirus restrictions at least in terms of social distancing.

They outlined plans that include extra cleaning at installations and adding hand sanitizer dispensers, a ban on smoking in busy places in resorts and limiting numbers in restaurants to ensure social distancing.

But with perimeter restrictions in place around many of Spain’s regions including Aragon, Catalonia, Andalusia and Asturias where many of the nation’s pistes can be found, the biggest challenge is attracting enough people to the resorts when movement is limited.

As a result some resorts are delaying opening until restrictions are lifted while others, such as Baqueira Beret in the Catalan Pyrenees announced the season’s inaugural weekend for December 11 but then delayed postponed it.

Aramon, the company that runs Pyrenean resorts in Formigal, Panticosa, Cerler and Valdeinares and Javalambre in Teruel have placed staff on ERTE – Spain’s furlough scheme – delaying the opening of their resorts until the situation is clearer (and there is snow!).

Candachu and Astun, also in the Pyrenees haven’t set a date for opening yet and have also placed staff on ERTE.

The only resort to have so far opened in Spain is a tiny one north of Leon where 8 pistes offer 5km of runs that can only be enjoyed by locals while borders are closed preventing people from crossing in and out of Castilla y Leon. 

In the Sierra Nevada, the season opening has been delayed from November 28th because border restrictions around Andalusia will continue until December 10th.

But with the new restrictions announced that prohibit travel between Spain's autonomous regions over the Christmas and New Year period, it is unclear when and if ski resorts across Spain will be able to open at all.

Norway

There are currently no specific rules against ski resorts in Norway.

The country does allow local authorities to close down sports facilities if infections start spiking but this has so far only happened in cities, with Oslo and Bergen seeing the country's strictest measures.

The PM has advised against travel between different Norwegian regions and foreign tourism is also severely curtailed by quarantine rules. A negative Covid-19 test must be presented by all international arrivals from countries defined as 'red' (in practice, almost all countries at the time of writing), while arrivals with no permanent Norwegian address or without employment reasons must observe a 10-day quarantine and be tested for coronavirus.

According to Norway's national restrictions, no more than 20 people are allowed to attend private events at public places. There is also a national ban on serving alcohol after midnight.

Regions in which ski tourism is a major industry have reported large numbers of furloughed workers and severely struggling businesses.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria has no plans to cancel ski holidays in the country, with all three major resorts — Bansko, Pamporovo and Borovets — to open in December.

“There is no reason to cancel the ski season. It's not the sport but the apres-ski parties that sparked the spread of Covid-19 in Europe,” said Ivan Obreikov, spokesman for Ulen, a company operating ski lifts and gondolas in Bansko.

Restaurants across the country are shut at the moment up to December 21. But hotels and holiday homes are open for business.

Slovenia 

A decision on whether to open the stations over Christmas on Slovenia's Julian Alps are pending.

An ongoing ban on public transport at the moment applies to cable cars. 

Nevertheless, most ski resorts have begun preparing their courses with artificial snow in the hopes that by December, they'd get the go ahead to let tourists in. 

The economy ministry said it was expecting the European Commission to make a recommendation to member states.

 

 

 


Member comments

  1. Whilst I appreciate the article, given the French government is taking steps to prevent citizens and residents from travelling abroad to ski…it seems irrelevant to the readership at this time.

    Also, the very fact that so many are still insisting on taking holidays and seem ignorant of the risks that poses (or don’t care) after the year we have had is very disappointing.

  2. This was straight, unbiased, informative reporting. I felt no pressure or incentive to lure me into inappropriate travel, or to even go on a Holiday (doc)
    Having said that, it does seem all the European countries with adjacent ski resorts should strive for a common policy on what will best serve a balance between the freedom of movement principle and a common approach to managing the covid19 challenges

  3. So, one cannot mostly stay at a Hotel overnight, Travel is discouraged unless essential, same with flights, Restaurants are closed, and everybody is being encouraged to stay at Home over Holidays, but The Local goes and runs an article about where people should travel to for a Holiday, be in close proximity with people they don’t know, stay in Hotels, & then spread another wave to us poor doing-the-right-thing sensible folk on their return. Is this resposible journalism? No, It isn’t.

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