French ski resorts to open at Christmas
but lifts will remain closed, says French PM
French ski resorts say they are still hoping to influence the government's position after President Emmanuel Macron announced that resorts in the country are unlikely to open for Christmas.
A final decision is expected in the coming days, but Macron said he favours reopening in January under good conditions and that he would like to coordinate with the rest of Europe on this issue.
On Thursday, French Prime Minister Jean Castex tried to clarify the situation, by stating that whilst resorts can open at Christmas and New Year, ski lifts would remain closed.
"Of course, it will be open to everyone (...) to go to these resorts to enjoy the pure air of our beautiful mountains, the shops - excluding bars and restaurants - which will be open. Simply, all the ski lifts and public utilities will be closed to the public," the Prime Minister said at a press conference on Thursday morning.
It's possible this may lead to a rise in the popularity of ski-touring this season (where instead of using ski lifts you go uphill using 'skins', a piece of fabric attached to the base of skis to prevent them from sliding back. Before skiing downhill with skins removed), but resorts such as Morzine and Avoriaz have already been making plans.
"We are obviously saddened by this news, but village resorts such as Morzine have a lot to offer as well as lift-assisted skiing," Morzine and Avoriaz Tourist Office director, Christophe Mugnier, told Euronews.
"We are currently working on what we can offer to clients who wish to come despite the likely lift closure. Plenty of activities in the fresh open air are still available, a wide range of boutiques and our restaurants have already adapted to offer takeaway meals."
For many in the ski industry and officials from the regions concerned, there is "no credible reason not to reopen" from the Christmas holidays, which represent between 20 and 25 percent of their revenues.
For the Mayor of the Courchevel, Jean-Yves Pachod, the decision to not open lifts until January is a bombshell.
"It's a disaster for us. A catastrophe," he told Euronews. "That's why since this morning we've been stepping up. Because we've done everything, everything is in place for the opening."
"For example in Courchevel, we have our own test laboratory and we are able to test 500 people a day - we are capable of doing everything."
Earlier this month the Savoie department announced they would be the first in France to place a mass order for antigenic tests to try to save the winter season in ski resorts.
Jobs and the 'mountain economy'
"There may have been a rush in the President's announcement and it is very detrimental to the entire mountain economy", which weighs for 10 billion euros in economic benefits and 120,000 seasonal jobs, said Jean-Luc Boch, President of France Montagnes, the association of French ski resorts, who has asked for a meeting with the Prime Minister.
France Montagnes are asking people involved in the French ski industry to sign an online petition calling for the French President to open the ski stations:
But the political representatives of the Savoie and Haute-Savoie have reacted en masse to the announcements of President Macron.
Predicting Jean Castex's words on Thursday, President of the Département of the Savoie, Herve Gaymard sent a letter on Wednesday to the French Prime Minister, asking him not to "believe that the mountain is closed (...) because, in reality, the stations will be open, even if the public authorities do not 'do not authorise the opening of certain activities ".
He called for "a rectification of public speech" quickly and at the highest level.
The chairman and CEO of the Compagnie du Mont-Blanc, Mathieu Dechavanne "had so far supported the government". But now he says he does not understand the decision.
"This summer, we had 2.3 million people buying a lift pass until the end of October. We had no clusters or phone calls from the ARS. It shows that the protocol works!"
The Hautes-Alpes Development Agency has also directly called to question the President's decision.
"You authorise the opening of establishments in closed places but not the practice of skiing, an outdoor activity. You authorise travel between regions to spend Christmas with the family, but not in the resort," says its president Patrick Ricou.
"You put our mountain territories in danger by seriously underestimating the economic and social consequences of a postponement of opening in January (...) The State will never be able to compensate to its right extent the damage."
President of the National Association of the mayors of mountain resorts (ANMSM) Jean-Luc Boch insists mountain resorts are ready to deal with COVID-19:
"We have the space to open up, we have mountain doctors who are able to react; we have collectively considered an antigenic test protocol."
"Mountain people are responsible people who will never endanger people hospitalised for COVID or otherwise. Ski stations will not saturate public hospitals."
"We can make the mountains a national laboratory and show that when we want, we can!”.
Meanwhile, as France resists pressure to reopen ski resorts before Christmas, it's pushing for European coordination so their industries don’t suffer during the pandemic while others flourish.
On Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she is seeking an agreement with EU countries to keep ski resorts closed until early January, in an attempt to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte also said this week that pre-Christmas openings are unthinkable.
But Alpine countries such as Switzerland and Austria could well be spoilers. Despite increasing cases of COVID-19 in Switzerland, resorts such as Verbier are already open and there is no indication that they will close.
Austrian resorts, such as Ischgl plan to open on December 17. The resort is also part of a cross-border ski area. Samnaun, which is officially part of Switzerland.
"The course of the last summer, without a cluster here in Paznaun, has shown that we act as responsible hosts," Andreas Steibl, Managing Director of the Paznaun-Ischgl Tourism Association, told Euronews.
"Skiing in Ischgl with our extensive top ski resort which extends right into Samnaun in Switzerland is a unique experience. In this respect, we are confident that the nationwide measures will be effective and that a start of the winter season could be possible in December,” said Steibl.
For cross border areas in France, such as the Portes du Soleil, whose lift pass links 12 villages in France and Switzerland, it's more problematic.
"For skiers in the Portes du Soleil, the border is marked on the map, but as there is no border control, effectively for skiers it is as if there is no border," Morzine and Avoriaz Tourist Office director, Christophe Mugnier told Euronews.
"The Portes du Soleil ski area is working together to manage this as effectively as possible, and ensure it is clear for skiers if certain areas are closed while others are able to open."
"We await the confirmation from the Prime Minister to know for definite the situation for ski resorts in France," says Mugnier.