Keeping Europe’s Ski Slopes Open Gets a Frosty Reception in Some Quarters

Atop Muottas Muragl in Switzerland

By Paul Riegler on 30 November 2020
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“To ski, or not to ski,” that is the question that multiple European nations are asking themselves with the ski season just around the corner, as the coronavirus pandemic shows no sign of relenting. If you are in France, Germany, and Italy, the answer at the moment is the latter, but Austria and Switzerland have other plans in mind.

It’s a stark reminder that the first clusters of the coronavirus were in Alpine ski reports, allowing skiers to bring the virus home with them, and an even starker reminder that, despite an attempt at a united front against the coronavirus, the response in Europe has been anything but coordinated.

European tourism has been hard hit by the pandemic.  It decimated the summer tourism season as countries closed their borders in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus, and was the leanest season in decades.  Companies involved in tourism – hotels, airlines, restaurants, just to name a few – racked up billions of euros in losses and the Continent’s vaunted government support systems and social nets strained to keep up.

The bright spot, many hoped, would be the ski season.

Now Europe’s Alpine countries are disagreeing about whether to reopen the slopes.

The Italian and German governments are pushing for an EU-wide ban on ski trips.

“The ski season is approaching,” Bundeskanzler Angela Merkel told lawmakers in the Bundestag last week.  “We will try to reach an agreement in Europe on whether we could close all skiresorts.”

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte doesn’t want his country’s ski slopes open either, nor does he want his fellow countrymen to travel to neighboring countries to ski.

“If Italy decided to shut down all its ski lifts without any support from France, Austria and the other countries, then Italian tourists would risk going abroad and taking the contagion back home,” he told reporters last week.

Come December, many holidaymakers typically would descend upon the southern Alpine state of Bayern, or Bavaria, to enjoy its pristine ski slopes. This year, the Bavarian government is not exactly putting out the welcome mat.

Given the pandemic, “we just can’t have the classic ski holidays,“ said the Minister-Präsident of Bavaria, Markus Söder.

Meanwhile, the Deutscher Skiverband, or German Ski Association, is asking German and European leaders to reconsider their stance, pointing to the many coronavirus-age requirements that would have to be observed on the slopes including social distancing and masks.

“Germany-wide or even a Europe-wide ban on skiing sports would definitely not be the solution, it would be the opposite – it would unnecessarily make the already difficult situation … even more difficult,” the association said in a letter.

The current quarantine rules that apply to EU nationals going from one country to another are fairly stringent, as are local measures requiring social distancing and face coverings throughout Europe.  Many feel that this would ensure a safe ski season.

Skiing is a fairly solitary activity, although it’s the activities that surround skiing, ranging from friends sitting in a ski lodge drinking hot chocolate to après-ski parties, that give authorities pause.

Austrian Bundeskanzler Sebastian Kurz, who has rejected the idea of an EU-ban on the ski season, said that skiing is part of his country’s national identity, and that the season would go on as planned, albeit without après-ski parties.

Finally, Switzerland is prepared to pick up the slack and is hoping for an influx of skiers come Christmas.  Switzerland recently lifted quarantine requirements for visitors from much of the Continent.

“In Switzerland, we can go skiing, with protection plans in place,” Swiss Health Minister Alain Berset told reporters last Thursday.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

Accura News

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