Ski resorts in the French regions of Isère and Savoie are protesting against the government”s decision last week to keep ski lifts closed over the festive period to stop the spread of the COVID-19.
The Isère department includes stations such as Alpe d’Huez, Les 2 Alpes and La Grave, whilst Savoie includes resorts such as Val d’Isère, Tignes, La Plagne, Les Arcs and those in Les 3 Vallées.
More than 600 people demonstrated in Bourg-Saint-Maurice (Savoie) despite the government veto, and organisers estimated 1,200 people attended the protest in Bourg d’Oisans.
It comes as the French government proposes “random border checks” to be put in place over the holiday season targeting people trying to get to foreign resorts.
Controls could include virus tests and a seven-day quarantine on skiers returning to France.
Prime minister Jean Castex is due to meet again with representatives of the French mountain communities on December 11 to “discuss the situation and decide when resorts can reopen”.
Crowds in Bourg-Saint-Maurice carried broken red hearts to express “the feeling of not being listened to,” explained Jean-Luc Boch, mayor of La Plagne and President of the Association of Mayors of Mountain Stations (ANMSM).
Residents of the town-resorts of the Haute-Tarentaise valley also joined the event.
“Our economic activity depends largely on tourism and there we feel it an injustice to have been the only ones put aside for the recovery in mid-December,” said Guillaume Desrues, mayor of Bourg-Saint-Maurice/Les Arcs.
Ski resorts say they’ve worked hard to put measures in place to keep resorts COVID-19 safe.
Yannick Amet, mayor of Sainte-Foy-Tarentaise told the crowds: “We have been working for three months in consultation with the medical profession, ski area operators and professionals from all sides, in order to coordinate our actions and set up screening centres in each of the communes using PCR and antigen tests”.
“The department of Savoie and the region are able to provide these tests on a massive scale. A reception centre in Bourg-Saint-Maurice is ready and can accommodate around forty people in safety”.
France says it stands by its decision to keep ski lifts closed despite resorts being open, to avoid outbreaks of contamination. And the latest move is to dissuade the French from visiting neighbouring countries to circumvent the ban.
Some areas have already opened in Switzerland and the country, which is not part of the European Union, intends to combine health protocols and economic imperatives to open its stations during the holidays.
Austria, announced today plans to re-allow individual outdoor sports, including skiing, as of December 24 but will limit the capacity of ski lifts.
The country will keep restaurants, bars and hotels largely closed until early January, officials said Wednesday. It also will require many people entering the country over the Christmas period to go into quarantine.
In Bulgaria, the resort of Bansko, European mecca for “low-cost” skiing, is also planning to open.
In Italy, a government decree on anti-COVID-19 rules for the holidays is expected shortly and, according to press reports, it should endorse the closure of ski slopes and ski lifts.
Spain plans to open its ski resorts, but conditions remain to be defined between the central government and the regions, according to Health Minister Salvador Illa.
“I want to protect my citizens, it’s my duty. That other countries don’t follow the same concept is their right, but I will continue to protect my citizens by preventing them from getting contaminated,” said Castex.
“We would prefer a harmonization at the European level, we are putting all our energy towards it. But at the end, the countries surrounding us are sovereign countries”.
“It’s not fair. We don’t understand how the decisions have been made,” Sara Burden spokesperson for the French resort of Morzine told Euronews.
“We don’t think it’s right the French resorts are closing and French businesses are suffering whilst skiers can go to other countries – so we would welcome the French government’s proposals”.
As for the plans for Christmas, resorts are keen to spread the message that there are plenty of activities to enjoy in the fresh air this winter.
“Most boutiques will be open (cheese shops, chocolate, potters), there will be walks and snowshoeing and guides will offer guided walks and ski tours, and there is an outdoor ice rink. Many restaurants will be open for take away meals,” says Burdon.
Chamonix also says its hills are still very much alive and they are ready to welcome hikers, bikers and paragliders.
Ski touring, Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, sledging, spas, and shopping are all authorised activities.