French ski season begins under threat of COVID-19

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The 2020-2021 ski season is officially underway in France, with some high-altitude slopes open for business despite the surge in COVID-19 cases across the country.The ski lifts up the Grande Motte glacier in Tignes carried their first passengers of the season on Saturday, with new rules in place to help prevent a virus outbreak.

Face masks are required on elevators and shuttles, as well as at indoor equipment rental stores. After the 2019-2020 season was cut short by the March pandemic, resort managers are banking on these health protocols to keep skiers and snowboarders on the slopes all winter.

“We have tested all the health protocols that we have in place, including masks on the ski lifts,” said Stephie Dijkman, marketing director of Tignes. We recommend that people test themselves before going out, just to make sure there is no epidemic while they are here. ”

Winter sports enthusiasts will likely find this type of measurement in one of France’s 250 ski resorts this season. But keeping the virus out of the mountain could prove difficult if the number of cases continues to rise at lower elevations. The daily number of infections in France broke records this week, with authorities confirming 30,621 new cases on Thursday over a 24-hour period.

The French ski industry was hit hard when the first wave of pandemic infections brought the 2019-2020 season to a premature end. This led to a 16% drop in total lift ticket sales compared to 2018-2019. Resorts expect the financial struggle to continue, with fewer foreign tourists expected to travel to ski this winter.

“Right now we’re looking at 30% less business this season,” said Dijkman. “But we hope the second wave of covid slows down and the borders reopen soon. ”

Businesses such as restaurants, bars and hotels are also gearing up to feel the pinch, with virus restrictions that will change après-ski traditions in France.

“The après-ski bars and the party are definitely over, it’s clear,” said restaurateur Jean-Michel Bouvier, owner of Panoramic on the Grand Motte glacier. “People just need to play by the rules for the good of everyone. Only six people at each table, you have to be careful at night, that’s all.

These restrictions will be vital for any resort looking to avoid the reputational damage that a virus outbreak can inflict on a ski destination. One of the first pandemic “super-spread” events in Europe erupted in the Austrian ski resort of Ischgl in March. The resort has been accused of failing to contain the outbreak and is now being sued for its handling of the incident. The French ski industry and its 18,000 employees hope that the health protocols put in place this season will be enough to avoid any similar incident.

In addition to Tignes, another French resort has opened its doors. Glacier skiing is available in Les Deux Alpes during the French All Saints holidays until November 1st. The other stations in the country are expected to open for the season in late November and early December.

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