Reopening of French ski resorts ‘impossible’ before Christmas, warns Macron

Lucy Aspden
·6-min read
val thorens
val thorens

As France comes out of lockdown this weekend the fate of the country’s ski resorts remains uncertain

Ski resorts in France will likely not reopen this year, despite the country's imminent easing of lockdown rules. 

President Macron explained in a televised address on Tuesday evening: “The Government has held talks with the industry, but it seems impossible to consider reopening for the year-end festivities.”

In the same announcement, the President revealed a staged plan, starting this weekend, that will ease the lockdown restrictions that have been in place throughout France in November. However, the phased approach will likely force ski resorts to postpone their plans until next year, though an official announcement is yet to be made.

Macron suggested that reopening in January, under good conditions and in coordination with other European countries, would be preferable to restarting ski before Christmas. However, discussions are still ongoing and an official plan regarding resorts' reopening will be unveiled by December 5.  

Understandably, local tourism companies have voiced their disappointment. “The announcement of President Macron to not open the ski resorts at Christmas gave us a bitter taste,” said Vincent Rolland, the co-President of Savoie Mont Blanc Tourisme, which is responsible for the Savoie and Haute Savoie regions – covering two thirds of the Alps and 110 ski resorts. “The professionals of the mountains met with the Prime Minister last Monday and a decision should have been taken in the next ten days. It is not acceptable, we can’t stay like that.”

Some resorts say they are “surprised” by the announcement, as many hoped a festive reopening would be possible in order to make the most of the lucrative period, following a month in lockdown. “Yesterday’s statement by the French President came as a surprise to the French ski resorts,” said Jean-Luc Boch, President of France Montagnes, the association of French ski resorts. 

“However, despite all the resorts wanting to open, we all have to stand together throughout the crisis, even if it means delaying the ski resort openings to January. The safety of both local inhabitants and visitors is our main priority, and we will do everything we can to safely welcome British skiers as soon as possible,” he said. 

Tignes and Val d’Isere were among the first resorts hoping to reopen on December 1, with Val d’Isere due to host the FIS Alpine World Cup from December 5 to 10 – they will once again have to reconsider their plans.

tignes
tignes

“We will most likely be opening from mid-January onwards. The hospitals are too crowded currently with Covid victims, they can’t handle any broken legs or other skiing injuries. It’s therefore understandable if the decision is taken to postpone our opening. Even though we do not have the definite answer yet and it’s not what we hoped for, it’s most likely we will not open for Christmas and New Year,” said Stephie Dijkman, marketing director of Tignes.

“We must do everything to avoid a third wave, do everything to avoid a third lockdown,” said President Macron as he announced the second wave of the pandemic was over.

From November 28 the lockdown in France will remain in place but people will be able to leave their homes for extended periods of exercise, non-essential shops will open, and indoor religious services will resume. Not until December 15 will the lockdown be lifted, replaced by a daily curfew between 9pm and 7am. Bars, restaurants and gyms will not be allowed to lift their shutters until after Christmas in January. 

However the future of ski resorts is “not yet clear cut”.

“At this stage, this issue is not yet clear-cut, as the options are still being considered given the uncertainties about the evolution of the health situation,” said France's Prime Minister Jean Castex on Monday after a meeting with tourism chiefs to discuss the reopening of resorts.

“The meeting made it possible to examine more precisely the conditions for the implementation of the different scenarios, be it the definition of a specific health protocol or, in the event of closure, the details of economic and social support for the companies and seasonal workers,” he said. 

Boch confirms France Montages have been involved in these talks and that “further discussions are ongoing with the Government and the ski industry, we hope to have positive news in the next few weeks.”

Coronavirus France Spotlight Chart - Cases default
Coronavirus France Spotlight Chart - Cases default

Elisabeth Borne, France’s Minister of Labor, has encouraged resorts not to postpone hiring seasonal workers, such as lift operators, ski instructors and restaurants staff. French ski resorts employ an estimated 120,000 seasonal workers each year – the loss of these jobs would be a major blow to the French economy.

“The skiing industry is very largely impacted by what was said last night by President Macron. Let’s hope that we will be able to open as soon as possible and at the latest from mid-January onwards for a great second half of the season,” said Dijkman. Bookings in Tignes over Christmas and New Year were at 50 per cent of the usual rate, before last night's announcement – guests will now have to wait until the fate of the resorts is officially sealed before getting a refund.

The news comes as yesterday the Italian prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, called for a ban on ski holidays across Europe this Christmas, in order to prevent a third spike in coronavirus cases.

“We’re working with Merkel and Macron for a common European protocol,” Mr Conte said in an Italian television interview.

“If we close our mountain resorts and adjoining countries do not, Italian tourists will go to Austria and France and then bring the virus home.”

The country’s winter destinations have also been told it is highly unlikely they will be allowed to open for the Christmas holidays.

While an official announcement is yet to be released, the resort of Courmayeur has confirmed it will definitely be closed over the festive holidays.

The tourist board for the Aosta Valley region, home to a number of the country’s leading resorts, including Courmayeur, has confirmed that the lockdown of resorts has been extended until December 3, with plans beyond that unknown. Only on December 3, when the Government issues a new anti-virus national decree, will resorts know their fate. Winter tourism employs around 400,000 Italians, from ski instructors and hoteliers to restaurant owners, generating annual revenue of around €10 billion.

Hopes of Britons being able to hit the slopes in the Alps next month had been given refreshed confidence this week with the announcement that from December 15 travellers returning to England from high-risk countries will be able to reduce their quarantine to five days if they test negative for the virus.

However, the majority of tour operators have drawn a line under plans for Christmas and are now focusing on the much more realistic possibility of ski holidays in the spring. Inghams, Ski Total and Flexiski were the first major operators to announce all ski holidays in December would be cancelled.

With England’s own new tiered system set to be in place until March there will be two months of the ski season left, when holidaymakers will – hopefully – face fewer obstacles, and advice against non-essential travel will be lifted.