‘A cold shower’: French reaction to ski station closure

The French ski industry has reacted to President Macron’s speech with ‘concern’ despite fears that opening stations at Christmas could pile pressure on hospitals

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The news that ski stations will very likely not be able to open for the Christmas period is like “a cold shower” to a “concerned” industry, the president of French mountain association France Montagne has said.

Jean-Luc Boch reacted to President Macron’s speech last night (November 24), in which Mr Macron said it was "very hard to see how [ski stations] could open for the holiday period".

Mr Macron added that talks are to take place between the government, local officials, industry professionals and European counterparts, and that a decision will be made soon - although it appears unlikely that December reopening will be permitted.

Mr Macron said it was more likely that stations would be able to reopen “in January”.

France has around 350 ski stations, which employ around 120,000 seasonal workers per year - with around 12-25% of business takings usually coming in over the Christmas period.

Mr Boch told news source FranceInfo: “We are concerned, we do not understand. All the mountain workers have prepared a real health protocol for their staff and holidaymakers, and they feel the same as I do today - they do not understand and they do not know at all why this hasty decision has been made.”

“[Christmas represents] a lot of money and many jobs in this industry, which has been disadvantaged from the start. The mountain is not an easy place to live every day.”

European cooperation?

Mr Boch accepted that President Macron has called for more European cooperation on the subject, and had made his announcement after the Bavaria region of Germany said that “there would be no skiing for Christmas”.

But he said that while the German and Italian ski stations had indicated that they would not open, this was “the exact opposite” of that said by Austria and Switzerland, who “want to keep their stations open for the time being”.

He said: “Our main competitors in Europe are Austria and Switzerland, not Germany or Italy.”

Mr Boch acknowledged the extra aid the government would provide to businesses in ski stations, but asked: “Will this reassure many people? I am not sure. And we must not forget the professionals who are independent freelancers; such as the ski instructors.

“We must not forget the small businesses either, who will be at risk of difficulty. We, the mayors of ski stations, want to ensure that our tourism economy is not too damaged. We are really counting on our ministers to help with that.”

Pressure on hospitals

While ski stations may remain closed partly to stop the spread of the virus, the main motivation is to avoid adding extra pressure on hospitals, due to the inevitable risk of skiing injuries on the slopes, and rising visits to hospital by tourists.

Currently, hospitals in major skiing areas in France - especially the Alps - are seeing some of the highest levels of Covid-19 in France.

The Alpine region currently has an incidence level of 485.4 per 100,000 inhabitants in Haute-Savoie; 385.9 per 100,000 in Savoie; and 365.2 per 100,000 in Isère.

Hospitals have said that they are worried about opening the ski slopes - risking more accidents and tourist issues - when the wards are already overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients.

Mr Boch said: “We do not want to stay open at all costs, at the expense of the health rules of our country. We mountain people are above all careful people, who respect life - that has been proven many times.

“We are thinking of our hospital staff who are working, and suffering, in difficult conditions; and of course of all the people who have Covid-19. Of course we are thinking of them, but does this mean we think only of them and forget the financial aspect?”

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