Times Colonist

Europe pon­ders ski­ing amid COVID-19

- COLLEEN BARRY AND JAMEY KEATEN European Politics · Skiing · Politics · Winter Sports · Sports · European Union · Milan · Europe · Switzerland · Italy · Italy National Football Team · Aosta · France · Austria · Germany · Giuseppe Conte · Emmanuel Macron · Poland · Slovenia · Czech Republic · Serbia · Sebastian Kurz · Bavaria · Bavaria · FC Bayern Munich · Davos · St. Moritz · Zermatt · Alberto Tomba · Slovakia

MI­LAN — Though the first real snow has yet to fall across much of Europe, ski buffs are imag­in­ing with dread a on­ce­un­think­able scene: Ski­ing in Zer­matt in Switzer­land while lifts idle across the bor­der in Italy’s Aosta val­ley.

The lead­ers of Italy and France are re­sist­ing pres­sure to re­open ski re­sorts be­fore Christ­mas, push­ing for Euro­pean co-or­di­na­tion so their in­dus­tries don’t suf­fer dur­ing the pan­demic while oth­ers flour­ish. But the Alpine coun­tries of Switzer­land and Aus­tria could well be spoil­ers.

Ski re­sorts were one of the ma­jor sources of con­ta­gion in the deadly spring surge of COVID-19.

So far, re­stric­tions to slow the curve of in­fec­tions have kept lifts closed in Italy, France, Ger­many and Aus­tria, as well as coun­tries fur­ther east. But skiers are al­ready head­ing to moun­tains in Switzer­land, draw­ing an en­vi­ous gaze from ski in­dus­try and lo­cal of­fi­cials in moun­tain re­gions else­where on the con­ti­nent who lost most of last sea­son due to the virus. They are warn­ing of ir­re­versible eco­nomic dam­age if they are not per­mit­ted to open this sea­son.

Both Ital­ian Premier Giuseppe Conte and French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron said this week that pre-Christ­mas open­ings are un­think­able. While such ski­ing lu­mi­nar­ies as world and Olympic cham­pion Al­berto Tomba ar­gue that it is an in­di­vid­ual sport con­ducted in the open air, the lead­ers point to the risks of con­ta­gion in crowded lift lines and lodges, as well as closed cable cars.

Top health of­fi­cials in Italy ap­peared aghast when they were asked at a brief­ing Tues­day about the prospects for open­ing ski sea­son, min­utes after they had just re­ported a resur­gence­high 853 deaths in a 24-hour pe­riod.

“I ad­mit I have a dif­fi­cult time in­side com­ment­ing on ar­gu­ments re­lat­ing to ski ar­eas and what will hap­pen at Christ­mas, think­ing about th­ese num­bers,’’ said Dr. Franco Lo­catelli, head of Italy’s na­tional sci­en­tific coun­cil.

French moun­tain in­dus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives met with the French prime min­is­ter Mon­day to press to be able to re­open, but ap­par­ently their pleas weren’t heard.

“It seems im­pos­si­ble to me to imag­ine a re­open­ing for the hol­i­days, and much more prefer­able to favour re­open­ing in Jan­uary, in good con­di­tions,’’ Macron said as he laid out plans this week for a grad­ual eas­ing of the cur­rent lock­down.

Plans for re­open­ing also re­main on ice in the east­ern coun­tries of Poland, Slove­nia, Slo­vakia and the Czech Repub­lic — al­though Ser­bia is prep­ping for a win­ter sea­son in full swing, as if COVID-19 did not ex­ist, count­ing on both domestic and for­eign vis­i­tors.

Aus­tria, whose cur­rent lock­down runs through Dec. 6, has been for months say­ing that it hoped to re­open the slopes this sea­son and re­jected Italy’s idea of keep­ing them closed un­til Jan. 10. On Wed­nes­day, Aus­trian Chan­cel­lor Se­bas­tian Kurz pushed back against calls to write off this year’s ski sea­son be­cause of the pan­demic.

In Bavaria, Ger­many’s largest ski des­ti­na­tion, Gover­nor Markus Soeder sup­ported the idea, say­ing that if Europe’s bor­ders are to re­main open through the Christ­mas sea­son, there will have to be some sort of a blan­ket rule on keep­ing re­sorts closed.

In Switzer­land, lifts are in­deed in op­er­a­tion on Zer­matt, next to the famed Mat­ter­horn, and east­ern Davos, near Aus­tria.

The famed re­sort of St. Moritz, a favourite des­ti­na­tion for well-heeled Ital­ians, is set to open about 60% of slopes this week­end.

But much of the fun of ski­ing get­aways is miss­ing: Zer­matt’s slopes may be open, but its restau­rants are not — mean­ing a warm co­coa, mulled wine or cold beer at pubs or eater­ies after moun­tain runs is out.

So far, just 10% of the coun­try’s 250 ski sta­tions are open, as only the high­est al­ti­tudes have got­ten enough snow, ac­cord­ing to Switzer­land Tourism spokes­woman Veronique Kanel. She said she didn’t ex­pect a flood of for­eign skiers, not­ing strict travel rules still in place in many coun­tries.

An of­fi­cial in the Swiss health min­istry said Switzer­land plans to join a dis­cus­sion among of­fi­cials from Alpine coun­tries in the com­ing days on co-or­di­nat­ing a plan for re­launch­ing the ski sea­son.

“Clearly the sit­u­a­tion is com­pli­cated: It’s dif­fi­cult to have only one coun­try open its ski slopes when oth­ers close theirs. There needs to be co-or­di­na­tion,” said the of­fi­cial on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause he was not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly on the mat­ter.

 ??  ?? A Mat­ter­horn-Ex­press gon­dola lift in front of the Mat­ter­horn in the Zer­matt ski re­sort, in Zer­matt, Switzer­land.
A Mat­ter­horn-Ex­press gon­dola lift in front of the Mat­ter­horn in the Zer­matt ski re­sort, in Zer­matt, Switzer­land.

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