Off the pistes: Germany seeks to keep EU ski resorts shut

A billboard informing about closed cable cars and ski slopes stands next to the main street in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, 16 March 2020. [Philipp Guelland/EPA/EFE]

Germany will seek a deal with European partners to close ski slopes through to early January due to coronavirus, setting it on a collision course with resort operators and Austria ahead of the crucial Christmas holiday season.

“I will say this openly that it won’t be easy, but we will try,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said after marathon talks Wednesday with the leaders of Germany’s 16 states on extending current restrictions in Europe’s biggest economy.

While urging Germans to stay at home over the year’s end festive season, the states and federal government agreed to “work at the European side, to not allow ski tourism until 10 January”.

Germany’s call dovetailed with France’s plans, coming a day after French President Emmanuel Macron said his country’s ski resorts will be shuttered through year’s end.

Macron had also said he would consult with European partners to coordinate start dates for the winter season.

But key player Austria has already voiced opposition, with Austrian tourism minister Elisabeth Koestinger saying that she “did not see any benefits to the calls for closure of ski resorts”.

“Winter holidays in Austria will be safe. Our companies have already drawn up comprehensive safety concepts for ski holidays,” she told Germany’s Funke newspaper group.

In France, ski resorts were also up in arms over Macron’s plans.

“The president had perhaps made a precipitous announcement and it is very prejudicial for the economy of the Alps,” said Jean-Luc Boch, who heads the national association of mountain stations ANMSM.

‘Agreement needed’

In Germany meanwhile, regional authorities in southern Bavaria state said on Tuesday they would keep the Alpine slopes there shut through the holiday season to combat Covid-19 transmission.

Many German and foreign holidaymakers flock to Bavaria over the winter break to enjoy its pristine ski slopes.

But Bavaria’s state premier Markus Söder said current infection rates meant “we just can’t have the classic ski holidays”.

He also warned Germans against simply crossing the border to ski in Austria, as they would face a 10-day quarantine upon return since the neighbouring country is classed as a coronavirus risk zone.

“I would prefer to have a common agreement on a European level: no ski lifts open, no (ski) holidays anywhere,” said Söder.

“If we want to keep the borders open we need a clear agreement on skiing. Otherwise things will get difficult.”

The goal, said Söder, was to avoid “a second Ischgl”.

The Austrian ski resort of Ischgl gained notoriety earlier this year after it became an early Covid-19 hotspot and infected tourists there helped spread the virus across Europe.

Indepent report on COVID hotspot Ischgl slams Austrian government's handling

The Austrian ski resort of Ischgl became the European epicentre of coronavirus infections in March. The local government there has denied any responsibility, but a new independent commission report begs to differ. EURACTIV Germany reports.

In non-EU member Switzerland, however, skis resorts are open, although police have been spotted patrolling lift departures areas to ensure that skiiers respect anti-Covid measures such as wearing masks and social distancing.

Cable car windows are left open to ensure ventilation and hand gel is widely available.

The Swiss industry is hoping for an influx of European tourists over Christmas after Switzerland recently lifted quarantine requirements for people arriving from most of the continent.

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