EU leaders in deadlock over whether to reopen ski resorts for Christmas

Greg Dickinson
·4-min read
The Austrian Government hopes to reopen its ski resorts as soon as possible - Getty
The Austrian Government hopes to reopen its ski resorts as soon as possible - Getty

European leaders are struggling to reach a coordinated agreement on whether to keep their ski resorts shut or to reopen for business over the winter season.

The French, Italian and German governments want to keep their ski resorts closed over the festive period, with the aim to reopen on January 10 at the earliest.

However, Austria and Switzerland, which is not part of the EU, want to keep their resorts open.

The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, told German parliament that EU countries are attempting to reach a coordinated agreement on how ski resorts will reopen.

“The skiing season is approaching, and we will push for a vote [for] Europe to close all ski resorts,” she told MPs.

“I will say this openly that it won’t be easy, but we will try,” she said, acknowledging it may be difficult “given Austria’s negative attitude”.

Markus Söder, the State Premier of Bavaria in southern Germany, said he wanted to keep the area’s resorts closed to stop the spread of Covid-19, and urged other European leaders to follow suit.

“I would prefer to have a common agreement on a European level: no ski lifts open, no ski holidays anywhere,” he said. “If we want to keep the borders open, we need a clear agreement on skiing. Otherwise things will get difficult.”

Angela Merkel and Markus Söder both believe Germany's resorts should remain closed over Christmas - Getty
Angela Merkel and Markus Söder both believe Germany's resorts should remain closed over Christmas - Getty

Last week, the French prime minister announced that ski lifts and reception areas will be closed at French resorts over Christmas.

"It will be possible to get to the resorts to enjoy the clean air, but all ski lifts and public reception areas will be closed," said Jean Castex, meaning skiing will generally be off the cards. It is not yet known if ski touring or hiking will be permitted.

The Italian prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, has also called for a ban on ski holidays across Europe this festive period, 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.

Telegraph Travel’s ski expert, Lucy Aspden, says a blanket closure of the EU’s ski resorts would be devastating.

“A blanket approach would be disastrous for ski resorts and the businesses that operate in them – and it is totally delusional,” she said.

“My hopes now lie with the Austrians and Swiss. The latter has remained steadfast in their approach and have refused to close ski resorts or postpone openings despite the actions of their neighbours.

“And according to reports, the Austrians are ‘lukewarm’ about the idea of a Europe-wide ban on skiing – despite their resorts currently being shut until December 6.”

Austria has made clear its determination to reopen its ski resorts next month. The Austrian Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, has said this is “not a matter in which the EU should interfere,” while the country’s tourism minister has moved to reassure skiers, saying: “Winter holidays in Austria will be safe”.

The Finance Minister, Gernot Blümel, said that if Austria’s ski resorts are forced to remain closed, the EU will have to pay for it.

“If the European Union actually specifies that the skiing areas must remain closed, then that means costs of up to two billion euro. If the EU really wants that, then it must pay for it,” he said.

Andorra has echoed Austria's determination to reopen resorts for Christmas, while Switzerland, which is not part of the EU, has a number of resorts already open and says it is preparing to open more.

This could create some tricky situations in the Swiss resorts that cross over into French and Italian resorts. Zermatt in Switzerland, for example, will likely remain open, but the linked Italian resort of Cervinia will be closed. The two resorts have a combined lift pass.

The Portes du Soleil range crosses the Swiss-French border, meaning Champery, Les Crosets and Morgins will be open, while the adjoining French resorts of Morzine, Les Gets and Avioraz will likely be closed.

The Portes du Soleil range straddles the French–Swiss border - Getty
The Portes du Soleil range straddles the French–Swiss border - Getty

The extended closure of Europe’s ski resorts will come at a cost. Ski resorts in France employ 120,000 seasonal workers. In Italy, winter tourism creates 400,000 jobs and accounts for roughly €10 billion – a third of which is made during the festive period.

Covid-19 continues to spread across Europe. In France, there are 129 cases per 100,000 over 7 days. Germany is reporting 151 cases per 100,000, while Italy has considerably more – 318 cases per 100,000 over 7 days. Switzerland has 325 cases per 100,000, and Austria has 402 cases per 100,000 over 7 days. The UK has 174 cases per 100,000 over 7 days.

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