MEGEVE, France (Reuters) – Megeve, in the foothills of Mont Blanc, was gearing up to welcome back skiers before Christmas after a COVID-19 lockdown was eased.
But France’s government – while allowing cinemas, museums and theatres to reopen from Dec. 15 – says its ski slopes must stay off limits until 2021, leaving those who make their living in the Alpine village frustrated and, in some cases, perplexed.
“When you’re outside, when you’re doing sport outdoors, that’s not the moment when you’re going to give COVID to someone. COVID is passed on in enclosed places,” said Pierre de Monvallier, director of ski school Oxygene, which operates in several resorts including Megeve.
Announcing a phased easing of the lockdown on Tuesday, President Emmanuel Macron said it was “impossible to envisage” re-opening ski slopes for Christmas and New Year, and that he preferred instead to do so during January.
“It felt like the door had been slammed in our face,” said Catherine Jullien-Breches, the mayor of Megeve, whose currently green slopes are generally covered with snow by mid-December.
“Unfortunately it’s a real drama for the economies of the villages and the winter sports resorts.”
People who live within 20 km (12 miles) of France’s Alpine resorts will able to visit from this weekend, but with the lifts staying shut, the main draw is missing.
“It’s like going on holiday on the Cote d’Azur and being told the sea is off limits,” said David Le Scouarnec, co-owner of Megeve’s Café 2 la Poste.
The problem for the resorts – and the hotels, restaurants, and workers who depend on them for their livelihood – is that their season is short, and they will have little time after the New Year to claw back lost revenue.
Other European authorities are wrestling with the same problem. Italy’s resorts regions are seeking approval for restricted skiing but Austria, whose biggest cluster of the first wave of the pandemic was at the ski resort of Ischgl – where thousands were infected – is sceptical.
Prevarication cuts little ice, however, with Mathieu Dechavanne, Chairman and CEO of Compagnie du Mont-Blanc, which operates cable cars at Megeve and other resorts.
He said who could not understand why the government allowed trains and metros to operate, but barred him from re-opening. “It’s like we’re being punished. We don’t deserve this. We’re ready.”
(Writing by Christian Lowe; editing by John Stonestreet)