CHATEL, France/LES CROSETS, Switzerland (Reuters) – Like other French ski resorts, the Alpine town of Chatel has been forced to close its lifts over the Christmas period as part of tougher government curbs to contain the coronavirus.
But just 5 km (3 miles) away, holidaymakers are schussing down the same slopes on the other side of the border in Switzerland, where less strict restrictions mean it’s business as usual in the Dents du Midi ski region.
Chatel mayor Nicolas Rubin was so annoyed by the sharp divergence in the handling of the coronavirus pandemic that he hung Swiss flags from the town hall windows for a week in protest.
“Of course we are worried, because beyond the closing of the ski resort the morale and the mental health of people is starting to be affected,” he said.
Jean-Francois Vuarand, Chatel’s tourism chief, said the year-end holidays normally generated a fifth of winter season turnover.
“The problem is… it is difficult to make customers understand that at the border, in these two nearby areas, there are two different rules for the same activity,” he said.
For Quentin Decoursier, owner of restaurant Le Comptoir on the French side, the discrepancy is manifestly unfair.
“What is going to happen is that a lot of French people will go there (across the border) and we don’t understand because we have as much right as they have to be open,” he said.
While the two countries have similar COVID infection and fatality rates, Swiss authorities have let individual cantons decide whether lifts can operate safely, though Dents du Midi tourism director Sebastien Epiney said his community was also living on the edge.
“We are putting in place all our assets to offer a safe product to our customers, but the sword of Damocles is over our heads,” he said.
Yoan Perroud, shrugged of the risk of skiing, saying outdoor activity was not as risky as the restaurants and bars that support them.
“For me the problem is not the ski slopes, it’s what is next to them,” he said from Les Crosets, a resort on the Swiss side.
(Reporting by Cecile Mantovani, writing by Michael Shields; editing by John Stonestreet)