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November 24, 2021

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French ski resorts reopen after last year’s wipeout

French mountain resorts are opening for the first time since COVID-19 made last season a bust, with winter sport enthusiasts and sector professionals hoping that no fresh virus wave will spoil the fun.

Val Thorens, Europe’s highest winter sport resort at 2,300 meters and hugely popular with Brits, was the first of France’s alpine resorts allowing skiers back on the ski lifts and slopes on Saturday.

Others will follow over the coming weeks.

“Amazing, we’re the first,” said one skier testing the slopes with a group of friends. “It’s a bit cold, but we’ll be fine.”

Around 10,000 people descended on the station during the weekend, local media reported, with the snow in good shape and favorable weather.

France’s resorts are the world’s third-most popular skiing spots in the world, after those in the United States and Austria, and an economic lifeline for many regions.

“This year will be important for us, crucial even,” said Olivier Simonin, in charge of ski lifts in Val d’Isere which is set to open next Saturday. “Our future is at stake and we can’t imagine not having a winter season, so we did everything possible to make sure we’d have one.”

Last winter, alpine skiing was virtually impossible in France, as ski lifts were shut down to prevent the virus from spreading.

Hotels were allowed to open and other winter activities such as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing were authorized, but the lack of downhill skiing inflicted an avalanche of economic pain.

“We’re so happy to be able to restart the ski lifts and get back doing our jobs at 100 percent,” Val Thorens ski patrol member Emmanuel Laissus said.

“We’ve been impatient for customers to return,” said Franck Feyeux, a cabin lift driver. “A lot of people’s livelihoods are at stake.”

The tiny station of Porte-Puymorens was the first resort in the southwestern Pyrenees to reopen, with others in the region to follow suit by early December.

“Demand is incredible,” said Eric Charre, a Porte-Puymorens resort director. “The economic engine is restarting.”

Demands on skiers linked to COVID-19 are relatively light at the resorts, with mask wearing required in lines and onboard ski gondolas.

But the government has already warned that it could tighten the rules, notably by introducing a health pass obligation, if cases of the virus increase significantly. The health pass, required in French restaurants, cafes and many cultural venues, certifies that a person is fully vaccinated, has recently recovered from COVID-19 or has tested negative for the virus.


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