France is in the middle of its winter holiday period when hundreds of thousands of people usually went to ski in the mountain resorts of the Alps and the Pyrenees. But with the ski lifts closed due to Covid-19, the number of visitors has plummeted, threatening thousands of businesses and livelihoods.
In a typical year, around 60% of people who flock to the upscale ski resort of Courchevel in the Alps are foreign tourists looking for altitude, powder snow, and some of the best.after ski” about.
But with the closure of bars, restaurants and ski lifts and a mandatory 10-day quarantine for those who dare to venture beyond the border, the number of foreign visitors has plummeted.
Since December, the resort has only registered a quarter of its usual clientele, mostly local French tourists.
âWe came for a week in the mountains, the children are at ski school and we do cross-country skiing,â a neighbor from Grenoble told RFI.
âIt’s great to try it out,â his friend said, âbut sad how difficult it is for the friends who work at the resort.â
âBy 8 am, terraces were generally open everywhere, with people drinking coffee and getting ready to head for the slopes,â said local guide Bertrand Brun. “But it’s deserted.”
While the demand for cross-country skiing has exploded this year, it will not be enough to offset the decline in alpine skiing. Thus, the station has diversified to the maximum, pushing activities such as dog sledding, snowshoeing and biking on snow..
And in an attempt to fill his hundreds of empty cabins, he has also tried to tap into the remote job market.
âWe offer very good monthly rentals to attract city dwellersâ, said Alexia LainÃ©, Courchevel marketing director. âWe charge around 1,500 euros for a four-person apartment with Wi-Fi.
Unable to open its ski lifts, Courchevel has also taken the controversial initiative of opening a trail for taxis and minibuses to take people up the mountain. The 2km track was first opened for ski schools, but now anyone can ride it.
“We are the only ones to have opened a slope and we hope that this initiative will have a snowball effect on other ski resorts”, LainÃ© said The Parisian.
Courchevel ski instructors, only 10% of whom are currently at work, welcomed the opportunity to use the taxi-minibus service. But many criticized what they saw as a non-green initiative. “The height of stupidity,” tweeted one commentator.
LainÃ© said they were looking for other ways to trigger the increased carbon footprint.
The ski industry in France is a huge economic engine: 12 billion euros in annual turnover and 200,000 direct jobs. The resorts were hoping to be able to reopen the ski lifts before the February school holidays, but the government felt the increasing circulation of Covid variants made this too risky.
“A reopening in mid-February or at the end of February is unlikely,” Tourism Minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said on January 20. “We are considering a complete cancellation for the season.”
âIt’s such a waste,â said Claude, a local resident, sitting on one of the nearly empty terraces. âThe blue sky, the fresh snowâ¦ it could have been a brilliant season! They tell us: “You can catch the virus on the ski lifts but not on the metro.” What the hell do our leaders think? I am appalled.
âThe snow cannons will not work, so the compensation cannons have to be there,â Lemoyne added.
Prime Minister Jean Castex has announced a stimulus plan of 4 billion euros. But it will not be enough to revive ski resorts or, it seems, to save thousands of seasonal workers.
A woman, who preferred not to give her name, told RFI that she had been seasonal for 30 years and that she had to spend the winter in a store in the Maurienne valley, about thirty kilometers to the south -west of Courchevel. But his four-month contract was reduced to three weeks.
âMy boss took me for a ride,â she says. âIt’s not fair, companies can get financial help to help them with all of this, and they could have avoided leaving us on the side of the road. When they need an extra pair of hands, they’re too happy to have us.
Antoine Fatiga, local union representative for the CGT, said he had received a record number of similar messages from desperate seasonal workers.
“Billions of euros are distributed to the tourism sector, 400 million euros in December alone,” he told RFI. “But nothing is asked in return, there is no obligation to hire seasonal workers.”
Unemployment in the valleys around Courchevel is up 30 percent from last winter and some companies have not hired any additional staff.
âThere are generally 30 of us, but there are only around 5 or 6,â explains ClÃ©ment Bailly, co-owner of a ski shop in Courchevel.
Many of the seasonal workers he would normally employ would soon no longer be eligible for benefits. âI wanted to hire them under the partial unemployment scheme but it would have cost me 100,000 euros per month. I can’t advance that kind of money, âhe said. “In fact, it’s a good job that we didn’t do, we would have gone bankrupt.”
Antoine Fatiga fears that the shortage of jobs in ski resorts will definitely push people to leave the mountains.
âPeople who have been here for a long time tell me that they are going to see if there is more work in town. The mountains are emptying, âhe said regretfully.
The future of the French alpine regions – which depend so heavily on winter snowfall – already looks fragile due to climate change. Today, the Covid epidemic is forcing them to rethink their entire economic model.
Some companies are already thinking about how best to prepare for next year – just in case it still isn’t âbusiness as usualâ.
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