French resorts ask: will COVID write off whole ski season?

CHAMONIX, France (Reuters) - Business owners at France’s Chamonix ski resort, their earnings slashed because of the COVID-19 lockdown, are worried they might not be able to welcome back skiers at all before the snows melt and the season ends.

French ski resorts were prevented from opening their cable cars and ski lifts at the start of the season, driving away the large portion of their visitors who come for downhill skiing.

The French government had discussed the possibility of re-opening the ski lifts of Jan. 7, but last week it said that with virus cases still high, that would be premature. A decision is now due on Jan. 20, leaving little time before the season ends.

“If we have to close to the end of season, that’s going to cost us several billion euros,” said Mathieu Dechavanne, Chairman and CEO of Compagnie du Mont-Blanc, which operates cable cars in the region. “The economic impact will be catastrophic.”

At the weekend on the slopes above Chamonix, a few winter sports enthusiasts did their best to enjoy the mountains. Some hiked using snow shoes, others tobogganed, or walked up the slopes before skiing down.

But the streets of Chamonix were unusually quiet.

The “Le Serac” restaurant was shut, except for take out orders, and owner Francois Montorcier said he was taking just 10 percent of normal revenues.

“It’s a catastrophe,” he said. “We don’t see things getting better.”

The French government provides financial assistance, but it does not cover all losses. At his ski equipment rental shop, co-owner David Pot said he and his partners had lost half their revenue since the pandemic began.

He was angry, he said, because skiing did not expose people to a high risk of infection, yet government ministers still cracked down on ski resorts.

“There’s no logic in the way they take decisions,” he said.

Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Mike Collett-White