Thursday, May 13, 2021

Switzerland annoys its Alpine neighbors by keeping its ski resorts open

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As heavy snowfall draws closer to the village of Andermatt high in the Swiss Alps, local hotelier Johan Granvik ignores arguments that have led other EU countries to close their ski resorts .

“If you go out to the grocery store on a Saturday morning, you can’t tell me it’s less dangerous than spending five minutes in a gondola and then be on the big open trails, ”said Granvik, who has hired more than 30 employees for his hotel and restaurant business for the winter season. Closing the tracks to stop the coronavirus “makes no sense,” he added.

Standing by the icy Reuss River for a photo as snow gnaws at the ground, Mr Granvik, 35, said the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic meant bankruptcy was something he had recently had to squeeze. ‘worry about his seven-year-old business. Its boutique hotel Zum Schwarzen Bären builds on a successful winter sports season. Two of its restaurants, Wachthuus and Rüti Hütte, are on the slopes. If the elevators don’t open, neither can they.

In the Alps, Austria, France, Germany and Italy, ski resorts will be closed for at least a month over fears that an influx of people could spread the virus. As a result, winter tourism, which is the most important economic sector in the Alpine regions, will be suspended during its most active period. But Switzerland – for now – is an exception.

Johan Granvik: “I understand that shopping is a necessity and skiing is not. But at the same time, you can’t take everything away from people – you have to give people a glimmer of hope ”© Frederik van den Berg / FT

Bern, which has not imposed a second national lockdown to control the second wave of coronavirus, has refused to enforce ski resort closures. As a result, skiing has become an unlikely but bitter political loophole divide European countries as they seek an answer in the final phase of the pandemic.

Other European leaders have barely managed to contain their contempt for Switzerland’s recalcitation. The French and Italian prime ministers have called directly on the chairman of the Swiss Federal Council of Government to demand that he line up, officials in Bern told the Financial Times.

The Swiss Parliament responded this week with a motion condemning even the limited measures put in place to reduce the capacity of ski resorts to 80%, because too much.

The events of February and March, during the first wave of the pandemic, when the Alpine resorts became super-spreader clusters. That Switzerland, by keeping its stations open, can become an economic beneficiary of the suffering of others is particularly disturbing.

The Chedi hotel: winter tourism is the most important economic sector in the Alpine regions © Frederik van den Berg / FT

At Andermatt’s luxurious Chedi Hotel, the season is already underway, with guests enjoying drinks by the fireside in the lounge as porters rush off with carts loaded with expensive skis, boots and luggage. In the wine store, where rare vintages are stacked from floor to ceiling, two businessmen had set up “home offices”.

“We didn’t need to close anything, which is good news,” said Joachim Schweier, hotel marketing manager. “Reservations tend to be more last minute, but we’ve had a lot of interest recently.”

As questions hang over other European destinations, the Chedi offers private jet service to transport passengers from destinations such as London, Munich and Rome – without the health risks that commercial flights during a pandemic can bring. .

Skiing has a reputation for frivolity – not least because of the sheer amount of money it tends to attract – but it’s big business. More than a third of the Swiss ski regularly for leisure.

Joachim Schweier, Chedi Marketing Manager: “ We didn’t need to shut anything down, which is good news ” © Frederik van den Berg / FT

“It’s our national sport, and especially in these times with closures and so many people staying at home, it’s very important that you can get out into the mountains, get some fresh air, meet other people and be physically active, ”said Mathias Imoberdorf, spokesperson for the ski facilities at Zermatt resort in southwestern Switzerland. “We have confidence in the federal government to make the right decision,” he added.

However, with the country still facing a high number of infections, not everyone in Switzerland supports the government’s approach.

A parody video went viral in Switzerland this week which hit the Austrian resort of Ischgl which became a coronavirus hotspot earlier this year. He invited tourists to fiction Ischgliich – Swiss dialect for “I don’t care” – and advised to book soon, with “intensive care beds already exhausted”. Zurich’s Tages-Anzeiger newspaper on Friday asked: “Is Switzerland a liberal freak show?”

Those who work in the ski industry, however, make a distinction between a safe winter vacation and the kind of boisterous après-ski party that is one of Ischgl’s selling points.

A scenic train ride to Andermatt station. Cars must run with a limited capacity © Frederik van den Berg / FT

In Andermatt, a series of soft measures are used to “guide” rather than “restrict” guests, said Raphael Krucker, general manager of the resort. Restaurants have doubled their outdoor seating capacity, indoor tables are limited to four people, and loud music is prohibited to curb any temptation to party. Bars close at 11 p.m.

“The number one priority is to avoid another lockdown,” Krucker said, noting that the Gemstock Mountain ski lifts had been open for weeks without any coronavirus issues.

On Friday, the federal government announced limited restrictions on the ski industry. Closed cabins, gondolas and train compartments in resorts must be limited to two-thirds of their capacity, but there will be no restrictions on the number of use of the ski slopes. From December 22, individual stations will also need a license to remain open, which will be tied to the capacity of the hospital.

Mr. Granvik, the hotelier, hopes the government will keep its cool. “I understand that buying food is a necessity and skiing is not. But at the same time, you can’t take everything away from people – you have to give them a silver lining. ”

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