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Snow Sports Sector Says Slopes Shutdown Sparks ‘Struggle of a Century’

Concerns surrounding a possible resurgence of coronavirus infections have led German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and French President Emmanuel Macron to call for a Europe-wide shutdown of ski resorts until Jan. 10.

Winter sports equipment groups, including the Federation of European Sporting Goods Industry (FESI), issued a joint statement Wednesday denouncing the movement to close the slopes over the key money-making holiday season.

“These last-minute announcements and unfounded arguments have been made without preliminary [consultation] with our members, without preparation and without any coordination between countries,” the signatories wrote. “As a result, the situation has generated an unpredictably disastrous and chaotic situation for all actors in the winter sports industry.”

Members of the industry “are now confronted with the struggle of a century where many companies, service providers and local family-owned businesses are battling for their survival,” they continued.

Fifteen sports equipment companies signed the statement, including Atomic, Elan, Faction, Fischer, Head, Inretail, Intersport, K2, Marker Dalbello Völkl, Groupe Rossignol, Salomon, Skimium, Ski Set, Sport 2000 and Tecnica Group. An additional 12 industry federations also threw in their support.

If resorts are closed during the end-of-year holidays, the winter sports sector could face a net loss of around 30 percent of its annual revenue, according to an internal FESI survey. If nothing is done, the survey estimated 65 percent of small and medium enterprises will probably not survive this season.

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The signatories asked European Union members to consider several proposals, first of which was “an official recognition that beyond the downstream constellation of ski resorts, hotels, restaurateurs, monitors, seasonal workers, service providers and sports shops, the entire winter sport industry upstream is directly and severely impacted as well for a long duration.” Consequently, the signatories asked that the winter sport sector should join other industries that have received financial safety packages.

The statement also asked for a coordinated approach between member states with the support of the European Commission and expressed interest in joining such a dialogue to share its recommendations in the future.

The signatories additionally raised the issue of predictability. “We are presented with decisions that are based on incomprehensible and sometimes also somewhat un-adapted procedures and policy processes,” they wrote. “We call on the development of clear and reliable risk indicators for inbound or outbound countries, as it has been done in many other tourism and travel sectors. This would allow winter sports actors to be properly informed in advance and to predict when and which resorts might close.”

Resorts in Italy and much of Europe will remain closed until early January
Resorts in Italy and much of Europe will remain closed until early January. ESPA Photo Agency/CSM via ZUMA Wire

Not all countries in Europe have embraced calls for a complete shutdown of winter sports. In Switzerland, itself not a member of the EU, the Federal Council said Friday that ski areas should be allowed to open for domestic tourism. “Where the epidemiological situation is critical, measures must first be taken to allow it to improve,” it said. After Dec. 22, ski areas will need to receive a permit from the cantonal authorities to operate, which will depend on the level of local outbreak and the capacity of hospitals, contact tracing services and testing sites.

Austria, whose government has pushed back on shutting down ski slopes, is set to reopen cable cars on Dec. 24. Due to strict entry restrictions slated to last from Dec. 19 to Jan. 10, however, slopes will be effectively limited to locals.

Ski resorts played an early role in the coronavirus outbreak earlier this year, with the Austrian ski resort Ischgl eventually being linked to cases in 45 countries, according to BBC. The signatories, however, said they’ve learned in the ensuing months.

“It is safe to say that since March 2020, all stakeholders know far more about the pandemic which caught our sector and all the others by surprise in Q1 this year,” they wrote. “It is a fact that most of the winter sports associations, the ski and snowboard schools, the sports shops, the cable car operators and clubs throughout Europe and the Alpine region have worked and massively invested in clear and comprehensive sanitary guidelines and measures over the last few months.”