The UK’s ski season has been ruined by Covid

Mark Lowen
BBC News Chamonix

Image caption

One in four Chamonix tourists was British before the Covid pandemic.

Chamonix is blessed with the most beautiful early-season snow in years on Mont Blanc’s pine-filled slopes. The British skiers are not allowed to experience it.

The Christmas season in France was looking like a record-breaking one, with all flights from Britain and ferry tickets to France fully booked.

France’s government warned of a “landslide” last Thursday. But not its mountain ranges, but the Omicron Coronavirus variants that are sweeping through the UK.

To ban all non-essential travel to Britain, Then suddenly, arrival cancellations took over.

Thomas Mathieu is the proprietor of Brasserie les Marmottons. He already fired three people to prepare for the fall in business.

Everything is available: We put on the masks and we are ready to go. [vaccination]Passes, everything is in order by our government. He adds that it is very confusing.

British tourists accounted for one-fourth of Chamonix’s visitors before the pandemic. The largest group of foreign visitors to France’s resorts is made up of Britons.

France’s Prime Minster Jean Castex has made the comparison to Omicron to lightning – but his government is willing to absorb the damage, and has been accelerating Omicron’s booster programme.

Some people from the UK came just as the drawbridge opened on Friday night. They counted their fortunes, while businesses calculate their losses.

Hugh Kocheta was just down skiing from 2,100m. There were few Brits out on these pistes. He says, “We are missing some people from different family who were supposed over but who probably won’t be able to get out now.” Some people find it quite heartbreaking.

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Alison Hands was driving from Calais with her family when they received the shocking news. Moss, eight years old, says that being here “makes it seem like Christmas all over again” because he has been to every single one of her previous Christmases.

And that is the fear here – that the ban on British tourists evokes a worrying déjà-vu of last Christmas when strict lockdowns followed. This is an alarming sign for what could be.

Dave Searle is a Chamonix-based member of the British Ski Guide Association. Cancellations have been flooding in.

“If this continues this season, it’ll be a big loss of earnings… up to 50% of my annual earnings is through the winter. This is going to happen every winter. It’s getting worse every year. I have to change my profession.

Can he explain the French decision?

“It’s logical in some aspects and is all about keeping people alive and the hospitals full,” he says. Perhaps it feels a little too kneejerk to single out one country.

France only has about a third of the Omicron-positive cases in France, but French scientists perform far less gene sequencing than British ones. Here, intensive care units continue to fill up quickly.

The Christmas spirit is slowly fading, aside from the beautiful Chamonix centre lit up with lights at night. This may just be a brief blip and not the end of the season.

France is buying its time by this means – and it’s paying a lot for its mountain resorts that sparkle again.

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