What is the situation?
At the start of the ski season, France was under lockdown so nobody was travelling anywhere, but this was lifted on December 15th and people were once again allowed to travel around the country.
However, many restrictions stayed in place after December 15th and all bars, restaurants and cafés remained closed. There was also a further restriction specific to ski resorts – ski lifts had to remain closed.
This largely ruled out skiing for most people, although cross country skiing and other winter sports that do not require mechanical infrastructure are still allowed.
The Christmas holidays – usually a peak time for ski resorts – saw around 20-30 percent occupancy, compared to 95 percent in a normal year, although people were allowed to take holidays in mountain villages, go hiking and generally enjoy a change of scene after two months of lockdown.
With Christmas a washout, the ski industry then pinned its hopes on the February school holidays, which in France run from February 6th to 22nd.
The government's health briefing on January 14th did not contain any update on ski lifts, but the industry was promised a decision by the end of January.
Then on Wednesday came the hammer blow. Speaking after a Defence Council meeting that brought together top ministers and President Emmanuel Macron, Tourism Minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said: “A reopening in the middle or end of February is highly unlikely. We are looking at a complete write-off for the season.”
As with Christmas, the ban extends only to mechanical ski lifts, so people who had booked a February mountain holiday for other activities can still go, provided another lockdown is not imposed before then.
So what now?
Lemoyne and Prime Minister Jean Castex will be meeting with industry representatives over the next few days in order to finalise the economic help packages that will be on offer for the devastated sector.
A detailed announcement on what financial aid will be available for people whose livelihoods are affected by the ban is expected early next week.
Lemoyne said: “The snow cannons are not going to be working, so the cannons of compensation must be there.”
What about skiing in other countries?
France's neighbours have been less strict with their resorts, so it is still possible to ski in Switzerland and Austria. However, Switzerland is set to impose testing on some arrivals from France.
European leaders have also been in talks about developing a common policy on ski resorts, so there may be further restrictions to come.
What has the reaction been?
The ski industry in France represents €12 billion in annual turnover and is directly responsible for 200,000 jobs and there is no doubt that this is a massive blow for the industry.
The group Collectif des entreprises de montagne (collective of mountain businesses) had been calling for a reopening of ski lifts from January 30th, saying having a complete saison blanche (written-off season) would lead to long-term consequences in loss of investment, the departure of big companies and the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.
However others have accepted that, while devastating, the closures are also necessary.
An awful hit for this sector whose revenue, in fact survival, relies on the ski season however, the risk of opening up resorts and allowing the virus to spread unchecked is a greater risk to the French people and economy.
— Nick Dawson (@Nicodeamous) January 20, 2021
Covid case numbers are rising in France and the eastern Alpine areas are among those particularly badly hit, with local hospitals under severe pressure.
Travel from the UK, usually a major market for French ski resorts, is strictly limited to essential journeys only with a testing and quarantine requirement as health officials try to contain the more contagious variant anglais of the virus.
From January 16th the whole of mainland France is under a 6pm to 6am curfew and there is increasing speculation that a third lockdown is on the way.