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SKIIING

French ski resorts reopen after 2020 Covid write-off

French mountain resorts are starting to open for the first time since Covid made last season a write-off, with winter sport enthusiasts and sector professionals hoping that no fresh virus wave will spoil the fun.

People ski down a slope near a cable car at Val Thorens ski resort, in the French Alps
People ski down a slope near a cable car at Val Thorens ski resort, in the French Alps, as ski resorts begin reopening this weekend. PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Val Thorens, Europe’s highest winter sport resort at 2,300 metres (7,500 feet) and hugely popular with Britons, was the first of France’s Alpine resorts allowing skiers back on the lifts and slopes on Saturday.

Others will follow over the coming weeks.

“Amazing, we’re the first,” said one skier testing the slopes with a group of friends. “It’s a bit cold, but we’ll be fine,” the skier added.

READ ALSO Masks and health pass: Covid rules in France’s ski resorts this winter

Some 10,000 people descended on the station on Saturday, local media reported, with the snow in good shape and favourable weather.

France’s resorts are the world’s third-most popular skiing spots in the world, after those in the United States and in Austria, and an economic lifeline for many regions.

“This year will be important for us, crucial even,” said Olivier Simonin, in charge of ski lifts in Val d’Isere which is to open next Saturday.

“Our future is at stake and we can’t imagine not having a winter season, so we did everything possible to make sure we’d have one,” he told AFP.

Last winter, Alpine skiing was almost impossible in France as ski lifts were shut to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Hotels were allowed to open and other winter activities such as snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing were authorised, but the lack of downhill skiing caused a collapse in income.

“We’re so happy to be able to restart the ski lifts and get back to doing our jobs at 100 percent,” Val Thorens ski patrol member Emmanuel Laissus told AFP.

Franck Feyeux, a cabin lift driver, added: “We’ve been impatient for customers to return, a lot of people’s livelihoods are at stake.”

The tiny station of Porte-Puymorens, meanwhile, was the first resort in the southwestern Pyrenees to reopen, with others in the region to follow suit by early December.

“Demand is incredible,” Porte-Puymorens resort director Eric Charre told AFP. “The economic engine is restarting.”

Covid-related demands on skiers are relatively light at the resorts, with mask-wearing required in queues and on board ski gondolas.

But the government has already warned that it could tighten the rules, notably by introducing a health pass obligation, if Covid cases rise strongly.

The health pass, required in French restaurants, cafes and many cultural venues, certifies that a person is fully vaccinated, has recently recovered from Covid, or has tested negative for the virus.

READ ALSO: Will travel to and from France be open this Christmas?
READ ALSO: Masks and health pass: Covid rules in France’s ski resorts this winter

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FRENCH ALPS

Avalanche in French Alps kills British woman

A British woman has died after getting caught in an avalanche as she was hiking with two other people on the Mont Blanc, rescue services said on Sunday.

Avalanche in French Alps kills British woman

The accident happened on Saturday on the Argentiere Glacier, one of the Mont Blanc mountain range’s biggest glaciers, falling within the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region.

The Mont Blanc, on the French-Italian border, is western Europe’s highest mountain at 4,800 metres (nearly 16,000 feet) and attracts 20,000 hikers and skiers every year.

The 45-year old was found buried under the snow, and rescue services arrived too late to save her.

Police have ordered an investigation of the accident and an autopsy.

READ ALSO: France, Italy or Switzerland – which country is Mont Blanc in?

The two other hikers were unharmed, authorities said.

The Mont Blanc’s popularity poses a growing security and environmental challenge, local officials have warned.

Warmer temperatures in recent years have melted permafrost, raising the risk of rock falls on the most popular routes.

In August, authorities closed down two popular mountain shelters used by Mont Blanc climbers because of potentially deadly drought-related rockfalls.

Melting snow is also believed to help trigger avalanches.

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