Ski resorts in France have announced that they will close for the rest of the winter, after the French government announced new measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the country.
The decision leaves British skiers and snowboarders stranded in closed resorts in the French Alps awaiting travel home, and many more with their travel plans in tatters. Holidays will have been booked to run well into April, when the season would typically end.
Ski operators have warned those due to travel on Sunday not to travel to the airport.
The measures in France sees the European ski season all-but end. Last week saw the closure of resorts in Italy, which is now in lockdown, as well as Austria, where a cluster of cases forced resorts such as Ischgl and St Anton into quarantine, and Switzerland, which also closes resorts today. Resorts in Andorra and Norway are also shut.
There are currently 4,469 confirmed cases of coronavirus in France and 91 people have died. In the south eastern Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, home to Chambery and Grenoble airport and all the major surrounding resorts, there are currently 211 cases reported.
Resorts in the 3 Vallées, the world’s largest ski area, including Courchevel, Val Thorens and Méribel, will not welcome any more skiers or snowboarders this season. “Due to the last decision took by the French government, Les 3 Vallées ski area and all of its resorts are closed until this end of the season,” read a statement from the ski area; all lift passes, that have been bought for the rest of the season, will be reimbursed.
A statement from Courchevel read: “According to the last government regulations, the resort of Courchevel will be closed as well as bars, restaurants and every other non-necessary places hosting public, from midnight and until further notice. The tourism offices will also be closed.”
Val d’Isere and Tignes, two of the country’s most popular resorts, have closed their linked ski area this morning. A statement on the Val d’Isere Facebook page read: “The new government instructions force us to close the ski lifts, the aquasportif center, cinema, the media library, the ice rink, the convention center, and the children’s village. Therefore, the ski area is closed for the rest of the season.”
Chatel, part of the Portes du Soleil ski area that spans the French-Swiss border, was among the first resorts to announce closure on Saturday night. The resort shares its ski area with popular destination Morzine, as well as Avoriaz. Snowboxx festival, which is attended by thousands of Britons each year, was due to be held in Avoriaz from March 21 to 28. Organisers had already reduced the schedule and cancelled headliners due to government restrictions on large public events, but now it must cancel entirely.
Tour operators are now embarking on plans to return all holidaymakers home and either rearrange or refund those who have not been able to travel.
Inghams, part of the Hotel Plan group, released a statement on its website on Saturday night: “On the evening of Saturday 14 March, the French authorities announced their decision to close all non-essential public places, including the ski lifts with immediate effect. This is despite assurances yesterday and this afternoon from the resorts and tourism bodies themselves that they would stay open until the end of the winter season.”
“Even though the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) advice has not changed, as a responsible tour operator, we will not be operating Inghams ski holidays to these resorts for the rest of the 2019/2020 winter season: Alpe d’Huez, Avoriaz, Chamonix & Les Houches, Courchevel, Flaine, La Clusaz, La Plagne, Les Arcs, Les Menuires, Les 2 Alpes, Méribel, Montgenevre, Morzine, Samoens, Serre Chevalier, Tignes, Val d’Isère and Val Thorens.”
Operators are advising anyone due to travel today (Sunday 15 March) not to go to the airport, as they work on plans to bring home all guests that are currently out in France – some who will have only travelled out yesterday.
Crystal Ski Holidays, the UK’s largest ski operator, has cancelled its entire snow-sports programme to all countries for the rest of the winter. A statement on its website read: “Due to the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and local restrictions in place, we’ve sadly had to cancel our ski holiday programme for the rest of this season. The safety and wellbeing of our customers and staff is our highest priority.”
All other operators, including VIP Ski, Ski Solutions and Alpine Elements, have been forced to adopt the same policy.
British nationals are able to depart France without restriction and airports remain open. The FCO has not changed its travel advice for the country and still deems it safe to visit.
Further afield, following President Trump’s decision to ban all air travel from the UK to the USA has had an impact on skiing in North America. Vail Resorts, which owns 37 resorts spread across 15 American states and three countries, has announced the closure of all its resorts, while the coronavirus situation develops.
“We have made the difficult decision to suspend the operations of all our North American mountain resorts and retail stores beginning Sunday, March 15, 2020 through Sunday, March 22, 2020 and will use that time to reassess our approach for the rest of the season,” read a statement from Rob Katz, CEO.
“We sincerely apologize to guests who are currently at our resorts – and those who were planning to come during this time. We have information on cancellations, refunds and travel credits on our websites. Many things like ski school, lift tickets, equipment rentals, and transportation can be fully refunded, and we have new credit policies in place for our owned and operated lodging properties.”