Germany’s more than seven million skiers make up a significant part of the Austrian ski industry. Many drive across the border regularly on weekends. However, Mr Söder said that anyone who crosses for even a day is subject to German quarantine regulations for travelers from risk areas, including all of Austria.
For many, the ski season is seen as a critical test. Winter tourism grossed Austria 14.9 billion euros last year, according to government statistics, and authorities are hoping that one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe, introduced this month, will lower the number of infections enough to ensure a safe Christmas season is. Austria, which currently has one of the highest infection rates in Europe, will also start the continent’s largest mass test program next week.
In France, where the restrictions will gradually be lifted starting this weekend, the authorities have announced that ski resorts – but no ski lifts – will be allowed to open. “Everyone can travel to resorts to enjoy the clean air of our beautiful mountains,” Prime Minister Jean Castex said at a press conference on Thursday.
The decision to keep the lifts closed has caused anger and confusion among tourism and ski professionals. The Christmas holidays account for up to a quarter of the annual turnover of French industry of 11 billion euros.
Cyprien Durand, the head of ski instructors in the village of Megève near the Swiss border, said professionals had worked for months to adapt their ski areas. He called the government’s decision “incoherent and destabilizing”.
“Like everyone else, we learned from the first wave,” Durand said in a telephone interview. “Winter sports are open air, and we’ve done enough for the lifts to ensure social distancing measures are followed.”
Mr Durand, who manages 360 ski instructors, said he and his colleagues would try to organize other activities like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.