Covid restrictions mean that many of Europe’s top winter sports destinations are deserted.
Ski lifts are open, with assorted caveats, in many resorts in Switzerland, Austria, Spain, Bulgaria, Norway and Sweden but closed in France, Italy, and Germany, where governments have decreed the risk of spreading the virus is too high.
In Austria, where ski towns such as Ischgl were identified as Covid-spreading hotspots last winter, resorts were allowed to decide whether to open, despite the country being in lockdown.
St. Anton, part of the vast Arlberg region which includes Lech and Zurs, opted to run a handful of lifts, selling season passes and day tickets to local skiers. Hotels, guesthouses, and chalets must remain closed, so visitor numbers are low.
“To be living through these uber-weird times in such a beautiful place, and being able to ski every day with no-one around, getting my kids of five and three on snow, is phenomenal,” said Andy Butterworth, director and co-founder of luxury ski chalet operator Kaluma Ski, who lives in St. Anton.
Strict regulations are in place, with marked out, socially distanced queue lines, reduced capacities on lifts and the wearing of FFP2 masks compulsory. Links to Lech and Zurs are closed and none of the higher lifts on the mountain are open.
“Everybody is abiding by the rules because they realize how lucky we are,” says Butterworth, before adding that recent incidents with some visitors gathering illegally have put people on edge.
Nearly 100 foreign nationals, including Britons, Danes, Swedes, Romanians, Germans, Australians, Irish people and Poles, were put in quarantine and could face fines of up to 2,180 euros ($2,605) for contravening travel and lockdown rules in St. Anton, according to local police.
“There is the sad side,” said Butterworth, who had to oversee an emergency evacuation of guests from the resort when the virus first hit last March.
“Normally the streets would be really busy, the shops would be lit up, lunch service would be starting in the restaurants and bars. But it’s a ghost town. It’s a lovely ghost town, it’s snowing and it’s pretty, but it’s empty. There is no one around. There is just the bank, the chemist and supermarket open. It misses that buzz, which is a shame.
“It’s sad to see businesses closed and probably not opening again until next winter. The effect on most people in town is probably more negative than it is positive,” Butterworth added.
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