A European dispute on the wisdom of opening ski resorts amid the Covid-19 pandemic has turned into a battle pitting France, Italy and Germany – whose slopes remain shut – against the defiant Alpine nations of Switzerland and Austria, backed by Spain.
France’s flag still flutters above the entrance to Châtel’s town hall, but visitors to the Alpine resort in Haute-Savoie could be forgiven for thinking they had inadvertently slipped into Switzerland.
Eclipsing the French tricolour, larger Swiss flags have adorned the municipal building since the weekend in protest at France’s decision to shut down ski lifts throughout the Christmas holidays while neighbouring Switzerland keeps its resorts running.
“The decision to close down was taken in a hurry and with no concertation,” rages the local mayor, Nicolas Rubin, in an interview with FRANCE 24. “We were supposed to get a hearing with the government. Instead, they pulled the rug out from under us.”
Châtel is located in the Portes du Soleil, one of the world’s largest skiing areas, which straddles the border between France and Switzerland. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, two-thirds of the slopes are now shut. But those located in the remaining Swiss third are still open, local authorities having opted for lighter restrictions despite a relatively high number of infections.
“It’s like flipping heads or tails: On one side you can ski, on the other you can’t. It’s absurd,” says Rubin. “You can get to the Swiss resort of Mongins in less than five minutes by car. Whoever wants to ski will go there, and it will soon be crowded.”