Several leading Austrian ski resorts are yet to open to locally-based skiers, even though they now can.
The leading ski nation allowed ski areas to open beginning on Christmas Eve, for people living local to the slopes, although hotels and restaurants are still locked down.
Two of the country’s biggest resorts, Ischgl and Saalbach-Hinterglemm, are yet to open however, although parts of their ski areas away from the main resort are.
Saalbach, which is Austria’s most popular resort by visitor numbers, says it isn’t opening because they were unprepared for the government mandated requirement, announced just a few days before Christmas, that all skiers and boarders must wear medical-grade FFP2 face masks to ride the lifts. Other parts of the wider ski region—Austria’s largest by some ways of measuring it—Leogang, Fieberbrunn and Zell am See did not have any problem at all adjusting to the requirement for FFP2 masks, and opened their lifts on Christmas Eve.
“What we have here is one time in history when ‘local people’, usually too busy to get to ski because of their workload in the season, have the possibility to escape the boredom of the pandemic and the depression of losing money by getting on the slopes. However, Saalbach and Hinterglemm—the core of the large ski area—have kept ALL lifts closed,” said one local entrepreneur who wished to remain anonymous.
Samnaun, which shares its ski area with Ischgl but is on the Swiss side of the border, also has its slopes open, whilst Ischgl’s remain shut.
“It is allowed to ski from Switzerland to Austria, but it is not allowed to ski from Austria to Switzerland and back, so they keep Ischgl closed,” a ski travel expert explained.
It is currently unclear if and when Austrian ski areas finally will be allowed to open to ski tourism. The latest date given is January 24th, but that depends on infection rates in the country being quite low.
The issue of the
cost of operating large lift systems with few customers is proving an obvious
problem for Austrian resorts. The Molltal Glacier opened on Christmas Eve but
then closed again a few days later with eyewitness reporting that only a few
dozen people were on the slopes, and the tourists were outnumbered by staff
prior to the closure decision.
Before the start of the season, a number of Austrian resorts including Ischgl, Kitzbuhel and Obertauern were offering a free Buff with each lift pass sold but these don’t now meet the Austrian government’s more stringent face covering requirements.