A Chilling Question Divides Europe: Open Ski Slopes or Keep Them Closed?

Germany’s more than seven million skiers make up an essential part of Austria’s ski industry, with many heading across the border on regular weekend day trips. But Mr. Söder said that anyone crossing even for a day would be subject to Germany’s quarantine regulations for travelers coming from high-risk areas, which includes all of Austria.

For many, the ski season is seen as a critical test. Winter tourism generated €14.9 billion for Austria last year, according to government statistics, and the authorities hope that one of the strictest lockdown in Europe, introduced this month, will drive down the number of infections enough to guarantee a safe holiday season. Austria, which currently has one of the highest infection rates in Europe, is also set to start the continent’s largest mass-testing program next week.

In France, where restrictions are being gradually lifted starting this weekend, the authorities said that ski resorts — but not ski lifts — would be allowed to open. “Everybody is free to travel to resorts to enjoy the clean air of our beautiful mountains,” Prime Minister Jean Castex said at a news conference on Thursday.

The decision to keep lifts closed has sowed anger and confusion among tourism and ski professionals, who say that the Christmas holiday season amounts to up to a quarter of the French industry’s €11 billion annual revenue.

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 resorts. He called the government’s decision “incoherent and destabilizing.”

“Like everyone else, we’ve learned from the first wave,” Mr. Durand said in a telephone interview. “Winter sports mean open air, and for the lifts, we’ve done enough to make sure social distancing measures will be respected.”

Mr. Durand, who manages 360 ski instructors, said he and his colleagues would try to organize other activities like cross-country skiing and snowshoe hiking.

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