Covid-calm hits the Alps

A deserted restaurant in Sölden, Austria. Source: Pim de Koning.

Normally around this time of year, the icy mountain roads and snowy slopes of the alps are flooded by thousands of tourists finding their way to their charming chalets and enjoying their winter holidays. This year, however, the picturesque peaks of the alps will remain peaceful and serene, as the Covid-19 pandemic has shut down tourism.

This means that locals and a few lucky outsiders now have their beloved mountains to themselves, yielding some surreal images, while the rest of us less fortunate snow fanatics spend the winter quarantined near the fireplace.

Governments all over Europe have set up orange and red advisory codes for all foreign travel, strongly discouraging all cross-border movements. Likewise, alpine countries have also further sharpened their entry policies, with many now only allowing essential travel and demanding negative corona-tests at the border and/or periods of quarantine upon arrival in the country.

“The ski areas are open, so if you are in the country, you can ski, but tourists are not welcome”, says Mike Muller from skiinformatie.nl. He adds: “some people were still travelling to Switzerland until recently, but since they changed their regulations on January 15th, that has become very difficult as well.”

“Normally we provide the latest winter sport news, directly from the ski areas, but unfortunately that is not an option now,” Muller continues. “Of course, I hope that we can still ski later this year, but I’m not so sure that ski areas will remain open with so few visitors. We have pretty much given up on this season and our eyes are already on next year.”

“I don’t think I will ever encounter ski circumstances this good again. There is so much snow and almost no one is skiing”, says Dutch ski teacher Pim de Koning, one of the lucky few who did make it to the Austrian alps. But there is a downside to the situation as well: “Obviously it’s also a lot less fun because there is nobody else around here”.

De Koning on an empty ski piste in Sölden, Austria

“I got here in the beginning of January. I got checked once in Germany, but back then the rules weren’t that strict yet”, De Koning says about entering the country. “I think you need a pretty good reason to get into the country right now.”

De Koning hopes that the tourists will return again soon: “Normally I teach everybody, from disabled children to experienced adults, but apart from a few private lessons, I haven’t been working this year. We have mainly been skiing for ourselves now, which is nice, but I need an income as well.”

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