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CHRISTMAS

EXPLAINED: What you are still allowed to do in Switzerland this Christmas

Recent government measures restrict many festivities traditionally associated with the holiday season. But some activities are not banned.

EXPLAINED: What you are still allowed to do in Switzerland this Christmas
Despite restrictions, Swiss Christmas can still be merry. Photo ny AFP

It is certain that Christmas celebrations will be much different this year than we are accustomed to.

Switzerland’s government has ordered new national restrictions from December 13th to January 22nd to curb the increasing rate of Covid-19 infections. 

Among them are limits on the number of people allowed  to get together — up to five people from two households, with exceptions for up to 10 people from December 24th to 26th, and on December 31st for Christmas and New Year festivities.

This rule excludes large gatherings that are traditional in many families. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that a number of enjoyable activities that bring ‘comfort and joy’ to many people are still possible.

Shopping

In stores, the number of square metres per customer is now 10 — up from four previously — to ensure more space and fewer people in stores at the same time.

This means a more pleasant shopping experience for everyone, as it will prevent overcrowding in the stores, which so often happens during the busy Christmas season.

Small get-togethers

Ten people is better than none. Think of these gatherings as more personal and intimate, where you can interact with people much better than during big blowouts. Plus, smaller groups make it easier to maintain distance between people rather than huddle together and facilitate virus transmission.

Eating out

Though restaurants and bars will have to close at 7 pm in most of Switzerland, they can stay open until 11 pm in the Swiss-French regions, which have managed to keep their infection rates under control for the time being.

This means you can still eat out, even if it’s only for breakfast, lunch, or afternoon coffee.

But on December 24th and 31st they can remain open until 1 am.

Skiing

Unlike neighbouring countries, which have banned skiing this Christmas, Switzerland is allowing this activity, under strict conditions. 

Masks will be mandatory not only in closed spaces such as mountain trains and cable cars, but also on open-air chair lifts and T-bars, as well as in queues.

In addition, queuing will be regulated so it runs in an orderly manner and without major clusters.

The number of passengers in closed ski cabins will be lowered to two thirds of the usual capacity.

And cantons must ensure that they have the hospital capacity and the ability to undertake testing and contact tracing.

Still, despite a raft of rules, slopes are open, and that is good news for a nation of avid skiers. 

Outdoor activities

There are few rules in place for those who want to spend Christmas outdoors, whether hiking, cross-country skiing, sledding, or engaging in other winter activities.

Being outdoors in open spaces is safe if distances can be maintained.

So while some holiday activities are banned or scaled down, there is still lots to enjoy during the Christmas season. 

 

 

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DISCOVER SWITZERLAND

IN PICTURES: Swiss push for destruction of ‘eyesore’ abandoned ski resorts

In a remote, secluded valley in the Swiss Alps, a line of rusty ski lift masts scar the grassy hillside where cows lazily graze.

IN PICTURES: Swiss push for destruction of ‘eyesore’ abandoned ski resorts

The lifts at the once bustling Super Saint Bernard ski resort in Switzerland’s southern Wallis canton, near the Italian border, stopped running in 2010.

The Super Saint Bernard ski resort in Switzerland's southern Wallis canton, near the Italian border, has been abandoned since 2010. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

The Super Saint Bernard ski resort in Switzerland’s southern Wallis canton, near the Italian border, has been abandoned since 2010. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Since the local company that ran the small station folded, the infrastructure and facilities have been left as a disintegrating blemish on the Alpine landscape.

“Frankly, I would like to see them destroy it, raze it,” former resort director Claude Lattion acknowledged to AFP.

“You arrive from Italy over the Great Saint Bernard Pass and see this,” he said, nodding towards the graffiti-covered ruins and piles of broken glass that once housed the restaurant and ski lift departure station.

With its spectacular mountain landscapes and pristine slopes, Switzerland draws winter sports fans and tourists from around the world.

Former resort director Claude Lattion poses in the ruins of the departure gondola lift station of Super Saint-Bernard ski resort. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Former resort director Claude Lattion poses in the ruins of the departure gondola lift station of Super Saint-Bernard ski resort. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

But in recent years, shortages of snow and especially of money have seen many of its smaller, local stations struggle to keep their ski lifts running.

At least 14 out of 2,433 are currently out of order, according to the Federal Office of Transport. 

Snow business: How to find a job in winter sports in Switzerland

‘Eyesore’ 

Swiss law requires resort owners to pay for the cost of dismantling abandoned ski lifts.

But the situation is more complicated when resorts file for bankruptcy, as Super Saint Bernard has done.

Discussions about whether a buyer can be found, or if regional or local authorities should foot the bill, can drag on for years.

In the small neighbouring village of Bourg-Saint-Pierre, mayor Gilbert Tornare said several solutions have been examined “to get rid of this eyesore”.

But the cost is too steep for the community of just 200 people, he said.

The lifts at the Super Saint Bernard ski resort in Switzerland haven't run since 2010. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

The lifts at the Super Saint Bernard ski resort in Switzerland haven’t run since 2010. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

In all, up to two million Swiss francs ($2.1 million) will be needed to dismantle the station, removing the ski lift masts and decontaminating a site that stretches up to an altitude of 2,800 metres (9,200 feet).

Wallis canton, meanwhile, has suggested using army conscripts for the job to limit the cost.

The case illustrates the chronic difficulties facing smaller ski stations across Switzerland.

For resorts with fewer than 100,000 skiers a year, it is “difficult to turn a profit”, Swiss tourism expert Laurent Vanat told AFP.

Super Saint Bernard, which only had around 20 kilometres (12.4 miles) of slopes and was hampered by its remote location, far from the nearest village, was drawing only about 20,000 skiers per season before it closed.

The Super Saint Bernard ski resort in Switzerland's southern Wallis canton, near the Italian border, has been abandoned since 2010. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

The abandoned Super Saint Bernard ski resort in Switzerland. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

New use?

While the high-altitude station typically sees plenty of snow, other small resorts are being hit by the impact of climate change, which has left the white gold in short supply.

Watching his two dogs sniff around the wreckage of the business he once ran, Lattion said he would have liked to see Super Saint Bernard “put to new use”.

One young local entrepreneur wants to do just that and has proposed creating a hotel reachable by a small cable car.

Two unprepared slopes could be used in winter, while plenty of paths are available for summer hikes, offering a softer approach to mountain tourism than the one driven by the large resorts.

But their plan has been stalled for five years, with a controversial wind farm plan blocking all public financing for new ski projects in the area.

Rebuilding a ski station, Lattion acknowledged, “is not really in the spirit of the times”.

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