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SKIING

Stupidity or freedom? Foreigners in Switzerland on Covid rules for skiing

A majority of Local readers have told us they oppose the government’s plan to allow skiing without a Covid certificate this winter, although the decision also won significant support.

Winter sports enthusiasts talk to each other on a cold day
Snowboarders breathe out on a walking path. Should Covid certificates be required on ski slopes? Photo by Alain Wong on Unsplash

In mid-October, the Swiss government announced the Covid certificate would not be required for winter sports, whether that be skiing down the slopes or even taking chairlifts. 

The agreement came after a long debate about which protective measures should be introduced in the coming season. 

Switzerland’s legal framework is therefore far less stringent than those of its neighbours, which is outlined below. 

COMPARE: What Covid rules are in place for the ski season across Europe?

Switzerland’s Covid certificate demonstrates that the holder has either been vaccinated, has recovered from the virus recently or has tested negative. 

The Local Switzerland reached out to our readers to ask whether they thought it was a good idea, with 68 readers letting us know their thoughts. 

A slim majority said they felt it was the wrong call, with 52.9 percent saying “a Covid certificate should be required for winter sports”. 

44.1 percent of respondents felt differently, saying the Swiss government had made the right call. 

A further 2.9 percent of respondents said they were not sure. 

The Local Switzerland readers on whether the Covid certificate should be required on ski slopes.

The Local Switzerland readers on whether the Covid certificate should be required on ski slopes.

Why were a majority of our readers in favour of a Covid certificate on the slopes?

Our readers provided several reasons for why a Covid certificate should be introduced for winter sports. 

JJ said people were misinterpreting the debate, with distancing almost impossible in cable cars and gondolas. 

“How can you keep social distancing in a cabine or cable car ? reduce the numbers.”

Emma, from Bern, said the government missed a great opportunity to boost the country’s lagging vaccination numbers. 

“This was a prime opportunity to encourage people to get vaccinated. You want to ski and enjoy your passion then get vaccinated and stop risking the life of others through selfishness.” 

“If the certificate was mandatory then there would have been lots of people getting it so they can ski. This way they get their own selfish way. Others’ livelihoods and work friends on being Covid free and healthy. This is an unbelievably bad move.”

Covid-19 vaccines: Why is Switzerland lagging behind other EU countries?

Some respondents, such as this 55-year-old from Vevey, said the government was putting profits before people. 

“The Swiss government’s decision is based on economics and not public health. I will not feel comfortable in a gondola with other people who are not vaccinated against COVID-19.”

Others were upset by the decision, saying it risked plunging Switzerland back into the pandemic. 

Amanda, from Australia, said it was a foolish move. 

“Better to be safe than sorry. As many lifts are enclosed and crowded, the risks of transmission are much higher. Italy is requiring the certificate in their ski resorts. This is a gross error of judgement. Complete stupidity.”

George said the decision was “ridiculous”, pointing to the number of outbreaks which took place last winter due to skiing. 

In the winter of 2019/20, Italian health officials blamed Switzerland’s ski resorts – and the decision to keep them open – for the continent’s third wave, particularly the dangerous British variant. 

READ MORE: Is Switzerland to blame for Europe’s third wave of coronavirus?

Alex, from Basel, echoed this criticism, saying the government hadn’t learned from last year. 

“New wave is on a rise, this yet another example of Bern waking up too late – too many examples from 2020 – not learning on previous acknowledged mistakes”. 

The Rotair Titlis in the Swiss alps is a sight to behold. Photo by Julien Flutto on Unsplash

The Rotair Titlis in Switzerland. Photo by Julien Flutto on Unsplash

Some ski resorts share this opinion and will require the Covid certificate to go skiing, even though this is not a government requirement. Click here for more information

And why was there strong support for the government’s decision? 

While we had several responses from conspiracy theorists blaming Bill Gates and lizard people, by and large the majority of the responses were sensible. 

Although many are quick to paint opponents of the Covid certificate as pandemic deniers or vaccination skeptics, a common argument was simply the practicality of requiring the certificate on the slopes. 

Alexander, a student from Basel, pointed to last year’s ski season as an example. 

“We must get on with normal life. We had a very successful and safe ski season last year without needing to purposely segregate the people because of their vaccination status.”

UPDATED: What are the Covid rules on Swiss ski slopes this winter?

Several others said they felt the virus wouldn’t spread in outdoor areas and as such the current rules – which require the certificate inside only (other than gondolas – were appropriate. 

“Skiing is an outdoor sport in a wide open space. The risk in such a setting is relatively lower,” said one student from Lausanne. 

Al agreed, pointing to the rules in place last winter. 

“It’s an outdoor activity, i don’t see why people would need the pass to ski. Last year worked fine.”

Mark said the strenuous nature of skiing would prevent infected people from taking part. 

“Skiers are responsible & healthy. They don’t ski if they are feeling bad.”

Another echoed that statement “Only heathy ppl go skiing, so is it really necessary to test healthy individuals?”

As has been illustrated throughout the pandemic, one of the major reasons the virus has managed to spread is through those who are asymptomatic carriers. 

What about those who were not sure? 

Simon told us he understood both arguments and said Swiss authorities should keep an eye on how the ski season goes and revise their decision, while also acknowledging the importance of helping the struggling tourism industry. 

Winter sports: Which Swiss ski resorts are already open?

“Obtaining a covid pass seems straightforward, I have mine already, and as I understand it, it is required for the inside spaces of mountain restaurants – and indeed other events etc.” 

“Furthermore, none of us know how widespread the virus will be from December. Perhaps this decision will be re-visited. However, a mandatory pass would probably deter skiers from outside of Switzerland, and tourism needs to recover.”

Another, from Geneva, simply said the pandemic was “still scary” and wasn’t sure where to go. 

The poll was open for a week and finished on Monday, October 25th. 

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TRAIN TRAVEL

Yes, train travel across Europe is far better than flying – even with kids

Hoping to do his bit for the planet, perhaps save some money and avoid spending any time in airports, The Local's Ben McPartland decided to travel 2,000km with his family across Europe by train - not plane. Here's how he got on on and would he recommend it?

Yes, train travel across Europe is far better than flying - even with kids

Summer 2022 has seen the return of people travelling across Europe en masse whether for holidays or to see family, or both.

But it’s also seen chaos in airports, airline strikes and more questions than ever about whether we should be flying at all as Europe bakes under consecutive heatwaves caused by the climate crisis.

But are there really viable alternatives to travelling 2,000 km across Europe in a short space of time – with young kids?

The predicament

We needed to get from Paris to Portugal, or to be more precise the western edge of the Algarve in southern Portugal, for a week-long family holiday.

We didn’t have that much time to spend travelling there and back so the dilemma was how could we get there, fairly quickly?

“We” in this case being a family of four including two children aged 5 and 7, one fairly easygoing mum and a dad (me) who increasingly comes out in a rash when he goes near an airport.

Normally we’d have flown – as we did when we went to the same region of Portugal in October – but the stories of airport chaos, delays, cancellations, strikes and never-ending queues around Europe at the start of the summer made the prospect of taking the plane far less appealing.

Then throw in the climate crisis and the growing feeling that we, as a family, need to make an effort for the cause.

So the thought of flying, during what forecasters say was one of the hottest Julys on record in Europe and as rivers dried up and wildfires burn, just didn’t feel like an acceptable option – to me anyway – when there are alternatives.

There was the option of driving from France to Portugal, as many French and Portuguese nationals living in France do every summer. But driving nearly 2,000 km there and back for just a week’s holiday with two kids strapped in the back for hours on end would have been asking for trouble – either a breakdown or lots of meltdowns.

So that left taking the train. But would it be viable?  Would something go wrong as my colleague Richard Orange had warned on his own rail trip across Europe with kids this summer?

READ ALSO: What I learned taking the train through Europe with two kids

Planning the route

With the help of some really knowledgeable European rail experts like Jon Worth and information from the excellent The Man in Seat Sixty-One website we looked at the various rail routes through France and Spain to southern Portugal.

One problem was the line from southern Spain to the Algarve no longer runs which meant the best we could do was get to Seville and then hire a car.

At one point the best option looked like a night train (fairly cheap with a whole cabin reserved for the family) down to the Pyrenees (Latour-de-Carol) and then a local train to Barcelona before onwards travel to Portugal.

But in the end we settled on the direct train from Paris to Barcelona, spend the night in the Catalan city before taking the train the next day to Seville and picking up the car.

READ ALSO 6 European cities less than 7 hours from Paris by train

It would be mean Paris to Portugal in two days – or to be precise 7 hours to Barcelona, one night in a hotel, before a five-and-half-hour train journey to Seville and a three-hour car journey. It was the quickest way without flying, as far as we could see.

We were about to book the tickets when friend who was travelling by rail through Europe mentioned the Interrail option.

I did Interrailing as an 18-year- old and it was a great way to spend a month travelling around Europe (and Morocco) but had never thought it could be an option for a quickish trip to Portugal and back.

But Interrail has changed a bit since 1996 and indeed since 1972 when it was first launched for under 21s.

Now it offers passes that can be used for 4, 5 or 7 days a month – perfect for travel to a few destinations in a short space of time.

And, this was the clincher – Interrail passes for under 11s are free if they are with an adult.

Well almost free, because in certain countries like France and Spain you still need to pay for seat reservations for anyone travelling.

But the cost of the passes for two adults, plus seat reservations were cheaper than just booking direct trains and much cheaper than flying (more on costs below).

The high-speed train from Barcelona to Seville. Photo: The Local

The Upsides

Let’s start with not having to wake up at 4am and arrive at the train station three hours before the train leaves just to check in a bag and then spend the next three hours queuing in various lines – bags, passport, security, boarding etc..

We arrived at Gare de Lyon around 30 minutes before the train left and boarded without queuing and the train departed on time.

Compare this with having to get a taxi or the RER train to Charles de Gaulle airport and then still find yourself in Paris three hours later as you queue to board. (I know this is not always the case but this summer the advice was to arrive three hours before your flight to check in bags.)

Plus there was no luggage limits on the train and no having to empty your bags at security because you left an old roll-on deodorant at the bottom of your bag.

Although rail stations in Spain do have airport style x-ray machines to check all luggage, they were very rapid and didn’t result in any long queues.

Add to this comfortable seats with leg room, a bar you can walk to and spend hours watching the beautiful French and Spanish landscape whizz by.

You arrive in the centre of town – in our case Barcelona – so there’s no need to get public transport or taxis to and from out of town airports. 

Spending a night in Barcelona was a great way to break the journey – albeit a bit expensive (see below).

And it all ran pretty much on time. Over five train journeys in four days we had 15 minutes of delay. Spain’s high-speed trains were fantastic.

To sum it up: when flying your holiday only really begins when you arrive at your final destination because these days the day spent travelling is one big headache, but with the train the holiday begins as soon as you leave the station.

It’s just far, far more relaxing.

heading back to Barcelona Sants station after a night in the Catalan capital. Photo: The Local.

The Downsides

But what about the kids, you say?

Yep this can be an issue. Travelling for 7 hours on a train is not easy with two young kids but if you come prepared and can think of 75 different ways to occupy them from drawing and playing cards to I-spy and “count my freckles slowly” then it’s possible the journey will be tantrum free. (Playing hide and seek on a train with 12 carriages isn’t advisable.)

And kids adapt, so the following day’s five and half hour journey from Barcelona to Seville was a breeze because they settled into the pace of life and by that point had worked out the code to get into my mobile phone.

One complaint was how long the TGV train took to get along the southern French coast. Does it really need to stop at Nimes, Montpellier, Beziers, Agde, Sete and Perpignan? Can’t local trains serve these stations and the TGV just head straight to Spain?

Another little gripe was the train food. Whilst buffet cars on SNCF and Renfe trains are great for a coffee or a beer they don’t really offer a selection of healthy meals, so you need to come prepared. We weren’t and spent a lot of money on crap food and drink during the trips.

But if you know this in advance you can bring whatever you like onto the train, with no nonsense about 100ml limits on liquid.

Cost comparison

Working out cost comparisons are hard and anyone looking to do a similar trip will need a calculator at hand. 

It’s hard to do a direct comparison between flying and taking the train because so much depends on what the prices are when you book, the route you want to take and how quickly you want to travel and whether to go first class or standard.

But for us at the time of booking (roughly two months in advance) flights from Paris to Faro were about €1,500 for four people, train tickets booked directly with SNCF and Renfe (not interrail) for four people were around €1,200 (this probably could have been much cheaper further in advance), whilst the Interrail option – 4 day passes plus seat reservations was around €810.

So on the face of it travelling by train, especially using Interrail passes, was cheaper – but then add on the cost of two nights in hotels in central Barcelona and there was no real financial benefit of going by train.

But then it was never all about money – what price on not having to spend three hours at Charles de Gaulle airport?

How easy is it to Interrail?

Interrail proved a great option for us, even though it was only a relatively short trip. It’s more suited to those looking to do multiple journeys through various countries, perhaps at a slower pace. But the kids being free was crucial for us, so other families should definitely explore the option.

The one downside to Interrailing through France and Spain is the requirement to book seat reservations for the high-speed trains.

Whilst this sounds fairly straightforward we couldn’t do it through the Interrail app or website so had to be done with Renfe directly. For most countries you can reserve seats through the Interrail app (more on this below).

With SNCF it required a lengthy phone call because we reserved the seats to make sure there were some available before getting the Interrail passes.

For Paris to Barcelona the reservations cost €34 for standard class seats or €48 for first class.

With Renfe it was more complicated although much cheaper (Around €10 to €12 a seat). We were told on the phone that to reserve seats with Interrail you have to do it either at a Spanish train station or by phone but only if you can pick up and pay for the reservations at a Spanish train station within a certain amount of time.

Neither of these were possible when booking from Paris back in May/June. But the helpful website Man at Seat 61 recommended going via the man behind the AndyBTravels website, who charges a small fee. A few emails were exchanged and our reservations for Barcelona to Seville arrived in the post a few days later. 

Renfe and SNCF could make it easier for Interrail passengers.

The Interrail mobile pass on the the Rail Planner app was very easy to use. It was just a case of adding the days when we were travelling and then adding the specific journeys.

This brought up a QR code for each trip but the ticket controllers were always more concerned about the seat reservations we had on paper.

But all went to plan.

 

Conclusion

Those days spent sitting drinking coffee, orange and beer (in separate cups) starring out of train windows at fields, hills, mountains, villages, beach and train platforms were part of the holiday.

I’d say that if you have a day or two to spare then travelling across Europe by train instead of plane is well worth it – yes, even with two young kids.

They might even thank you for it one day if we all help avert a climate disaster. 

Advice

It’s hard to give advice because each person has different requirements that need to be taken into account – whether number of passengers, time needed for travelling, destinations, cost etc.

But plan ahead and do the research to see what’s possible.

One bit of advice if you need to travel quickly is try keep connections to a minimum or give yourself plenty of time to make them.

My colleague Richard Orange had problems on his trip from Sweden to the UK via Denmark, Germany and Belgium because of delays and missed connections.

Useful links and extra info

You can explore Interrail pass options and prices by visiting the Interrail site here. The site offers plenty of info to help you plan your trip and reserve seats on trains if necessary.

The fantastic Man in Seat 61 guide to train travel across Europe is a must-read for anyone planning a trip. It has pages and pages of useful up to date info and can be viewed here.

It also has loads of information on how to use an Interrail pass and calculations to see whether it’s the best option – if you need help with the maths. The page can be viewed here.

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