CORTINA, Italy (AP) – Graceful granite peaks surround the northern Italian town of Cortina d’Ampezzo with one of the most fertile snowfalls in years, a cruel joke of nature while the COVID-19 pandemic silences Italy’s winter resorts.
Cortina will be appearing on TV sports channels for two weeks this month as the city that hosted the past and upcoming Olympics hosted the 2021 World Ski Championship, sending downhill skiers flying down sheer slopes. But the event will occupy only a fraction of the available hotel rooms, and is unlikely to bring much business to the city’s luxury boutiques. No spectators allowed.
In fact, the spasm of activity looks like a mere blink in a ski season that looks like it will never take off, as the Italian government postpones the reopening of lifts for recreational skiers. The world championships will provide a fine picture of the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Olympics, but little economic aid to local businesses and workers living off the winter sports economy, which has been closed for nearly a year.
“Weirdly, we made snow in November, because we didn’t know there would be so much and the slopes had to be prepared,” said Marco Zardini, chief executive of Cortina Skiworld, which normally operates 35 ski lifts in four areas but only has four in use now. for use by local clubs and aspiring world-class athletes who need to stay in shape for the upcoming season.
Italy’s 2019-2020 ski season unexpectedly closed in early March, when the country became the first Western country to be hit by the pandemic. The new season has not yet launched, unlike in neighboring Switzerland, which in December allowed lifts to be opened with restrictions, or in Austria, where residents can still ski. French ski lifts remain closed until at least February.
In Italy, the pandemic-related closure is a blow to an industry that generates 1.2 billion euros ($ 1.5 billion) in annual revenue and employs 5,000 permanent and 10,000 seasonal workers, according to the ski lift operators association, ANEF.
The association said the end of the start of last year’s season led to a 20% drop in revenue and called this season a total loss. Taking hotels, restaurants and other services into account, the ski industry generates an annual revenue of 11 billion euros ($ 13.2 billion), but travel restrictions have brought near-zero activity aboard stalled lifts.
“Mountains, you can’t leave them alone. They need to be treated, ”ANEF President Valeria Ghezzi said.
The paradox is that 2020-21 will be the season for record books in Cortina, and elsewhere throughout the Italian Alps, where snow is abundant, Zardini said.
In any season, the tony shopping street Corso d’Italia Cortina can compete with Milan’s Montenapoleone Golden Triangle for its concentration of luxury brands, including Dior, Fendi and Moncler. But the shops were empty of customers and most hotels were closed. Many hotels have several meters of snow on their roofs and terraces.
In a normal year, Italians account for more than half of Cortina’s nearly 1 million annual visitors, and Americans are the top foreign visitors, ahead of Germans and Brits.
While global fashion brands can hope to offset a sharp drop in business with sales booming in China, that’s not the case with local businesses. Bruno Pompanin Dimai, a sports shop owner, called the season a “disaster” for Cortina. He only sells a few pairs of boots and one ski jacket all winter. The only convenience is that the ski brand has promised not to renew their offerings next season so that it can sell the rest of its inventory.
“With all this snow, I’ll be working twice as much,” Dimai said.
Ingrid Siorpaes, who runs a local handicraft shop, said sales were down 90%. The only people walking on the snowy main road were locals and people riding the pandemic in their second home.
“We remain open, even if I have to lay off a salesperson,” said Siorpaes. This shop misses foreign tourists.
This is not so different in other ski areas in the Alps and along the Apennines where instead of making money, many lift operators raise fees for seasons that may never arrive.
While ski resorts make money for four months of the year, upkeep and upkeep are year-round costs – something government ski resort operators in Rome say are slow to grasp.
No aid packages have arrived for the ski industry, and the situation is bleak for the workers. Permanent workers may be laid off on a short-term basis, but such programs are not available to seasonal workers, who make up a large proportion of industrial lift operators, ski instructors, mountain guides, rental shop employees and hotel and restaurant workers.
Ghezzi, president of the ski lift association, doubts that the lifts will open on February 15 as currently planned.
“Unfortunately, I have to say that this season is irreparable,” he said. “We can say the season is a total defeat. If you can open it in March, maybe 90% or 95%. I can’t rule out that some companies may fail. “
The March opening will provide a maximum of one month of teaching time for Giulio De Luca, who runs a ski school in San Vito, which is part of Cortina SkiWorld. He has only received two 600-euro ($ 722) payments from the government since last spring – which was quickly followed by a tax bill of € 950 ($ 1,143).
“In November, December, and January, instructors received not a penny,” from the government, said De Luca. The ski school has also not been eligible for assistance so far, while rent, utilities, telephone and tax bills keep coming.
“I have money to pay taxes now, but not next month,” he said.
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