Österreich, Skigebiet

Corona protective measures: What is changing for winter sports enthusiasts in Austria

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Austria wants to put a stop to après-ski in its current form this winter. This is to prevent mass infections with the corona virus, for which the Tyrolean ski resort Ischgl gained notoriety around the world in March.

There should be no more crowded standing in bars and on terraces, food and drinks may only be consumed while sitting. “Skiing pleasure, yes, but without après-ski”, said Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) when presenting the measures for winter tourism.

Keep your distance at the cable car

In addition to the ban on serving standing guests, which has applied to all bars for a few weeks, the official regulations have so far been limited. When queuing for cable cars, a one-meter distance and a mask is required, and mouth and nose protection must be worn in gondolas, said Tourism Minister Elisabeth Köstinger (ÖVP). Ski schools are recommended to teach a maximum of ten students per group and not to mix the groups.

In addition, ski instructors and tour guides should also be able to be tested for the virus free of charge, just like hotel employees have been doing since the summer. The strategy is intended to save winter tourism, which is particularly vital for western Austria. In the 2018/2019 winter season, Austria counted 73 million overnight stays and a turnover of 15 billion euros, Köstinger calculated. The most recent season came to an abrupt end in March due to the pandemic.

Mass infections in Ischgl

Of the many ski areas, the focus was primarily on Tyrolean tourism and there, above all, the town of Ischgl – 10,000 guest beds for around 1,600 inhabitants and known for the exuberant party scene, when the lifts close in a confined space with lots of schnapps and hits is celebrated to shout along. Ideal circumstances for mass infections with the new type of coronavirus, which could have passed unnoticed in February.

Tourists dragged the virus unsuspectingly to various countries or fell ill themselves. Consumer advocates, who therefore brought first claims for damages against the Austrian authorities on Wednesday, report letters from more than 6000 people who believe they have been infected in Ischgl. According to a study in Innsbruck, around one in three of the residents of the town ultimately had antibodies, i.e. at least contact with the pathogen.

Après-ski is of secondary importance

“That didn’t happen on the slopes, but was an issue in the après-ski culture of that time,” stressed Minister of Health Rudolf Anschober (Greens) about the Corona outbreak at the time. Tyrolean chief Günther Platter welcomed the rules and said that après-ski only accounts for 3 percent of the added value in winter tourism in his state, 97 percent comes from skiing and culinary art. “It cannot be that three percent endanger the rest,” he said.

“With this concept we fight for every job,” said the President of the Austrian Chamber of Commerce, Harald Mahrer. 675,000 full-time jobs in Austria were directly related to tourism or indirectly in an industry that was dependent on it.

The winter sports areas themselves are also reacting to the existential threat of a “second Ischgl”, which has now become a household name, with longer lift opening times and more parking spaces and ski buses. According to those responsible, Ischgl itself also wants to go beyond the official requirements: employees should be tested before the start of the season. Guests are advised to show a negative corona test when checking in or to voluntarily have themselves tested on site.