‘IO APRO!’ – not the Italian ski resorts

Written by on January 16, 2021 in Blog

chairlifts and the view from Pila ski resort - the Italian ski resorts are not opening

Although it’s not yet official, everyone we speak to locally seems resigned to the fact that the Italian ski resorts might now remain closed for the rest of the season.

As is the case all over Europe at the moment, the rules in the Aosta Valley and in the rest of Italy are changing almost daily. We were in the red zone over the holidays until Befana on 6th January. Now we are in the yellow zone during the week and orange at weekends. Then just this evening we have read that from Monday we will be in the orange zone full time until after Carnevale that happens this year between 14th – 16th February. At the earliest!

I understand the difficulties and the dilemmas that the authorities face but have to admit that I am almost past caring what this all actually means. Fortunately, Anita is managing to stay up to speed and she keeps us all on the right side of the law.

The ski lifts in Pila were going to open on the 27th December, then the 6th January, then the 16th December. At the school gate this lunchtime I was told it has now been delayed until the 17th February. There must come a point when it is not worth their while opening at all and it seems like we are nearly, if not already, there.

‘Athletes of national interest’, i.e. everyone who competes in Italian ski races, starting with kids from the under 8 ‘superbaby’ category up to the ‘masters’ over 30 category, have at least been able to train with their ski clubs in Pila since early December. They use the Leissé chairlift lift, laid on specially by the lift company and just a couple of prepared pistes. All the other pistes and lifts are shut.

little ski racers on the training - the Italian ski resorts are not opening

The training arrangements are all very tightly controlled. Everyone has to be officially registered and wear a numbered bib. Attendance has to be confirmed in advance on a daily basis. Sessions are by age group and for a fixed number of hours. The older ones start at 9am, to get the best of the snow conditions and the youngsters go in the afternoon from 12. With the main Aosta-Pila cable car not operating it means you have to drive up and down in the car, although for the kids there is now a bus service from downtown Aosta.

The ski clubs have worked their socks off since March last year to somehow keep their sport alive. They, together with the resort operators, have been battling for months with ever changing regulations and directives. They managed to keep training over the Autumn up on the glacier in Cervinia after the disastrous attempt at a public opening led to an immediate shut down. Both the clubs and the operators are facing extreme financial and organisational difficulties and if they are still standing next season then they will have all done an incredible job just to have survived. Some proud, longstanding clubs, like Aosta & Pila, have already had to merge to stay afloat and you have to recon that other consolidations like this will take place in the near future if things don’t open up again.

ski racer speeding down on the slope

Thanks to the tenacity and passion of the Pila based clubs, the resort company and local authorities, the annual mid-January FIS ski races are actually taking place in Pila this week. For those not familiar with ski racing, FIS races are international events open to athletes from 16 years old and above. Between the boys and the girls there will be about 200 competitors up there on the mountain competing on each of the two race days, plus their coaches. Our son Olly, who usually takes part, is now back at school in England and wasn’t competing this year, so I don’t know exactly what special rules they are having to follow. But based on the hoops they had to go through in order to stage the training I can imagine that it is all pretty difficult for everyone involved.

We have had a fair bit of snow over the last week or so and there was a snowfall a few weeks before that, although not a very big one. They have been spraying snow constantly in between so must still be hoping on opening at some point if they can. But the issue of snowmaking must be a very stressful one to manage in such uncertain times. It can’t be cheap running the machines and preparing the pistes. If you don’t open then that’s all money down the drain. But I guess if you don’t do enough early on when it’s cold enough to use the machines then you wouldn’t be in a position to open if the rules allow you to do so later in the season. At the moment, sadly, it doesn’t look as though their optimism and determination is going to be rewarded.

preparation of the ski slopes - 'IO APRO!' - not the Italian ski resorts

For all the rest of us ‘non-athletes of national irrelevance’, we are probably looking at a winter without any skiing or snowboarding this year. Needless to say, on a personal level it is very disappointing, as skiing has been our sport, our pastime and basically our way of life from December to April for the last 6 years. No friends over on their holidays, no ski instructor work with Interski which I absolutely love, no weekends with friends up in Pila to look forward to. But as the saying now goes, these are all 1st World problems so I am lucky to have them. And we are in the middle of a major health crisis so ‘just shut up’.

Much more significantly, this situation is a nightmare for all of the thousands of people who make a living from the annual winter sports season in the Aosta Valley.

Fortunately, the 2019-20 winter season was quite a decent one, until it was cut short on 7th March of course. And by all accounts the 2020 summer tourist season of June, July and August was also not too bad. So things could be worse I suppose and I am sure they are in other parts of the country.

But nevertheless local business that rely on the ski season for a large part, if not all of their annual revenue, are facing an endless stream of interference, frustration and stress. Bars and restaurants have been opening, closing, opening until 6pm, opening but only for takeaway, closing on the weekends etc. Ski rental companies, ski schools and the lift companies that would now be operating at full tilt have been moth-balled. Ski shops are just about hanging in there, doing a little bit of business with the ski clubs, the cross-country skiers and the ski tourers, but nothing compared to a normal year.

the closed ski ticket office - The Italian ski resorts are not opening

Most of the hotels and guest houses are closed and the holiday apartments are empty. There are none of the usual visitors from nearby Milano & Torino, or happy tourists coming over from France, Switzerland, the UK and everywhere else in Europe. Interski, that each year brings more than 10,000 excited British school kids and their teachers to the Valley, as well as hundreds of instructors and other staff, isn’t coming at all, which leaves a huge hole in the local economy.

All the usual buzz and excitement about the place at this time of year has disappeared. Everyone is looking tired and sounding fed up.

We had a chat with the owner of one of our favourite restaurants the other day. According to her, she has received no financial support from the government at any stage of the crisis and even their landlord was refusing to grant any reduction in rent. She explained how they have faithfully followed every last rule and have done everything they possible could to keep going. But now she is at the end of her tether and says it is simply not worth it any more.

I have to admit I got a bit fired up listening to her story and embarrassingly told her to tell the landlord where he can put his next rent invoice. We also talked about whether the local shop keepers, bar owners and restauranteurs, with support from us loyal customers, could somehow get together to defy the rules and open as a group. It was therefore quite spooky when I saw on Twitter later that evening that 50,000 odd Italian bar and restaurant owners across the country were indeed planning to do just that from Saturday 16th under the rallying cry of ‘IO APRO!’.

I don’t know how serious they are but I have to admit that I like the idea. I know it is probably not appropriate to share one’s own views on a travel blog but we can’t carry on like this anymore or we will all be ruined, financially as well as psychologically. Our governments are showing no sign of changing strategy on their own accord so if it takes a bit of public spirit and adventure to break the spell and encourage a rethink then maybe we should give it a try. And I would love to think that Italy, where this whole nightmare tragically first showed itself in Europe, could be the country to break the mould and show us a way out of it.

Which finally brings me back to skiing. Skiing must be among the most healthy and positive activities known to man, taking place in the greatest of the great outdoors and in the purest possible air. Exercise, adrenaline, sunshine and the company of friends. If that’s not therapeutic I don’t know what is. And its all taking place in complete isolation from the very old and vulnerable people we need to protect. Extensive new safety measures have already been planned and put in place to mitigate the risks of contagion in queues and on the lifts. And all the bars and restaurants are already used to doing social distancing. So if the ‘Io Apro’ movement gains some traction over the next few days maybe the ski resorts could think about joining in?

More information about skiing in the Aosta Valley.

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