For the past eight years my cousin Graham has spent his winters in the French ski resort of Tignes (pictured). He first headed out as a teenager to spend five months washing dishes at a hotel and has since progressed to the rank of ski instructor. He returns to the UK every spring, sporting a fetching goggle tan and bushy beard. When the pandemic hit and Tignes shut down in March, Graham was forced to swap his high-altitude life for a less-thrilling six months in Oxfordshire, working on a construction site.
Like many ski-season workers, he usually spends his summers employed at beach resorts around the Mediterranean – he’s also a qualified windsurfing instructor. This means that he, like many others, lost out financially when European resorts remained unseasonably quiet this summer. Now, as the EU considers delaying the opening of ski resorts until the new year, these workers risk losing out on their winter income too. It’s the reason why Austria is pushing for its resorts to open and many of Switzerland’s largest ski areas have already begun the process. It’s also why some Alpine nations are demanding that the EU foots the bill to support those left out in the cold.
When I spoke to Graham last month about the prospect of resorts reopening (he’d already driven to France to begin training) he was full of sunny Alpine optimism that everything would go ahead as planned. Now back on home turf, however, he’s a bit less upbeat. “Nobody knows what’s going on,” he says. “Everyone’s fed up with the indecision. But it’s worse for families who live in the resorts all year round and have children in schools there. They can’t just uproot and go where the work is.” He’s crossing his fingers that Emmanuel Macron’s planned reopening of resorts will go ahead on 20 January but the downbeat Londoner in me worries that his Rossignol twin-tips might carry on gathering dust for another year – and that many seasonal workers like him will be left pining for the slopes.