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‘Imagine the queues’: What will a ski holiday in Spain be like this year?

Trips home for Christmas seem more and more unlikely but there might yet be an opportunity to hit the slopes in Spain over the holidays, writes Graham Keeley. But will it be any fun?

'Imagine the queues': What will a ski holiday in Spain be like this year?
Photo: Inigo Zubia / Flickr Creative Commons

So, what to do now the prospect of heading home for Christmas looks less and less likely?

No doubt some of us have been thinking of escaping for a few days to go skiing as there are so many places to hit the slopes in Spain and you don't have to take a PCR test to get there.

From the Pyrenees to Los Picos in northern Spain or the Sierra Nevada, in Andalusia, you are spoilt for choice.

All this is assuming, of course, that the government allows us to move around the country.

With infection levels coming down there is a slim chance that this may happen.

As I write there European governments are considering whether to allow skiing holidays at all.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany wants Alpine countries to keep ski resorts closed to help fight the coronavirus pandemic but reaching an agreement with neighbouring Austria is proving hard.

France, Italy, Austria and Germany have all ordered even high-altitude lifts to remain closed at the moment in the hope that they can be opened at peak season.

If the European Union forces skiing areas to stay closed it will mean losses of €2 billion, according to Brussels.

However, Switzerland, which is not part of the EU, is allowing near-normal operations at its ski resorts.

Spain still appears to be pondering the matter but will likely follow Brussels lead.

READ MORE Coronavirus: What we know about plans to open Spain’s ski resorts

 

 

Whatever happens, just thinking about the joys of ski holidays fills me with mixed emotions.

As a veteran of countless ski trips, they always seem to start the same way.

There is that drive into the mountains where open-mouthed awe at the snow capped peaks is quickly replaced by frantic checks on the mobile as you start to get lost.

Of course, in most resorts, there is no reception for your mobile, so you end up squinting at road signs or asking confused locals for directions. Meanwhile, the atmosphere inside the car plunges to sub-zero as the bickering begins.

When you finally show up at the resort, there is the ritual renting of the gear ordeal before you can relax. Unless you are one of the sensible ones who has your own skis et al. 

If you have been skiing more than once, it should be simple. Somehow, however, it just seems to  get harder every time .

The ski boots are not the right size or they don't have the right helmet because your head has weirdly grown bigger – or smaller – and the staff quickly become exasperated.

At this point, full disclosure: I am physically and mentally unsuited to skiing by way of being the wrong shape (far too tall). Try to imagine a hapless giraffe hurtling head first down the slopes. Not pretty.

So my role is always the Boot Man i.e. I lug all the gear and if you have three boys that is a serious amount of skis, boots, helmets and assorted stuff.

(Don't be fooled, I love it really).

The ski lift is another pleasure- marvellous views mixed with deep dread if, like me, you suffer from vertigo.

Once at the top, the fun starts. Watching everyone shoot off is a genuine pleasure.

I do admire anyone who has mastered skiing after trying it a number of times and spending much more time picking myself up than gliding down the piste.

Then there is the curious attitude towards us non-skiers. 'You don't ski?'

It is always asked in a tone which seems to imply we have failed somehow at one of life's rites of passage.

But hold on a minute, I am describing skiing as it was way back when in the PC Age (pre-Covid). Remember it?

Imagine what it would be like now?

Masks and gel everywhere, of course, but how could you rent gear? Would it have to be disinfected each time it has been used? Imagine tempers rising as the queue mounted outside the rental places.

What about sharing ski lifts? And once you get to the pistes, which are often full, what then? Two metres between each skier? It seems unlikely – or impossible – to enforce.

Questions, questions. But could it really be made safe?

One argument in its favour is that skiing is an outdoor sport, not like others where spectators are huddled in packed stadiums.

But what would a non-skier like myself do all day? If the cafes are closed then it would be takeaways all day in the snow.

Yet once the slopes are closed for the day, the skiers return to hotels and that presents a whole new round of health headaches.

Often ski hotels are full, stuffy and yet, this is where the fun really starts for the after piste action.

If, as seems likely, the slopes are shut this year, it will be another blow in what has been a difficult year.

But then again, it leaves us with another thing to look forward to next year when this pandemic finally passes.

 

 

Graham Keeley is a Spain-based freelance journalist who covered the country for The Times from 2008 to 2019. Follow him on Twitter @grahamkeeley .

 


 

 

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COVID-19

Spain rules out EU’s advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 

Spain’s Health Ministry said Thursday there will be no mandatory vaccination in the country following the European Commission’s advice to Member States to “think about it” and Germany’s announcement that it will make vaccines compulsory in February.

Spain rules out EU's advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 
A Spanish man being vaccinated poses with a custom-made T-shirt showing Spain's chief epidimiologist Fernando Simón striking a 'Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood' pose over the words "What part of keep a two-metre distance don't you understand?' Photo: José Jordan

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias on Thursday told journalists Covid-19 vaccines will continue to be voluntary in Spain given the “very high awareness of the population” with regard to the benefits of vaccination.

This follows the words of European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday, urging Member States to “think about mandatory vaccination” as more cases of the Omicron variant are detected across Europe. 

READ ALSO: Is Spain proving facts rather than force can convince the unvaccinated?

“I can understand that countries with low vaccine coverage are contemplating this and that Von der Leyen is considering opening up a debate, but in our country the situation is absolutely different,” Darias said at the press conference following her meeting with Spain’s Interterritorial Health Council.

According to the national health minister,  this was also “the general belief” of regional health leaders of each of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities she had just been in discussion with over Christmas Covid measures. 

READ MORE: Spain rules out new restrictions against Omicron variant

Almost 80 percent of Spain’s total population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a figure which is around 10 percent higher if looking at those who are eligible for the vaccine (over 12s). 

It has the highest vaccination rate among Europe’s most populous countries.

Germany announced tough new restrictions on Thursday in a bid to contain its fourth wave of Covid-19 aimed largely at the country’s unvaccinated people, with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking in favour of compulsory vaccinations, which the German parliament is due to vote on soon.

Austria has also already said it will make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory next February, Belgium is also considering it and Greece on Tuesday said it will make vaccination obligatory for those over 60.

But for Spain, strict Covid-19 vaccination rules have never been on the table, having said from the start that getting the Covid-19 jabs was voluntary. 

There’s also a huge legal implication to imposing such a rule which Spanish courts are unlikely to look on favourably. 

Stricter Covid restrictions and the country’s two states of alarm, the first resulting in a full national lockdown from March to May 2020, have both been deemed unconstitutional by Spain’s Constitutional Court. 

READ ALSO: Could Spain lock down its unvaccinated or make Covid vaccines compulsory?

The Covid-19 health pass to access indoor public spaces was also until recently consistently rejected by regional high courts for breaching fundamental rights, although judges have changed their stance favouring this Covid certificate over old Covid-19 restrictions that affect the whole population.

MAP: Which regions in Spain now require a Covid health pass for daily affairs?

“In Spain what we have to do is to continue vaccinating as we have done until now” Darias added. 

“Spaniards understand that vaccines are not only a right, they are an obligation because we protect others with them”.

What Spanish health authorities are still considering is whether to vaccinate their 5 to 11 year olds after the go-ahead from the European Medicines Agency, with regions such as Madrid claiming they will start vaccinating their young children in December despite there being no official confirmation from Spain’s Vaccine Committee yet.

READ MORE: Will Spain soon vaccinate its children under 12?

Spain’s infection rate continues to rise day by day, jumping 17 points up to 234 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday. There are now also five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the country, one through community transmission.

Hospital bed occupancy with Covid patients has also risen slightly nationwide to 3.3 percent, as has ICU Covid occupancy which now stands at 8.4 percent, but the Spanish government insists these figures are “almost three times lower” than during previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic.

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