Completely different: The COVID guidelines are shared by neighboring French Swiss ski areas

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© Reuters. Skiing amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Les Crosets

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By Cecile Mantovani and Denis Balibouse

CHATEL, France / LES CROSETS, Switzerland (Reuters) – Like other French ski resorts, the alpine town of Chatel also had to close its lifts over the Christmas period to contain the coronavirus.

But just 5 km away, vacationers can ski down the same slopes on the other side of the border in Switzerland, where less stringent restrictions mean things run as usual in the Dents du Midi ski area.

The mayor of Chatel, Nicolas Rubin, was so angry about the strong divergence in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic that he hung Swiss flags on the windows of the town hall for a week in protest.

"Of course we are concerned because after the ski area closes, people's morale and mental health will start to deteriorate," he said.

Jean-Francois Vuarand, Chatel's tourism director, said the year-end holidays typically generated a fifth of the winter season's sales.

"The problem is … it's difficult to make it clear to customers that there are two different rules for the same activity at the border in these two nearby areas," he said.

For Quentin Decoursier, owner of the Le Comptoir restaurant on the French side, the discrepancy is obviously unfair.

"What is going to happen is that a lot of French are going to go there (across the border) and we don't understand because we are as much right as they have to be frank," he said.

While the two countries have similar rates of COVID infection and death, the Swiss authorities have let individual cantons decide whether elevators can work safely, although Dents du Midi tourism director Sebastien Epiney said his community also lived on the fringes.

"We use all of our resources to provide a safe product for our customers, but the sword of Damocles is on our heads," he said.

Yoan Perroud shrugged and said outdoor activities are not as risky as the restaurants and bars that support them.

"For me, the problem is not the ski slope, but what's next to you," he said from Les Crosets, a resort on the Swiss side.

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