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Ski resorts in France reopen. Vaccine passes and masks are required

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In France, downhill skiing came to a halt with the pandemic. Now, the ski lifts are running again. As NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports from an alpine ski resort, aside from a few new requirements, everything feels nearly back to normal.

(SOUNDBITE OF CANNONS FIRING)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Wow. Those are mighty avalanche cannons going off in the French Alps. There's so much snow this year. These mountain slopes have been closed to downhill skiers since the pandemic began in March 2020, and they've finally reopened. And people are just flocking to the slopes.

CAROLE DATOMA: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Like Carole Datoma, who says it feels so good to be in the mountains again and breathing this great air. She says she hopes things will continue like this.

The French government allowed ski resorts to fully reopen in December with new precautions. Now, along with your ski pass, you need a vaccine pass showing proof of two doses, three for those over 65. And everyone must wear a mask on the ski lifts, in the lift lines and in the snowy streets of Alpine villages. People here remember how an Austrian ski resort became one of Europe's earliest superspreader venues, leading to thousands of people becoming infected.

Marion Grognet is the marketing and tourism director here at Les Arcs. It's one of France's largest resorts, hosting more than 300,000 people each season. Grognet remembers when the pandemic hit.

MARION GROGNET: It was very brutal for us. Like, it was - I remember the 15 of March that we have to close in one day to send, like, thousand and thousand of people who have to leave the ski resort.

BEARDSLEY: Now, thousands of people are pouring back in, she says, and officials are being vigilant because they don't want to have to shut down again. Skier Loni Jergensen is wearing her mask as she takes a lift up the mountain.

LONI JERGENSEN: When I wear my glasses and the mask, it's like I can't breathe (laughter). I'm not happy.

BEARDSLEY: But she admits it's worth it to be able to come back.

JERGENSEN: We had our skiing trip canceled twice, two years in a row. We're from Denmark. At least we're here.

BEARDSLEY: The Alps attract skiers from all over Europe. Dutch snowbirds Jan and Fareshte Schouten say they're ecstatic to be back, especially as their own country, the Netherlands, is now in a lockdown.

JAN SCHOUTEN: Yeah. The Austrians don't want to, as of last Saturday. But France - they want to. But don't mention to people that we're here, right?

FARESHTE SCHOUTEN: Yeah.

J SCHOUTEN: (Laughter).

BEARDSLEY: The only language you might not hear much of on the slopes these days is English because British tourists were banned from travelling to France right before Christmas not because of Brexit but because of omicron. As the virus surges across the continent, different countries are taking different approaches. While the French government did cancel New Year's Eve fireworks on Paris' Champs Elysees, its COVID strategy is centered around maximum vaccination, so there aren't any new curfews or lockdowns. Three cheers for that, says Parisian Charles Egly, who loves to ski.

CHARLES EGLY: I'm so happy because this time everything is open, even the bars, the restaurants. So it's really nice. There are not that many people.

BEARDSLEY: Egly says he can't wait to ring in the New Year in the mountains once again.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Les Arcs, France.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEACH FOSSILS SONG, "SAINT IVY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.