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Vertigo in Andorra facing a “terribly uncertain” ski season

Andorra holds its breath. Its economic model depends on a foreign clientele that is confined and without Spanish, French and English skiers, the 2020/2021 season could be a real catastrophe.

Although this tiny country in the Pyrenees tries to diversify its economy, the ski season continues to represent between 30 and 40% of its GDP, stresses Xavier Espot Zamora, head of the government of the principality, nestled between Spain and France.

But not only tourists are missing. Snow is also being desired in the three resorts of the country (Grandvalira, Ordino-Arcalis and Pal-Arsinal), although snowfall is expected before the opening of the slopes, scheduled for December 4.

Juan Ramón Moreno, head of the great Grandvalira ski resort, hopes that in Spain a deconfinement will be ordered for the long weekend of December 4 to 8, which is usually the starting signal of the ski season.

However, travel restrictions in Catalonia (northeast Spain) could dampen expectations, as the people of Barcelona constitute the hard core of the 8 million tourists who disembark each year in the principality.

– “Gray panorama” –

“The Spanish represent just over 50% of the skiers in Andorra, the French and the English around 13 and 14% each, but we also have Belgians, Dutch and Russians. This year we could suffer. We depend on government decisions. The situation is terribly uncertain, “says Juan Ramón Moreno.

“And if the Spanish and the French cannot come, we will open anyway and we will be satisfied with the local clientele,” he says.

For now, the stations are empty. Protocols have been put in place to avoid long lines at ticket offices and on ascents. Skiers must wear a mask in areas where there is a concentration of people and may remove it on the more than 250 km of slopes.

Unlike its neighbors, Andorra has not decreed any confinement. Shops and restaurants are still open, with a limit of two diners per table, a measure that is strictly applied.

Jean-Jacques Carrié, head of the merchants association of the Pas de la Case municipality, on the French border, is nervous. “Everybody is worried. I hope the French can come,” he says.

– South Americans, collateral victims –

Andorra is also a tax-free haven for cigarettes, alcohol and electronic devices which, combined with excellent quality snow, make this micro-state an attractive destination for tourists.

South American workers, an essential workforce, have also become collateral victims of the crisis, as the Andorran authorities reduced the quotas for work permits.

At the Pas de la Case resort, Rodrigo Torres, a Chilean ski instructor who alternates ski seasons between the Southern and Northern Hemisphere, is on the brink of despair.

“Half of the Chileans and Argentines who usually come could not. If people cannot move, we will not have many people this winter. And, even so, it is better to be here than in the city,” says this father of 59-year-old family, who arrived in Andorra on November 13.

In his office in Andorra la Vieja, the head of the government warns that the crisis caused by covid-19 will have “an economic and social cost that will continue to be felt long after the epidemic.”

To reassure tourists, the principality launched a mass testing campaign.

“I will undergo a PCR test every 15 days,” explains Alfonso García, a 50-year-old Spanish chef who came from Galicia (northwest) to work in a restaurant in Pas de la Case, before getting on a Red Cross truck where free diagnostic tests are performed.

Every week between 7,000 and 8,000 tests are carried out, that is, around 10% of the 78,000 inhabitants of the principality, where 80 deaths from covid-19 have been registered.

“We are the country that carries out the most tests in the world,” says the head of government.

ap / cpy / or / jvb / bl