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France's Decision To Keep Ski Slopes Closed Creates Tension And Confusion

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

This time of year typically marks the start of the winter ski season. But in Europe, not every country agrees whether it's safe to open the slopes. Like, despite the pandemic, you can go skiing in Switzerland, but you can't go skiing in France. And as Rebecca Rosman reports, that is creating a lot of tension and confusion.

REBECCA ROSMAN, BYLINE: France's ski lifts may be closed, but temptation lies nearby in the form of fresh, white ski slopes in Switzerland.

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PRIME MINISTER JEAN CASTEX: (Speaking French).

ROSMAN: Speaking on television, Prime Minister Jean Castex warned French skiers to resist the temptation.

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CASTEX: (Speaking French).

ROSMAN: If you're thinking of going skiing on the other side of the Alps, he said, you could face penalties, including going into quarantine when you return to France.

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NICOLAS RUBIN: (Speaking French).

ROSMAN: Nicolas Rubin is the mayor of Chatel, a tiny French ski resort minutes from the Swiss border. He says the Parisian political elite is declaring war on French alpine ski towns. He says local officials were never even consulted about the ski ban. In a show of disgust, he's draped the Chatel town hall with Swiss flags. And then there's this.

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RUBIN: (Singing in French).

ROSMAN: That's Rubin singing his version of the 1970s ballad "La France" with different lyrics making fun of the prime minister. Jean Castex doesn't like Switzerland, Rubin sings. And if you try to go there, you will be punished. Despite a sharp rise in COVID infections, the Swiss government has kept the ski lifts open to protect the local economy, something Rubin says the French government should have considered, too. He says ski tourism is the lifeblood of alpine towns like Chatel.

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RUBIN: (Speaking French).

ROSMAN: Rubin says every euro invested in Chatel's ski industry typically brings around seven euros' worth of returns. And it's going to take the town at least two years to recover from the pandemic. The French government says it will consider reopening the slopes in early January.

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RUBIN: (Singing in French).

ROSMAN: Until then, Rubin says he might consider taking that two-minute drive into Switzerland to get his own ski fix even if it means being quarantined upon his return.

For NPR News, I'm Rebecca Rosman. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.