The BBC’s iconic Ski Sunday program has dropped back into our screens and is carving some controversial turns through difficult Covid territory.
It’s great of course to see four-time GB Winter Olympian Chemmy Alcott become the main presenter alongside Ed Leigh – I’m not jealous at all! But their filming on location has only been possible because the Swiss, despite foreign requests, have kept their ski resorts open. According to the BBC, the long-running winter sports show aims to “…provide escapism for all those who are desperate to go skiing but can’t. We’re bringing the mountains to them.” If Twitter is a public opinion gauge then there were plenty of viewers happy to see it.
The coronavirus pandemic means the presenters and cameraman Chris Kirkham will be staying at the Swiss resort of Laax and will not travel to races. All other production is being done remotely from the UK. A suggestion of presenting from a studio at MediaCityUK in Salford was discounted as one presenter was already nearby and another arriving from Covid-reduced New Zealand.
But at a time when other sports are questioning whether it is morally wrong to continue participating – skiing seems to be in a class of its own. At the end of 2020, as resorts in France, German and Italy closed their doors (let’s not forget coronavirus began its spread in Europe in part because of packed après ski events) the Swiss government announced that their ski resorts would remain open (only without the party). Non EU Switzerland has not had to bow to calls to close resorts from neighboring countries claiming unfairness.
So, for the moment, Swiss alpine skiing remains available and there isn’t a limit on the number of people in resort or on the slopes. Arguably though, with the mountain restaurants not fully up and running and having to mask up in cable cars and on mountain trains (even with a reduced capacity) that visceral on-the-hill experience cannot be quite the same. And if a tweet earlier in the week is to be believed then Alain Berset, the Head of Switzerland’s Federal Department of Home Affairs is reported to have said that skiing is an outdoor activity comparable to jogging in the forest.
Is the council also planning further restrictions in ski resorts?
“The same applies to restaurants throughout Switzerland,” says Berset. “But skiing is basically an outdoor activity. If we limit that, we would also have to limit jogging in the forest.”
— English Coronavirus updates for Switzerland (@CoronaEnglish) January 6, 2021
There is no question that the Swiss Federal Council continues to take the virus very seriously, with resort employees required to undergo weekly coronavirus tests. Wide scale vaccination programs are underway and let’s not forget too that the Swiss will be expected to take responsibility for their own safety as well as that of others – as is the Swiss way.
Covid continues to ravish lives and lifestyles leaving families bereft and facing financial difficulties. The Swiss Federal Council is expected to make an announcement this week regarding mandatory home working. Will such obligations be applied to its national sport? It seems unlikely for the moment. Skiing is big for the Swiss and not something they’d give up lightly. The country has ridden this particular snow storm and others in recent weeks and with vaccines in sight it would take a major escalation of the Covid situation here to see the Swiss leave behind their lifts and in turn their identity.