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Covid-19: most school ski camps are cancelled

Ski resorts are open in Switzerland, here, Arosa on November 29 Keystone / Gian Ehrenzeller

Far fewer children than normal will be taking part in school ski camps this year – a lasting tradition in Switzerland – due to the coronavirus pandemic, reports say.

This content was published on November 30, 2020 - 11:49
NZZ am Sonntag/swissinfo.ch, Isobel Leybold-Johnson

Ski camps have already been contending with falling popularity over recent years.

There is also currently an international debate on the merits of opening Swiss ski resorts over the holiday period as European countries struggle to contain coronavirus infection numbers.

Older pupils usually spend a week in the snow during term time. It’s a way for them to get to know snow sports (they are now often referred to as “snow sports” camps as there are opportunities to try snowboarding, cross-country skiing or even ski jumping) as well as enjoy some independence and develop their social skills.

Drop in numbers

But the latest figures published in the NZZ am SonntagExternal link newspaper show an expected drop in camp and attendance numbers this year. Usually 100,000 pupils go, attending 2,300 camps during the winter season. This season. just 111 camps have been registered with the Youth and SportsExternal link promotion programme run by the Federal Office of SportsExternal link.

It’s a similar story at Snow Sports Initiative SwitzerlandExternal link, which promotes snow sports in schools. “More than half of the 250 camps that had been originally booked with us have been cancelled,” said director Ole Rauch.

Cantons are in charge of education matters in Switzerland. So far, 11 of them have banned ski camps altogether due to the coronavirus pandemic and fears that the virus could be easily transmitted among large groups of young people, despite distancing and hygiene measures. A further four cantons “recommend” against organising camps, and two have permitted them, but there has been no take-up, the newspaper reported.

Small groups only

In canton Zurich, obligatory school ski camps are not allowed, but voluntary ones are, said Ralph König from the cantonal sport department. Only those that keep to strict protection measures will take place. “There won’t be any huge ski camps,” he told the newspaper.

“The children should stay in the same group for the whole camp: on the pistes, at mealtimes and in their spare time,” he said. Around half of the normal 1,000 camp places remain unfilled, he added.

Challenges, debate

Ski camps have already been suffering due to the cost, competition from other sports and holiday destinations and safety concerns on the part of parents and teachers.

A court ruling in late 2017 also raised fears of the tradition dying out. It said that schools may only ask parents for up to CHF16 ($16) a day during obligatory excursions and camps, the amount parents would spend on feeding their children at home. Before that parents were paying CHF150-CHF300, and sometimes more, for a snow sports trip.

However, as we have previously reported, schools have been managing to find workarounds and more students were starting to take part again.

There is also a debate about the ski season in general. Last week, the Swiss government announced that ski resorts could open, provided they comply with strict protection measures. France, Italy, Austria and Germany have said that high-altitude lifts should remain closed for now, in the hopes that all resorts can then benefit at peak season, when and if infection rates go down.

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