“We’re following the science” That’s a phrase we’ve heard a lot since the pandemic arrived.

And it means that most ski resorts in Europe have their lifts closed at present.

Switzerland is an exception to that, but a recent study suggests that this might not be as horrifying as some Twitter users would have you believe.

The study by the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA) found that the risk of catching coronavirus on a 12-minute gondola ride is 100 times less than during a normal working day in a small two-person office.

Study conducted in Engelberg

EMPA carried out a study into the risks of airborne transmission Covid-19 in the Swiss ski resort of Engelberg.

They tested airflow in gondola cabins with a maximum capacity of eight passengers and two larger cable cars with space for 80 and 77 people, respectively.

Closed windows, long journeys and large numbers increase risk

Within their assumptions, the researchers considered the infection rate across the overall population and used data collected about air flow within the cabins.

The calculations were all made based on people not wearing masks, which would otherwise reduce the risk of infection.

They found that closed windows, long journeys and large numbers of people increased the risks of catching the virus.

A dinner party represents more danger than a gondola ride

However, the risk during a 12-minute ride with open windows is a thousand times less than during a dinner with eight people in a room with closed windows.

The image below shows the relative infection risks in three different situations:

  • Blue: a 12-minute ride in a cabin for a maximum of eight people
  • Green: two people in a 20m2 office for eight hours
  • Orange: eight people talking loudly in a 30m2 room with the windows closed, e.g. dinner party

Fewer people in gondolas reduce the risk of infection

The study also showed that the chances of infection in a gondola increase not only with the length of the journey, but also with the number of people on board.

This supports the decision by Swiss resorts to reduce the capacity in all enclosed lifts.

No skiing – or dinner parties – in the UK

Not that we have the chance to either ski (in Europe) or go for a dinner party (anywhere) at the moment but these findings will be valuable as more countries open their ski resorts, even if just for a limited, domestic season.

Many ski areas in Italy are due to open in mid-February and other countries such as Austria could follow shortly.