As all British skiers are well aware, the ski lifts in France (and across most of Europe) are not turning at present.

Safety measures in place

French ski resorts have presented a well-prepared case that ski lifts can be managed safely using new Covid protocols.

However, despite the evidence from Switzerland that opening lifts does not lead to hubs of infection, the government has refused to sanction an opening.

Resorts remain open, even if the lifts are not

Schools in France have remained open and last week the winter ‘vacances scholaires’ started.

Resorts have been keen to stress that apart from the lifts, there is plenty to do, including snow shoeing, sledging, cross country skiing, ski touring, ice skating and husky rides. And while occupancy is only about 30%, some families are enjoying a holiday in the mountains.

If you can go up, then you can go down

The issue some resorts have had to deal with is pesky punters realising that if they can go up, they can also go down.

Not everyone wants to ‘earn their turns’ by ski touring and even President Macron can’t stop Courchevel Le Praz being connected by road to Courchevel 1850 and offering a tasty 550m vertical descent.

In fact, in Courchevel, the Bellecote (a very gentle green run) is open. The ESF have been using it for lessons, taking children to the top by minibus.

So it was hardly surprising to discover that some people had decided to either drive or hire a cab (entirely legally) to take them to the Altiport (the highest point reachable by road) and enjoy a descent from 2008m to 1850m on the Bellecote, or even all the way to Le Praz.

Environmental disaster?

We Brits are used to be picked as a target (see recent incidents in Verbier, Wengen and Jochberg), but as Courchevel has priced out the French, there’s no domestic love lost and it took little time before social media was condemning this ‘environmental disaster’.

If people had been flying their private jets to the top, or heliskiing (banned in France), perhaps there would be a case.

But a few people driving to the top of resort? In this week normally there would be traffic everywhere, not just at a bottleneck at the end of a cul de sac.

[Update 19/02/20: Courchevel have confirmed they will offset the carbon footprint created by the extra car journeys]

Panic in the streets of Méribel

In the meantime, on the other side of the Saulire in Meribel – shock horror – holiday makers had worked out that you could use the free navette service to go up the mountain and then ski down.

The problem was that – with the lifts closed – the service was proving too popular. The buses were crowded and some people were not wearing masks, even though the police tried to monitor passengers.

However, as the TV crews turned up and grabbed a few vox pops (including their own Brit bashing), in the face of possible negative headlines, the resort announced that the navette would stop running, apart from an early morning and late afternoon service for season workers.

The irony, of course, is that holidaymakers staying half way up the hill would have to use their cars to get around whether they were skiing or not. Méribel even confirmed that all car parks would be free from that point on.

When is a ski lift not a ski lift?

A couple of days later and Méribel flipped again: the navettes were back on but with the Magritte-esque warning: “Ce bus n’est pas une remontee mecanique.”

The only problem being that it goes up hill and is a machine.

So when is a ski lift not a ski lift?

I guess it depends on your level of self-righteous indignation.

Skiers of all nationalities have been demonised by the press this winter. Super-spreader events such as Ischgl dominate the narrative, despite being impossible to replicate with no bars or restaurants open.

Ski resorts are caught between a mountain and a hard place. All they are trying to do is survive.