How Italian ski resorts are trying to reopen safely using vaccine passports

Many of Italy’s ski resorts reopened this month for the first time since march 2020 when they were forced to close as COVID swept across the country. The industry as a whole lost billions. Even with a spike in cases, and omicron looming, ski operators have a new plan they say will keep people safe. Special correspondent Adam Raney reports from northern Italy’s Dolomite mountains.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Many of Italy's ski resorts just reopened for the first time since March 2020, when they closed as COVID swept the country. The industry lost billions as a result.

    Even with a new spike in cases, and Omicron looming, ski operators have a new plan they say will keep people safe.

    Special correspondent Adam Raney reports from Northern Italy's Dolomite Mountains.

  • Adam Raney:

    It's been a long time coming. After nearly two years, skiers and snowboarders are back on the slopes at Val Gardena. At 8,000 feet, they take in views of the world's largest ski area, some 750 miles of runs stretched across the Dolomites.

    On opening day, those who made it to the top couldn't suppress their joy.

  • Virginia Rallo, Student:

    We love to be back on the slope, because — so, it's been two years. And it is not crowded, few people, the slope for ourselves. So, we love it.

  • Riccardo Raspa, Student:

    We love to get on ski again. We miss it so much.

  • Adam Raney:

    This resort, like all others across Italy, closed in March 2020 and remained closed for the entire 2020-2021 ski season.

    The industry, including ski resorts, hotels and restaurants, accounts for $13 billion in annual revenue. That all evaporated last season. With tens of thousands of jobs at stake, there's a lot riding on a successful relaunch.

    Key to that reboot is Italy's Green Pass or COVID passport. To get it, you have to be fully vaccinated or have a recent negative COVID test. Without the Green Pass, you won't even make it on to the slopes.

    Andreas Schenk, Val Gardena and Alpe di Siusi Ski Resorts: The most important thing this year is that you ski with the Green Pass and don't get infected. We have reduced gondola and lift capacity to 80 percent. Every day, skiers must match their ski pass with their Green Pass.

    Once matched, they're on the white list and can ski all day without problems.

  • Adam Raney:

    On the first day, matching Green Passes with ski passes was slow-going. Some expressed frustration over the protocols and delays. Others, like this American couple who flew more than 12 hours for opening weekend, were reassured by the restrictions.

  • Josh Crane, Student:

    There were a lot less safer options, and getting into Italy and through — we flew through Belgium too. There was a lot of protocols, which made us feel a lot better about coming out, all the way out here.

    And I have had to show my vaccine — vaccination cards all over the place. And that makes you feel safe.

  • Adam Raney:

    And to eat indoors on or off the slopes until March 31, you must have a so-called Super Green Pass, meaning a negative test isn't enough. You must be fully vaccinated. It's part of Prime Minister Mario Draghi's plan to avoid major spikes and keep the economy going.

    The Dolomites, part of the Alps in Northeastern Italy, are a UNESCO World Heritage site. The area has hosted many world championship races. The variety and length of the slopes draws skiers from all over the world.

    Everything is in place for a successful ski season. There is perfect snow, this COVID passport to check everyone's health status. The only thing really missing right now is more skiers.

    Early days still, according to hotel owner Nils Demetz, who is also the president of Val Gardena's hotel association.

  • Nils Demetz, President, Val Gardena Hotel Association:

    The bookings from Christmas onwards are, I would say, almost at pre-pandemic levels. So there are some cancellations, because people, maybe they changed their mind, they have fears.

    But then we get new bookings coming in.

  • Adam Raney:

    Demetz isn't worried about his business as much as those he relies on.

  • Nils Demetz:

    The biggest concern that I had and I still have is for our employees, because, of course, they have been standing by our side throughout this pandemic, never knowing how things will evolve. If we close, they lose their job.

  • Adam Raney:

    Putting the ski season at risk, of course the unpredictability of COVID-19. This region was a COVID hot spot when the pandemic hit Italy in 2020. Many cases were tracked back to the resort, where skiers often mingle in cozy huts and tightly packed gondolas.

    Adding to that risk is the lower vaccination rate in the area. Nationally, 77 percent of Italians have received at least two doses of the vaccine. The rate here is 63 percent. In the lead-up to the season, worries over another possible lockdown led to rising tensions in the area.

    Many vaccinated residents, fearful of losing the season, reportedly threatened their unvaccinated neighbors, and vaccinated residents reported being attacked in the streets.

    The mayor of Ortisei, the main town in the valley, is calling for calm.

    Tobia Moroder, Mayor of Ortisei, Italy (through translator): Tolerance is key. We don't need to go on a witch-hunt right now, not at this moment.

  • Adam Raney:

    There was a two-week curfew after a recent spike of COVID-19 cases, but it was lifted right as the season began. The mayor acknowledges, if they don't keep the virus under control, it could be devastating.

  • Tobia Moroder (through translator):

    We absolutely cannot afford a season like last year. That would really cause irreversible damage. The fear is that that many probably would close their doors forever, because a lot has been invested in recent years. Many structures have been renovated. People have made important investments.

  • Adam Raney:

    Nils Demetz, the hotel association president, says employers and tourists need to take the long view.

  • Nils Demetz:

    This is my great-grandfather, who bought it in 1913.

    This hotel has seen wars, has seen the First World War, the Second World War, crisis, and now we have had the pandemic. But I'm very confident that we will get through it, just as they did.

  • Adam Raney:

    Up on the slopes, some locals who come here year after year are hopeful too.

  • Sylvia Muessner, Skier (through translator):

    The people are really enjoying go out from the cities, go out for the places, and stay in the nature. And I think staying in the nature is not this dangerous.

  • Adam Raney:

    Convincing more people of that both at home and abroad will be required to save this industry for the thousands who rely on it.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Adam Raney in Val Gardena, Italy.

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