In a press conference on Wednesday, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said ski lifts would again be allowed to open from December 24th.
“From December 24, individual sports outdoors such as skiing will be possible again so that the Austrian population has the chance to engage in sporting activity over the holidays,” Kurz said at a press conference announcing re-opening measures after the country's second coronavirus lockdown ends at the end of this week.
However, hotels will not be allowed to open until January 7th at the earliest, meaning that skiing will only be possible for day trippers.
In addition, contact restrictions will be relaxed over the Christmas period.
“We want to push the (infection) numbers down until December 23rd so that you can spend the holidays with up to ten people from any number of households,” said Kurz.
Kurz said that the ten-person limit will be implemented from December 24th to 26th, as well as on the 31st of December.
On the other days, only one person may visit another household.
This Christmas will be different to usual Christmases, Kurz said.
Second lockdown less than effective
A second lockdown has failed to dramatically lower infection rates, which remain at around 5,000 new cases per day, but the Alpine nation will slowly begin re-launching the economy, starting with schools and businesses next week.
“Our expectation is that we can push the infection rates down until Christmas so that we can celebrate a dignified Christmas and so that outdoor sports — the keyword being skiing — will be possible,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told a press conference.
Hotels, bars and restaurants, however, will only reopen on January 7, while Austria's famous Christmas markets will be cancelled this year, Kurz said.
The winter ski season has been the subject of a Europe-wide debate as Germany, France and Italy pushed for a EU-wide ban on ski tourism until early January.
Kurz said that Austria, where more than 2,000 ski lifts are a major driver of the 15-billion-euro winter sports industry, had decided to allow skiing and other individual outdoor sports starting December 24 “so that the Austrian population has the chance to engage in sporting activity over the holidays”.
He said skiing was an outdoor sport whereas the majority of coronavirus infections can be traced back to private parties and meetings.
In the pandemic's first wave, Austrian ski hotspots — above all the resort of Ischgl — were accused of failing to respond quickly enough to outbreaks and allowing thousands of infected tourists to travel home and spread the virus.
However, Kurz said the decision to allow lifts to open “has as little to do with Germany as it has to do with other neighbouring countries”.
The only other major ski destinations to open through the holidays in Europe are Switzerland's, which has not imposed a lockdown despite high infection rates.
As part of the broader relaxation of anti-virus measures announced on Wednesday, museums and libraries will also reopen on December 7, followed by cinemas and cultural venues on January 7.
As of December 7 a night-time curfew will replace the current 24-hour restrictions on movement outside the home.
From December 24 to 26 and on December 31, rules on gatherings will be eased to allow 10 people to meet, regardless of how many separate households they belong to.