Grounded by COVID restrictions, skiers embrace the humble snow shoe

FILE PHOTO: People walk with snowshoes on a winter day amid lockdown measures during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in the resort of Semnoz in Viuz-la-Chiesaz near Annecy, France, January 20, 2021. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

ANNECY, France (Reuters) - No one relishes the COVID-19 epidemic and the death it has brought, but Philippe Gallay, boss of one of the world's biggest snowshoe manufacturers, acknowledges it has been good for business. Sales of his company's product have exploded.

In France, where Gallay's TSL firm is based, and in other countries, officials stung by virus clusters in ski resorts have closed chair lifts, button lifts and cable cars at ski resorts.

With no mechanical means to lift them up the slopes, skiers and snowboarders have resorted to an old-school solution: the humble snow shoe.

Last month, Gallay's factory in Annecy in the French Alps took orders for 100,000 pairs of snowshoes - three times the amount that, before, the pandemic, it would produce over a whole year.

"We are crumbling under the orders," said Gallay. "But it’s a good stress...As far as COVID-19 is concerned, we are the lucky ones, we have to acknowledge that."

Gallay has switched his factory to operating 24 hours a day, and has hired ski instructors and lift operators - out of work because of the virus - to increase the workforce to 80 from the usual 20 staff.

Even so, he cannot keep up with demand. He has a backlog of 40,000 orders.

At the Semnoz ski resort, a half hour's drive from Annecy, the equipment rental shop is these days stripped bare of snowshoes by around 9:30 each morning, said Gregoire Chavanel, director of the resort

Getting about on snowshoes is "the only thing to do this season," he said.

Under France's lockdown, schools and non-essential shops are open and professional top-flight sport allowed. There is a curfew from 1800 nightly, with theatres, cinemas, gyms, restaurants, cafes and bars shut.

But the ski slopes are open for those willing to climb them.

Above the resort, Lucie Godineau, who lives in a nearby village, was trudging through the powder in her snowshoes. Normally, she would be on skis, but with the ski lift out of action, that's off the agenda.

"I miss it," she said of downhill skiing. But she had reconciled herself to reality, for this season at least. "It’s snowshoes, and nothing more."

(Additional reporting by Eric Gaillard; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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