COURCHEVEL, France - Gari Abou and his teenage brother clutched their snowboards as they rode up the mountainside to the top of the only piste open in Courchevel. Their ride was not a chairlift, but a taxi. France's ski resorts cannot operate their lifts under the country's tight COVID-19 restrictions. But Courchevel, a favourite in normal years with Britons and Russians, has opened a single run that can be reached by car. "It's good for learning because we repeat the run over and over," Abou said, strapping his board to his feet and launching himself down the gentle slope under a blue alpine sky. The resort has opened the piste for the February school holidays when the French traditionally decamp to the mountains. Even though lifts aren't operating, the resort is 40% full this week, according to the tourism office. From Courchevel's hotels and chalets to the top of the run above the resort's small mountain airport is a 20-minute drive. Police make sure no one parks up - it is strictly drop-off only. "We didn't expect to be able to ski this year!" said Olivia Blausteil from Paris. "It's a bit tedious to take the car, but it's worth the effort. We feel very lucky." The resort normally boasts access to the world's largest ski area, known as Les 3 Vallees, with some 600 km of slopes. But with swathes of Europe under lockdown, there were few complaints from those enjoying the fresh snow on the 2-km run. "It does a lot of good to be here," said Gislaine Fellous, who had spent much of her holiday hiking. Local businesses - from ski hire shops to restaurants - will lose an estimated 90% of their revenues this season. Government financial aid will only plug some of the hole. For Pascal Lemare, whose Le Pilatus restaurant was doing brisk trade in 16-euro takeaway plates of tartiflette, it was a morale boost for locals just to see people on the slopes. "We've got snow, sun. We're doing ok," he said. REUTERS
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