Demand for snowshoes has skyrocketed since the French government effectively banned downhill skiing in an attempt to contain Covid-19, the world’s biggest manufacturer of snowshoes reported on Thursday.
TSL Sport Equipment, based in the Alpine city of Annecy, said it was selling double the usual number of snowshoes this winter, with demand on some days spiking to 10 times the seasonal normal.
Snowshoes allow walkers to navigate snowy terrain much more easily than normal shoes, allowing holiday makers in winter sport resorts to venture into mountainous terrain for long hikes.
The French government has ordered ski lifts closed until January, fearing that queues of skiers would promote the spreading of coronavirus, but allowed resorts to open — albeit with restaurants and cafes shut like everywhere in France.
“We’re seeing a similar phenomenon to toilet paper purchases in shops," said Philippe Gallay, the company’s owner for 34 years, in reference to empty shelves in supermarkets during a lockdown in the spring when people hoarded toilet paper for fear of running out.
He said daily orders had doubled to around 2,000 pairs of snowshoes, with peaks of 10,000 orders on some days since President Emmanuel Macron ordered lifts shut on November 24 as part of a range of anti-virus measures.
Gallay said snowshoe walking had already become the second most-loved winter sport in France after downhill skiing, but had taken the crown this season.
“People want to enjoy the mountains, but they can’t ski, so they go out with snowshoes," Gallay said.
TSL has doubled its staff to 100 this season to meet demand, many of whom are seasonal workers and ski coaches who need work while they wait for lifts to reopen.
Nevertheless, the order backlog is currently around 45,000 shoes, Gallay said.
In total, TSL expects to sell 200,000 snowshoes this year, translating into revenues of around 10 million euros ($12 million).
When announcing the ski lift ban, Macron warned that coronavirus risks made it “impossible" to allow winter sports to resume quickly, adding he hoped that restrictions could be lifted in January.
France’s 350 ski resorts have been up in arms over the decision, saying the weeks around Christmas and New Year are crucial for their survival as they account for up to a quarter of their annual revenues.