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Sport

Siberian ski resort hopes to attract locals cut off from the Alps by travel restrictions

SHEREGESH, Russia (Reuters) - A Siberian ski resort is aiming to replace the Alps as Russians’ preferred winter holiday destination this season as travel to many countries remains forbidden because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Sheregesh ski resort, located in the Kemerovo region some 3,225 kilometres (2,004 miles) east of Moscow, kicked off its season last week, with officials making face masks mandatory on all ski lifts.

Many ski resorts in Europe have been forced to delay their season openings or close as the second wave of the pandemic has forced some countries to impose new restrictions and even lockdowns.

Russian authorities have said they would not order a nationwide lockdown as they did earlier in the pandemic, stressing the importance of hygiene and targeted restrictions in some regions instead.

Barred from travelling to most foreign destinations -- with the exception of countries including Turkey, Britain and Tanzania -- Russians are turning to domestic vacation spots like Sheregesh.

“Despite a large influx of tourists in the summer, we didn’t allow any coronavirus outbreaks to occur at our ski resorts,” said Anton Pyatovsky, minister of tourism of the Kemerovo region, which has reported more than 18,000 cases of COVID-19.

Apart from wearing masks on ski lifts, visitors will no longer be able to rent helmets and ski masks at the resort to prevent the infection from spreading, Pyatovsky added.

Actor Alexander Nosik, who attended the resort’s opening, said he saw the potential for Sheregesh to compete with more famous Alpine and North American ski resorts.

“I hope that one, two, three years will pass... and Sheregesh will become a strong rival to the Alps, North America and everywhere else. It has everything to achieve this,” he said.

Siberia’s Sheregesh will compete with other domestic ski resorts like Sochi, which is easier to access for visitors from Moscow and St. Petersburg, and warmer.

With nearly 2 million infections since the start of the pandemic, Russia has the world’s fifth largest number of cases behind the United States, India, Brazil and France.

Additional reporting by Dmitry Turlyun; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Alexandra Hudson

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