It’s that time of the year again when we all crave that much-deserved break and good cheer over the holidays. Given the challenging year we’ve all had, a winter break is not just tempting but actually necessary. And an escape to paradise doesn’t always mean a tropical getaway. Let’s go for something closer to home. Close to heaven and down to earth: the call of the snowy alps has come. And many of us waited almost the whole year with baited breaths to see whether ski resorts will operate this ski season.
Regulations change regularly
Well, snow sport enthusiasts are in for a steep up and down ride experience as most countries’ regulations have been changing on a daily basis.
In a bid to contain the pandemic spread, Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and German chancellor Angela Merkel have both called for ski resorts in Europe to close
French President Emmanuel Marcon deemed it impossible to consider to open France’s alps for skiing this season. A week later, the French government officially decided to shut their slopes, leaving the village of Chatel, which is the bast of Portes du Soleil, one of the world’s largest skiing areas eerily quiet this time of the year. It straddles the border between Switzerland and France. Chatel mayor Nicolas Rubin has draped his town hall in Swiss flags to convey his protest at his country’s decision to close ski lifts this season.
Here is a rough guide of European ski season dates, but be forewarned that given the unusual global situation, regulations are changing daily and some of the details and information may not be up to date.
It’s challenging to keep on top of what’s new, so I spoke to an expert who knows full well what to expect during ski season in the time of pandemic.
Ski Solutions is Britain’s original tailor-made ski tour operator and largest ski travel agency. They have been arranging ski holidays across Europe and North America over the last 30 years.
Ski Solutions’ owner and CEO, Craig Burton, shared his valuable and professional insights with me regarding ski tour operations this season.
The summer months helped
Ski Solutions have been operating for over three decades, but this year no doubt, has been their most challenging. Craig shares that while the last season was disrupted in March, the summer months picked up for the resorts, and it turned out to be quite a successful season despite COVID rates.
This served as a kind of dry run for the resorts in terms of safety protocols. (Most ski resorts in Europe are open during the summer as wellness destinations, or for biking, hiking, etc).
It may have been a different season, but the implementation and practice of social distancing and other safety regulations were already put in place.
The resorts (and skiers) are COVID-ready
We are now nine months into the pandemic, and in general, people are more or less accustomed to wearing masks and adhering to safety regulations. In the slopes of ski resorts, skiers are expected to wear masks when they’re on lifts. Off the lifts, they’re free to go mask-free. In hotels and restaurants in the resort towns, masks are required in public areas.
Thanks to the summer months’ ‘dress rehearsal’, ski resorts already have a good idea what to expect in winter. Having said that though, the resorts are still working hard to ensure that protocols are adhered to. Capacity control will be exercised at certain pinch points, such as lift stations during peak hours.
Craig, an advanced skier himself, candidly shares that the skiers have been prepared for this. They’re a group that has been wearing goggles, masks, gloves and full body suits prior to the pandemic, long before masks and PPE were a thing.
There is a demand for ski holidays
Aside from a much awaited and needed break after the year everyone’s had, the appeal of uncrowded slopes is tempting many. Not only will travellers get to enjoy the ski resorts without the usual holiday crowds, but this gives a bit of assurance that one won’t likely catch COVID during the break.
Besides, plenty of hard-core skiers and enthusiasts have happily skipped the summer holidays to save it for a longer winter break in the slopes.
Travel experts and advisers are invaluable
As Britains’ largest tailor-made ski operator and being in the business for over three decades, Ski Solutions take pride in their team of travel experts that provide up-to-date knowledge and advice. In this time of uncertainty, travellers want to be able to simply pick up their phones and directly speak to a travel adviser who is an expert in their field.
From providing professional opinion and advice as to whether their travellers need to book a hotel , chalet, or a self-serviced apartment, to helping travellers decide whether to fly or self-drive to the ski resort—travel experts are more crucial and needed than ever.
According to Craig, it’s important to know that when you’re making travel plans in the midst of a pandemic, there’s no such thing as over-communication between them and clients. That, and understanding what their traveller’s needs are, are key points to providing efficient customer service.
A different kind of Apres ski
Travellers expecting the usual intense partying and drinking till the sun rises should prepare for a different kind of Apres ski this season.
With social distancing regulations in place, and the expected closure of some establishments, Apres ski this season will be quieter, but not any less meaningful or memorable.
Table service will take the place of the usual stand-up / bar scene. Events, should there be any, will be focused outdoors. Live music, socialising and dining will still be there, but in a safer way.
An interesting 1st Quarter of 2021
The first quarter of the coming year will bring about quite a few changes. First, there’s the promise of vaccines coming, which hopefully will bring positive change to ski tourism and the whole of travel industry. Next, regulations in every country are still expected to change on a regular basis. Many find it hard to keep on top of all these changes, so during these times it’s best to get in touch with travel experts, whose job is to always be updated with the latest travel and ski resort regulations.
Finally, UK’s transition period into Brexit is expected to end in about a month. Craig shares that this will bring about structural changes in the way businesses are carried for ski / tour operators.
For instance, catered chalet holidays, which Britons have enjoyed for many decades, will very likely change as British tour operators and British staff won’t have the same freedom to operate/work across Europe any longer.
Winter is coming, and along with it, quite a lot of changes. With the right knowledge and information from a travel expert, you can definitely pack up your ski jackets for a holiday. Be sure to come with a sense of anything-can-happen adventure, and a comprehensive ski holiday insurance.