Whilst it is tempting to ignore Coronavirus and hope it goes away (!) we have to recognise that it will have an impact on the 2020/21 ski season. With so many people’s summer holiday plans having been thwarted by lockdown, keen skiers and snowboarders are desperate to head for the hills this winter.
The first point to make is that this winter season is now very unlikely to be normal. We are, however, optimistic that there will be opportunities to ski outside the UK between December and May, not that we want to brush aside the appeal of getting some turns in in Scotland. Cairngorm and Glenshee have had a few good seasons for snow in recent years and on the right day can be a lot of fun – both are worth a look if you are not able to travel overseas.
Start by checking Foreign and Commonwealth Guidance
When looking outside the UK, it is very important to check current Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advice before booking or travelling. Guidance has been subject to change a short notice over the past few months and that is likely to continue. At the time of writing (29th September) the most popular countries for British skiers, France Austria and Switzerland, are all off the UK government’s safe travel corridor list. Bulgaria, Andorra, Slovakia, Canada and the USA are also no go zones at the moment.
Borders still Open
There are still options though; encouragingly Italy and Germany remain on the safe travel corridors list. Italy has some fabulous ski resorts which offer superb skiing, good value accommodation and traditional Italian hospitality. We’ve often felt Italy doesn’t get the volume of British visitors it deserves in the winter months. UK based skiers don’t often identify Germany as a leading ski destination, however there are some Bavarian resorts such as Garmisch-Partenkirchen that are well worth a look.
Poland and Sweden can also be visited at the moment and both offer some good skiing. Sweden is a great destination for families with Åre near Östersund probably the best option for alpine skiing and activities away from the slopes. In Poland the infrastructure isn’t as well-developed as Western European resorts but shouldn’t be dismissed. The best known resort is Zakopane. Japan does not require quarantine at the moment, but there isn’t the usual availability of flights and many skiers are likely to be put off by the prospect of long haul flying.
UK Ski Companies offering flexibility
Whilst UK ski companies have had some well publicised challenges over the past few months, almost all are still planning to operate this winter. Many have reduced their capacity (particularly of catered chalets) and are offering refunds to bookers unable to travel due to COVID-19 related restrictions. Terms and conditions do vary so please check carefully with individual operators before booking. Many ski tour operators report strong demand for self-drive and self-catering trips, with customers often choosing quieter resorts rather than the usual big name destinations.
Understandably a lot of potential Skiers and snowboarders are concerned about flying and frustratingly Eurostar ski trains won’t be running this winter, although you can still get the train via Paris. As noted above a lot of skiers are expected to choose to drive to the mountains, which was always a popular choice before for the advent of easyJet and other low-cost airlines. If this appeals, remember to budget for tolls and bear in mind that many countries will insist you have snow chains in order to drive up into the mountains.
Ski Resorts planning hard
Resorts themselves are definitely geared up to welcome skiers; many had a great summer which gave them the opportunity to test different ways of managing their facilities. Whilst visitor numbers from the UK will be lower than normal, but they are seeing very strong domestic demand. Rules vary a little bit by destination, but wearing masks in lift queues and on enclosed lifts will be common as will social distancing. It is likely that restaurants and bars will be table service only, as has been the case throughout the summer in Britain. We expect to see traditional boozy aprés ski activities limited in most destinations.
At snowresort.com our gut feel is that it will be a late booking winter. We are also unsure that there will be many UK skiers heading overseas before we nudge in to January. Don’t expect bargains though. With many travel firms downsizing and reducing their commitments to both properties and flights they will be trying hard to maintain their pricing.