What vacationers have to find out about Europe’s ski season

(CNN) – Skiers and snowboarders across Europe are taking a rollercoaster ride as doubts arise as to when the mountains might open up for sport this winter.

Up until this week there was optimism among ski industry experts with the hope that the ski season would start before the end of the year and perhaps the prospect of uncrowded slopes could help shake off fears of catching Covid.

However, recent moves by European politicians to delay or restrict the opening of winter sports destinations mean new uncertainties for both the ski industry and anyone looking to book.

It is now increasingly unlikely that the European ski season will fully start before 2021, and even then there could be last minute cancellations and closings. One operator has described it as the “season from hell”.

Here’s what you need to know when planning a ski trip to one of the continent’s top snow sports destinations.

Which places are open?

In a televised statement Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron said it was “impossible” to consider opening lifts in French ski resorts for the festive season, although a final decision is pending.

If imposed, these closings would affect many of the continent’s major ski resorts and ski resorts in the Northern Pyrenees.

The huge Austrian region of Arlberg – especially the home of St. Anton, Lech and Zurs – and other nearby holiday resorts such as Ischgl, a hotspot for the virus last winter, are currently due to open on December 17th, three weeks later than usual .

Switzerland, which is not part of the EU, is also open, and a number of resorts, including Zermatt, Saas-Fee, Verbier, Engelberg, and Andermatt, already offer a small number of lifts that are only operated on a limited basis after Time December 5th.

Ski resorts in Sweden, which have tightened restrictions in the last few days but never imposed a national lock, are also open for skiing.

What impact will this have?

A number of resorts in Switzerland, including Verbier, are currently open with a limited number of lifts.

FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP via Getty Images

Any closure will be a major blow to the ski industry, which had hoped for a relatively brisk season after the introduction of Covid measures.

“We are disappointed,” said Olivier Desaulty, director of the huge French region Les 3 Vallees, which is said to be the largest ski area in the world with 600 kilometers of groomed slopes.

“We will respect the decision, but it is difficult for us to understand because we have prepared everything.

“From December 15th the French will be able to travel around France. When people come to our resorts, maybe owners, and walk in the mountains or see the lakes, the shops are open. It’s strange to say we can. ” Do not open.

“Economically it is very difficult. In Les 3 Vallees our economy is 90% based on the winter season.

“Christmas makes up about 25% of this economy, so it’s very important for us to get the season started.”

The popular Val d’Isère resort is also open, according to communications director Cecile Ferrando, who is eagerly awaiting a final decision.

“Val d’Isère was ready to welcome its customers from November 28th and it will be ready again when the health situation and the government allow,” says Ferrando.

“When the ski area remains closed, the village of Val d’Isère is open all year round and accessible to those who want to recharge their batteries in the mountain air (private renters, second home owners) and more. Businesses are allowed to reopen from this weekend.

Strict new protocols

A maintenance man checks a chairlift in the Sestriere alpine ski area in Val Susa, Piedmont, Italy on November 26, 2020

An employee of the Sestriere Alpine Ski Area in Piedmont wears a face mask while checking chairlifts.

MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP via Getty Images

Resorts across Europe have a number of Covid protocol measures in place to ensure a safe environment when allowed to open.

Face masks on elevators, regulated elevator queues, some restrictions on tickets sold, social distancing, and rules on wearing masks in shops and restaurants.

What other changes can skiers expect after the ski resorts reopen, apart from the usual Covid measures to protect skiers?

“I think the service will be easier to minimize contact with staff and of course some places will choose mothballs for the winter and close, so there may be a little less restaurants available and your experience at them will be a little different,” says Oliver Corkhill, CEO of the luxury ski operator Leo Trippi.

“But the big thing will be après-ski. It is unlikely that swarms of people will dance at a table like St. Anton or Verbier this season. It will be table service drinks at smaller tables.”

One argument in favor of the closure is that local hospitals already inundated with Covid patients cannot cope with the additional burden of ski-related injuries.

“We respect the hospitals and what they say, of course, but since the number of people going to the hospitals has decreased dramatically, we think it would be more appropriate to decide in 10 or 15 days,” added Desaulty.

“We are thinking about the decision too early and we are disappointed,” added Corkhill, who believes a Europe-wide protocol is likely to happen.

“If Germany and France put pressure on it will be difficult for other countries not to join. Austria will shake and be forced to do so,” he says. “I think Switzerland will be open, but it’s hard to know how to react.

“People need to be clearer because of the pressure on the resorts themselves and the number of hotels, etc. If an announcement came much later, it would be huge.”

Waiting game

An abandoned chairlift is pictured in the Sestriere Alpine Ski Resort in Val Susa, Piedmont, Italy, on November 26, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has urged Italians not to go on a skiing holiday this winter.

MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP via Getty Images

The lack of Christmas and New Year visitors is “a painful blow to an industry that has already taken a blow,” said Richard Lumb, co-founder and director of Kaluma Ski, an upscale tour operator with luxury real estate in Courchevel, France. and St. Anton, Austria.

But Lumb believes it could be a “feeding frenzy” if people were allowed to ski and travel.

“The demand is definitely there, that’s clear,” he says. “People long to get away, but until we run airport tests and reduce the quarantine, everyone is sitting and waiting. It’ll be like this at the last minute.”

Corkhill agrees, “If you’re a very wealthy person and you can travel you will, but everyday people will likely just say, ‘I can’t handle the stress, I’ll just have Christmas at home and we’ll be in March and April go skiing. “

Since the pandemic cut the last winter season in the Alps, tour operators have made efforts to restructure their businesses in the face of an ever-changing news cycle about Covid.

Renegotiating leases with chalet owners so that they only pay for the weeks they use, as well as more flexible cancellation policies are just some of the tactics.

The previous reliance on relatively cheap young seasonal workers from the UK to work in ski lodges will cease due to travel restrictions in the EU, potentially leading to an increase in prices that companies will have to charge under local labor laws.

A number of leading UK tour operators have already taken drastic measures.

Avalanche of change

A skier stands next to the covid-19 safety instruction sign on the Pitztal Glacier in Austria on October 29, 2020.

New Covid-19 safety information in the Pitztal Glacier ski area in Austria.

JOE KLAMAR / AFP via Getty Images

Some companies like VIP Ski, which operated more than 65 luxury chalets in 10 resorts in France and Austria, had to close.

“We’re fighting the perfect storm, it’s the season of hell,” says Lumb. “It’s been a roller coaster ride and a total nightmare but you have to see things get better and that should be in this winter’s cycle.

“I expect the utilization will be half of last year, which is pretty big in itself, but manageable given the restructuring. But it’s crystal ball time,” added Lumb, speaking ahead of widespread calls for a uniform delay Season start.

Corkhill agrees. “Volume is down about 50% in relation to the number of vacations booked, but it’s offset a bit by the super-abundant bookings for extended stays in the mountains to find a place to go so they can don’t have to worry about quarantines. ” .

“People have rented a place for two or three months, but that’s obviously a very small part of the market.

But for anyone who manages to ski when the ski resorts are open, be it in their local resort or as an international visitor, there could be something special for the start of the season for sure.

“I think anyone who takes the bull by the horns and leaves is going to have a great time,” says Lumb.

“They’ll have quieter resorts and enjoy the slopes to themselves so it might be darn cool to experience it.

“When you stand on a mountain that is about to leave, you will feel as if you are in a different galaxy than in your normal world.

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