If you’d planned on an Easter ski holiday in Italy, you will need to think again. The majority of resorts are now either closing or preparing to close this week for the remainder of the season – at least six weeks ahead of schedule. But elsewhere in Europe the season still has seven weeks to run. Ironically, snow-cover is abundant almost everywhere and, without the cruel scourge of Covid-19, 2019/20 it might well have gone down in history as a vintage winter, one of the best of the century.
But look on the bright side. Val d’Isere, Meribel, Verbier, St Anton and elsewhere a host of resorts across the Alps are open for business and half-buried in fresh snow. Worldwide virus panic is financially painful for tour operators, airlines, and hoteliers. But the upside for skiers is half-empty flights, and delightfully quiet slopes even as high season approaches. So go skiing, there’s never been a better Eastertide to do so.
Fear of spreading Coronavirus even further in the country that currently has the highest number of cases in Europe caused Cervinia, Courmayeur, Champoluc and the other resorts of the Aosta Valley to shut down their lifts on Sunday. Cortina d’Ampezzo and other big-name resorts in the heart of the Dolomites plan to shut down their lift systems today.
However, it appears that the core reasons for the closures so far stem more from the absence of fearful Italian skiers following mass cancellations and the financial plight of hoteliers, lift companies, and other businesses. As one Aosta businessman put it: “Some hotels found themselves staying open for just one or a handful of UK guests. It was more economical to cut their losses, close their doors, and wait for this disease to go away.”
The closures mean a giant headache for tour operators who had been fully booked for Easter Week as they try to find alternative accommodation in France and Austria for their disappointed clients. Hampshire-based Ski 2, the largest operator to Champoluc, is busy switching guests to their other destination, Les Gets in the French Alps.
“I won’t deny that it’s tough,” said MD Roger Walker: “At least the closure didn’t happen before half term and we had a truly great one with perfect snow. It’s our 21st season and we were looking at it potentially being our best one yet. But we’ll still be here next year, welcoming guests back to Champoluc, which we rate as one of the truly great resorts in Europe.”
Me too. I’d planned to spend much of the winter based there. For personal reasons unrelated to the virus, I’ve stayed away this winter from one of my favourite resorts. However, with snow conditions across the Alps at their best, I’m not going to be frightened off skiing elsewhere. Right now Val d’Isere has 163/340cm, Verbier 95/380cm and St Anton 120/385cm. You really don’t want to miss out on figures like that.