So are we actually going to have a ski season this winter? Yes we are! Obviously there are going to be difficulties, but if you’re determined enough and can cope with social distancing and mask-wearing in the lift queue, then go for it. Gliding down in a foot of fresh powder is the fulfilment of summertime dreams. This season, as to exactly where you go for it, is not quite so straightforward – that depends on where you live and to where you’re allowed to travel.
If your home is in North America, the problems appear to be minimal; in fact the US and Canadian ski industries appear to be running pretty much near normal at the moment – although to enjoy the skiing you need to live there in the first place. Frontiers remain closed to most foreigners. Obviously the absence of non-domestic visitors will surely hurt hotels and lift companies.
However, if you live in Europe it’s trickier, with lockdowns across vast swathes of the Alps. But don’t despair. Psychologically at least, the impending arrival of the first vaccine is painting a rosier picture. Probably neither of the front-running vaccines will fully rescue the first half of season, but it’s a positive development and the consequence is fresh interest in booking holidays. You need to cast aside most of the doom-laden stuff that you read in the newspapers and see on TV or online in Britain – about the collapse of the approaching ski season.
Right now we’re being told in Europe that some resorts are opening in near perfect conditions only to be forced by governments to close again because of the health threat, while in Switzerland they are carrying on regardless. The ski season is, essentially, doomed, we’re told, because of Coronavirus. That’s a load of nonsense.
Nowadays, a handful of high-altitude resorts flex their muscles with early openings, but the pistes, the trails, and indeed the hotels and chalets remain virtually empty until the week before Christmas. This year’s no different, except that high-profile resorts such as Val d’Isere, Tignes, Val Thorens and others have had to delay their opening parties because of Covid lockdown across most of Europe. But don’t worry. My forecast is that they’ll soon be back in action.
But the Savoie region of France, home to a host of resorts like Courchevel and the 3 Valleys, is particularly hard hit. Will the governments – local and federal – of France, Austria, and Italy have the nerve to let resorts open before the holidays? A number of British tour operators think not and have chosen not to run any holidays before January.
So if the governments shortly decide to ease travel restrictions and the length of quarantine periods, what’s to stop me grabbing my boots and immediately jumping on a plane in December to the Alps or anywhere else? Well, first of all Brits and many other nationalities are not welcome at the moment in the US and in Canada, and the same applies in reverse. Intercontinental skiing remains on hold.
In the Rockies, you can get to ski pretty much as usual. But here in Europe, the biggest stumbling block is the requirement to quarantine on return to your home country.
I estimate the number of available ski package holidays on offer in Britain is down by as much as 80%. So when restrictions are eased, as well they might be in December or early January, there’s going to be a rush to book. Finding accommodation may not be so difficult, but travel is quite another matter. Airlines will reintroduce flights on the key hub routes, but don’t expect low prices. They’ve lost a lot of money already. UK Operators such as Le Ski and Skiworld who are still running charter flights to the French Alps, will be heavily in demand.
If you’re a British skier or snowboarder you also have to check out your insurance situation. If, against current Government advice, you visit any country such as France, Austria, Italy and Switzerland, nearly all insurance policies will cease to be valid. The one exception is a policy offered by MPI Brokers, but even that doesn’t cover you against anything Covid-related.
When you buy your lift pass in France, you can take out Carre Neige insurance for €3 a day. That covers mountain rescue and snowsports injuries – even repatriation. But what if you fall over in the street, have a heart attack, or even a car crash on your way to the Alps? Until the end of December, EHIC (the European health insurance card) covers most of your medical expenses and a hospital stay but, in case it has escaped your notice, we’ve now left the European Union and, as things stand, there is no reciprocal health care agreement with 27 of our neighbours from the New Year. Ignore this at your peril. Without proper insurance, any collision involving injury could bankrupt you. Get the right insurance and go skiing.