Ever since the first German-built piste-machine carved crude corduroy into the slopes above Flaine in 1969, British skiers have divided naturally into two distinctive groups.
There are those of us who prefer to stay safely on groomed terrain – and then there are the rest of us who gaze dreamily beyond the ropes for our enjoyment. Let’s face it, we’re only truly happy when off-piste…ideally in 50cm of fluffy light powder.
Two groups? Not any more. In the summer of 2016, some 47 years on down the 8,000-year march of ski history, a whole new segregation has asserted itself: Remains and Brexits.
So which side are you on? Safety or adventure? How, as a skier, will a Brexit vote affect you?
The answer, of course, is terribly simple. We don’t know. It seems likely that none of the key figures from either camp in the run-up to the referendum has given skiing a single thought.
Andy Perrin, CEO of Inghams, Ski Total and Esprit Ski, has been in the ski industry for 38 years. He’s a man not known for being shy of voicing his opinion. But he went uncharacteristically quiet (albeit, not for long) when asked what Brexit will mean for his businesses.
Will there be, as the more pessimistic chalet operators predict, a £50 to £100 hike on the basic cost of a holiday?
“A vote for Brexit is a vote for two years of chaos, while we try to work out what it all means,” says Andy.
“Uncertainty is the enemy of economic strength. We have no idea whether the pound will head towards parity with the euro, or whether it will be at 1.50 by the end of the year. However, I can see the possibility that the damage to the pound could be offset by the damage to the euro. If Greece potentially exiting the euro was disastrous for the euro, what on earth would be the effect of the United Kingdom leaving the EU?
“But for next winter the price of a winter package holiday is already set, so they’ll be nothing extra to pay on top at the moment. There’s a negative swing for the DIY brigade, but not for tour operators. In fact, our bookings are up on this time last year, which is pretty remarkable considering the uncertainty.
He added: “In recent years we’ve seen a tightening of regulations for tour operators in the Alps. Whether regulations are going to get more severe in the event of Brexit that’s very hard to say.”
Uncertainties are thick on the ground. Some say that an end to the reciprocal EU VAT agreement after Brexit would push prices up by 20%.
Seasonnaires planning on skiing away the winter of 2017/18 while working for chalet operators may well have to think again.
Brexit must mean the end to the blanket right to seek employment in member states. For a start, you’ll need a work permit and your employer in France or elsewhere may be forced – as in Switzerland from last season – to pay full wages, rather than the traditional chalet staff remuneration in kind.
Will work permits be easily available? Will there even be UK chalet operators? When Switzerland introduced its new law and minimum wage most – but not all – chalet companies bolted for the frontier.
It could end the reciprocal agreement between the NHS and European hospitals – in the form of the free-of-charge EHIC card. This will mean paying up-front for any emergency hospital visit and not being covered for pre-existing medical conditions whilst on holiday. We don’t know whether this will carry on or not.
Back in 1973 when Britain joined Europe, Bernhard Russi had won downhill gold for Switzerland in the previous year at the Sapporo Olympics.
Austria was still by far the most popular ski destination, but the number of British skiers was limited – not least by the £50 per year (£700 equivalent today) overseas travel allowance. Inghams and Erna Low, then as now, were two of the leading tour operators. Most likely, you’ve never heard of the others.
Boris Johnson was eight, Nigel Farage was nine, David Cameron was six and Jeremy Corbyn was 24. All which makes Corbyn the only one of them in a position to remember what skiing was like in pre-EU days…except, of course, he’s not a skier.
Whether you’re a Remain skier or a Brexit skier, give us your opinion in the comments box below on what the result of the referendum will mean to you…
We’ve had a comment on Twitter from Henry Schneewind of Henry’s Avalanche Talk who says: “The implication on travel is less ABTA protection, higher mobile charges, borders harder to cross/manage, and healthcare harder to get”. Scroll down for a lot more comments.
May 11, 2016Peter Woodhead
No brainer, Remain!
May 11, 2016Patrick J Thorne
Hello from Inverness! Great piece! All the arguments you hear are the same as we got in the Scottish Independence referendum so it’s real deja vu up here. although thankfully this one doesn’t drag on for three years and it’s a fresh bunch of politicians squabbling amongst themselves. So it boils down to the same arguments that those who want to leave are brave/fool hardy and those who want to stay are ‘running a scare campaign’/cowards. And everyone wants to know ‘the truth’ about ‘what will really happen’ when as you say, no one knows or can really predict.
This one really ought to be called ‘The English Independence referendum’ because if we do vote to leave the EU, the SNP will have their excuse for another Scottish independence referendum and I think that would be the thing that would tip the majority of Scots to vote to leave the UK. So add in to your remain/Brexit thoughts that Scotland will be a new foreign ski destination by 2020! Of course you may be happy with that scenario but just something to keep in mind. Oh and the other lesson from up here is that whichever side wins, the losing side won’t accept it and blame the winning side for cheating/dirty tricks, the arguments go on and the divisions get more bitter. It’s a fun new world!
May 11, 2016Peter
I’m European we can’t turn the uk back into the Isle of Wight remain. Peter B
May 12, 2016Earl Knudsen
Great article Peter and one that will no doubt create a lot of debate and comment. As I own a specialist ski travel agency which sends 6000 skiers every winter to the Alps, I certainly would not go for a choice of chaos over stability. Better the devil you know in my opinion.
May 12, 2016John Yates-Smith
Brexit may well ruin my business, but there are more important things in life than money. One of them is not handing control of one’s country to a bunch of unelected, unaccountable, unscrupulous, second-rate gravy-train riders who may be in Brussels, may be in Strasbourg, but wherever they are are earning a huge amount more than they deserve!
May 13, 2016Colin David Mathews
Colonel Peter Lindsay was very happy to depart from Austria in search of pastures new at the time of the Anschluss, & he found the Les Allues Valley (Méribel) even with Border Controls!!
I empathise with Peter’s thought provoking article as a European.
Amazingly I can even empathise with JY-S even though if it is raining in Méribel you KNOW that it is always snowing in VDI!!
Patrick Thorne makes a most valid comparison to Scotland as one/he would.
Brexit would not be the end of the world, but would certainly lead us into the world of the unknown & at present unquantifiable, certainly as far as my business is concerned. Plus ca change in a France which is gloriously consistently inconsistent but always a bastion of protectionism.
As for my vote on 23rd June…….
May 12, 2016Sean Newsom
Mind you, if there is Brexit, and we all lose our incomes, we could go and squat in the gondola Boris built across the Thames. You know, the one that nobody uses? It’s almost as if he was laying plans for the British ski industry in 2012.
May 12, 2016Gordon Roberts
It is not only about “One of them is not handing control of one’s country to a bunch of unelected, unaccountable, unscrupulous, second-rate gravy-train riders who may be in Brussels, may be in Strasbourg,” it is about being in a with a group of countries that accept all the rules like we do but then when they don’t like something they ignore it and cheat. Remember the French and our qualified ski instructors, they should be able to work in France but the Frnech stop them. Why do we want to to be rules but countries that do not play by the rules to the detriment of ourselves who do?
May 12, 2016Alex Rentoul
What is this nonsense about the EHIC card being withdrawn if the country votes Brexit? It has been denied by the NHS. Higher mobile charges? Unlikely. Less ABTA protection? It’s a national scheme, so again unlikely. NMW issues? I think not. This is all just the usual scare stuff, along the lines of ‘If there is Brexit, there may be Armageddon.’ We heard this about leaving the ERM, and it proved untrue. So there will be some upheaval if the vote is for Brexit but the consequences are unclear and the examples cited are so often bogus. The Remainian camp does have to be a little bit more serious, if it is to be properly persuasive. ‘Always keep ahold of Nurse, for fear of finding something worse’ does not work well with the British temperament.
I didn’t have any problems skiing in Europe before the UK joined what was then the EEC. I don’t today have any problems skiing in Switzerland or Norway or America or Canada or Japan or Australia or New Zealand; OMG, how can that be, these countries are not in the EU?! Quick, pass me the defibrillator and the oxygen! I am confident that, whichever way the vote goes, I shall be skiing in the EU for a few years to come.
I haven’t had any problems working in Switzerland, either.
I speak and have worked in several of the EU languages, perhaps I am a natural European by temperament. But I have also seen how undemocratic the EU can be and suffered from a number of the less than helpful EU directives. As a package, the EU has strengths but also many flaws. I am not foisting a Brexit or a Remainian view on anybody, but the decision to leave or to stay should not be seen as black and white (or binary), but rather more nuanced than that. And fear stories probably work to swell the Brexiteers at the expense of the Remainians. In any event, remember what happened to the EU countries that dared to vote against EU expansion or treaties: there was some tinkering by the EU and then they were all asked to vote again. Contrary to the government’s assertion this will not happen, if there were to be a Brexit majority, I think this will be very likely as the next step.
May 13, 2016Alf Alderson
It’s quite remarkable that neither the for or against crowd have answers for the pretty fundamental questions Peter raises here. That applies to plenty of other issues too, which makes it virtually impossible to have a nuanced debate about the subject.
Personally I’m for remaining. Partly because I live in France for several months of the year, and partly because in an ever smaller, interconnected world I’d rather see Britain on the inside whining about Europe than on the outside…whining about Europe.
May 16, 2016Felice Hardy
Good point, Alf!
August 9, 2016Rob
So it happened. For me personally it will make life possibly very difficult and my small ski business might well disappear under French regulation.
But can I suggest everyone watch this well researched youtube video on the EU.
If the EU commissioners do refuse to accommodate the Uk’s main wishes to some extent and in doing so damage their own economies in the process, it proves they are not capable of running what is a massive economic affair. They ignore or forget that all monies for any EU project are created by business not governments. Who gives these people the right to damage 28 economies just because they are upset that the people of Britain gave them 2 fingers.
The most sensible thing to do would be to give back border controls to each and every country that wanted it. And most do. (The Lisbon treaty was ushered in by the back door methods)
Then trade freely as before. The euro could be a common EU currency, purchased by each individual’s currency. IE..Franc, Lire, etc. Based on different exchange rates.
This means companies and individuals can just buy euros for all of EU countries taking part.
Talking of exchange rates. I was skiing in February 1971 in Austria. Hards Ski Plan..what a company..cheap but very dodgy! Anyway No visa needed I seem to remember. My first ski holiday. I got 60+ schillings to the pound. Last time I was there in about 1985 I got about 22! I was in Franco’s Spain in summer 1970 for 6 months. No visa needed.
So, work will still be possible if more difficult. But it all depends on EU. Can they accept they have gone too far. Maybe if Le Penn wins in France, The Austrians go to a far right leader, Merkel gets an ear bashing from the heads of Mercedes, BMW and the like who want free trade with us. 28 of the 30 main economies in the world have applied for a trade deal with us since Brexit. Only 2 have not. Yes you may have guessed. France and then Italy.
Anyway, being an “Old Git” living summers in Greece I did not vote so I am in the clear! Down here they worry for us (and themselves) But most think we were very brave to do it. So watch the film, see what they are up to, and what they plan. Do we really want to be any part of it?
Rob Smart. Meribel Unplugged.