So where are we? Well, I’m sitting grumpily in the garden at my laptop, writing about skiing, but not of course actually skiing myself and that’s a crying shame. Like many of you out there, I feel overwhelmingly frustrated. I’ve been robbed of half a season. Ok, so I’ve had more than my fair share of ski days over the past years, but that’s not the point, is it? Like Oliver, I want more.
Where should I be today, if I wasn’t locked down in Hampshire? I am recovering from a vicious bout of Covid-19, an experience that I can assure you is more frightening than negotiating the narrowest and steepest couloir. Top answer today is Riksgransen in Northern Sweden. Yes, it’s open and there’s 15cm of fresh powder on a mighty 550cm base. In June in the Land of the Midnight Sun, you can ski into the early hours of the morning. Makes you want to cry, doesn’t it? But a chilly breeze today would swiftly crystallise any tears.
Looking ahead, there are a number of European glacier opportunities coming up – potentially. However, with the Government’s edict that holiday travel abroad is not allowed at present, the process of actually getting to a piste makes the prospect of summer skiing a no-no for now. Val d’Isere, Tignes, Les Deux Alpes, Kaprun, and Hintertux are all flexing their ski muscles and hoping for government permissions to open after June 6.
Argentina and Chile look promising for late June and July…but the international flights required to get there are quite another matter. It’s reassuring that across the planet skiing is still happening, even if I can’t join in the fun. But that’s not really the all-important question which dogs us, one that’s almost too worrying to voice out loud:
‘Will there actually be a European ski season in the winter of 2020/21?’
Over the past eight weeks I’ve been talking to tour operators and to resorts all across the Alps, asking them that same question. At this stage, no one is in a position to provide a clear answer, but all of them are planning for the winter as normal – not least because their livelihoods and those of hundreds of thousands of people across the Alps and elsewhere depend upon it.
Will it be best to travel with a tour operator? The short answer is ‘yes’. With increased uncertainty about how you get there and where you stay, tour operators will continue to offset your exposure to interrupted travel plans and financial risk. This may sound a strange thing to say in the light of recent events that have left many holiday skiers asking for refunds from travel companies.
A few of of these operators have stuck their heads in the sand, hoping in vain that that this unprecedented situation would go away. Others have simply not been in a cash-flow position to oblige. But those tour operators that are now surviving – I fear a significant proportion of the smaller ones will have gone out of business before August – will be those that have honoured their commitments, talked openly to their clients, and maintained their trust.
In most cases they are now either offering deferred holidays for the coming winter or, where insurances companies have failed to pay out, they have stumped up the cash themselves. If your operator has stood by you, my advice is that you could do a lot worse than to stick by them.
When should I book? A handful of operators are offering to take a 10% returnable deposit now, before an additional 15% payment in October when the picture will be clearer. But the reality is that, unless your heart is set on a particular chalet, there’s little point in parting with money at present when we have no idea of what travel arrangements will be in place, and whether lifts will actually open. Monitor the situation on a weekly basis.
Will I have to quarantine myself for 14 days on return to the UK? Not, apparently, if you’re returning from France. Macron and Johnson have struck a deal last weekend to ensure free flow of citizens. Remember Brexit? But let’s not go down that track right now.
Meanwhile, all lifts are open in Riksgransen. If the thought of this is all becoming too much for you in lockdown, checkout my podcast at ActionPackedTravel and Felice and I will take you down the Hahnenkamm or Corbet’s Couloir, on a train across Europe, up over Everest in a balloon or – this week – on safari in Africa.