Since its emergence in early 2020, the Coronavirus wreaked havoc across all areas of our lives. No matter whether you believe the virus is as dangerous and deadly as claimed, the restrictions taken to try and halt its spread have impacted us all. From distancing to isolation, hand-sanitizing to full lockdowns and home-working, Covid-10 has changed modern life as we know it.
From a personal point of view, I was in France when the first lockdown hit back in March forcing the early closure of resorts across the country as France followed the position taken by other ski nations through Europe.
Now, as we near the impending start to season 2020/21 (it’s currently 7th November as I write this), things seem less clear than ever what impact the virus might have on ski and snowboard holidays this season. Anyway, for what it’s worth, here’s my personal prediction how this season might pan out. Note – these are all no more than personal opinions – though they are mostly based on pretty sound logic.
The current state of affairs – A Covid snapshot of Europe
At time of writing, of the Euro ski nations that have snow (i.e. mostly the glacier nations), only Switzerland is operating lifts to the public. While France, Italy and Austria have plenty of snow up high following the recent late-Autumn storms of September and October, the vast majority of resorts are currently only open to race teams and pro riders.
Also, it’s worth remembering – with travel banned out of the UK until the start of December (and similar restrictions across the whole of Europe), even if these glacier resorts were open to the public, you couldn’t get to them to ride them anyway.
Expected official end to Covid winter lockdowns
Lockdowns are expected in the UK until 2nd December – though the government is being deceptively vague and Gove has already expressed the opinion it may last longer. The situation is similar in France too with an imposed full lockdown in place until at least the end of November – however, Macron has already said he believes Coronavirus will be a significant problem until at least summer 2021. Austria is in partial lockdown until 30th November, Italy until December 3rd. You can see a global breakdown country by country here.
A more realistic end to Covid winter lockdowns – a personal view
While the current round of restrictions is supposed to end (in most cases) at the end of Nov/start of Dec, there are already clear signs suggesting otherwise. Indeed, the majority of governments seem to be openly declaring the idea that lockdowns could be extended longer if required. Actually, in France, there were calls for the full lockdown to last until March – and there is still an on-going debate for mid-February.
Truth is, there is already substantial desire in governing parties across Europe to extend lockdowns way into next year. Given most leaders have already openly expressed extending past the initial end of Nov/start Dec, it seems highly possible restrictions could run much further into next month.
Also worth noting – lessons have been learned this year and I think most governments are fearful if they were to come clean and announce the intention to lockdown through Christmas and into next year, they could see open rioting in the streets. Populations around the world are already hugely weary of Coronavirus and isolation – it wouldn’t take much to tip the balance from obedience to outright rejection of the rules. Governments know this – hence the reason this drip-feeding, apparently reactionary approach to Covid is the policy most leaders are espousing. The truth may likely be considerably less complex – i.e. that most want bigger lockdowns for longer.
Ski holidays 2021 and Coronavirus
So, here’s the personal speculation bit . . . based on solid reasoning but in no way a guarantee of what’s going to happen. There are just a lot of dots right now – and it’s quite easy to join them to make a bigger picture.
Fact – no leader wants to be accused of cancelling Christmas but it is at least plausible they might look to extending lockdown to, say, a few days before Christmas itself? If nothing else, the feelgood factor would go through the roof as friends and family were reunited for the holidays. Bonus points for leaders seen to be ‘rescuing’ Christmas.
Of course, if the reported Corona figures are to be believed, this second wave of the virus is particularly virulent. Consequently, (and as has already been proven before) as soon restrictions are lifted, case numbers will skyrocket. Also, given the amount of close socialising that is a natural part of Christmas, it’s beyond question there will be a massive explosion in cases through any relaxation of the restrictions.
However, there are also a number of other factors to remember – the fact illnesses naturally rise over the colder months – and we’re likely to see a huge rise in travel as families reunite – and case numbers naturally increase as more testing is done . . . With all the above, it seems highly likely governments will be gifted enough ammo to make calls for an immediate return to lockdown again. Just my opinion but I think this will possibly happen directly after Christmas – or, more likely, sometime around the new year.
There was also the not-inconsequential announcement made by UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, the other day that he intends extending furlough payments until March next year. Now, why would he do that? Given global leaders are all in the same boat trying to balance economic growth with public “safety” and are all thinking alike, it’s fair to surmise they might all also be considering the first half of winter a virtual write-off this year.
So, my personal thoughts for the early part of the winter season 2020/21 are we’ll see an extension of lockdown until a few days before Christmas followed by a partial or full relaxation of restrictions for a few days around the Xmas day itself – with a likely reintroduction either in Christmas week or just after the New Year celebrations. Given that case numbers will likely rise exponentially following the temporary end of lockdown 2.0, it would seem possible a third lockdown will be even more severe.
In terms of ski holidays, this roughly translates to a relatively high chance of trips going ahead over Christmas – followed by almost inevitable cancellations thereafter. I honestly think the question is less, will we see restrictions – more, for how long?
Also, current long-term forecasts seem to be pointing to a colder-than-usual winter across Europe – which will again add fuel to the fire for longer, more severe restrictions. Personally, I would suggest until at least mid-Feb – though possibly longer.
Why extend ski resort Covid restrictions through 2021?
As mentioned, the above view is purely speculation – but it is based on already mounting facts and evidence from past and present decisions:
- For a start, governments have previously made calls for longer extensions (and many scientists are still clamouring for them).
- Second, the French are still debating on whether to extend until Feb.
- Third – lockdown or not – cases are going to rise through winter which will give ample reason for leaders to impose greater restrictions.
- Fourth, there is already evidence suggesting a third lockdown might happen. If you look at the Disneyland Paris site, you’ll see they propose opening from Dec 19th to Jan 3rd, then will close again from Jan 4th to Feb 12th. It kind of makes you wonder if they might know something we don’t.
- Fifth, we already saw several nations open the glacier resorts early in October only to close them again. Now they’ve done it once, they will be more than ready to do it again.
- Sixth – on the subject of closures, last season in France ended on March 12th this year following a late-night 11pm announcement – proving these kinds of closures can be enacted at the drop of a hat.
- Seventh – although rare, other southern hemisphere nations operated near-complete lockdowns through their 2020 season already this year. The majority of resorts in Chile stayed closed the entire summer (their winter) with a minority of others only operating for a month at best. There is already precedent for ski nations to stay closed.
- Eighth – as mentioned, UK furlough payments are to continue into March – surely the clearest sign of all that the government is not expecting a quick fix solution anytime soon.
So, what are the likely options for the 2020/21 ski season?
Developed, richer ski nations aren’t so heavily reliant on the income generated by ski and snowboard tourism. Yes, the resorts will suffer short-term but the governments in these countries are likely to view a ski-less winter as acceptable collateral damage for “fixing” the overall bigger picture and “protecting” the public.
At the other end of the scale, the smaller, less developed nations with ski facilities simply can’t afford to miss out on the revenue generated by tourism. I personally saw this over the summer, spending time in Turkey. After the first 2020 lockdown had stripped the country of valuable tourism revenue early in the year, the authorities in Antalya extended the season until start November to encourage trips by, primarily, Russian tourists. Yes we had distancing, obligatory mask-wearing and temp checks – but nothing so draconian as the measures implemented across Europe during the same period.
So – just my personal opinion again – but I think lesser-known, less popular ski nations like Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece and Slovenia are likely to stay open for longer through this winter – or may even see no closures at all. Certainly, I’ve already seen adverts for Bulgarian ski resorts extolling the virtues of outdoor exercise during Covid – almost suggesting their ski areas are part of the solution rather than the problem, as such.
The personal choices to be made
Of course, how useful this proves this will depend on a number of important factors –
1) Whether restrictions allow travel to these countries.
2) Whether you’re willing to risk going against the established position of the larger nations – and perhaps the wisdom of your own home nation. One might argue restrictions are in place and these ski resorts are being closed for a reason. It all depends how you weigh up the dangers of the virus.
3) Finding an insurer willing to cover you despite foreign office advice might be difficult.
4) How important your ski holiday is to you, your family and friends.
For someone that’s been doing seasons for the last six years, the idea of not snowboarding this year simply isn’t happening – but that’s just my decision. This is a judgement only you can make yourself.
The Scotland factor – ski/snowboard in Covid winter 2021
Of course, there is one other option for those skiers and snowboarders that desperately want their fix of riding but aren’t comfortable with taking a trip abroad. Scotland has five top class ski areas on your doorstep.
Now, make no mistake – I’m not about to try and say the size and scale of Scottish runs are on a par with the mega resorts of France, Italy, Austria and Switzerland – but they do rival some smaller ski resorts around the world – and they’re massively convenient.
If the thought of plane travel, busy airports and packed transfer buses is a little too much to bear, consider taking a trip up North. Riding in Scotland is very weather-dependent (from both the snow and general conditions point of view) but, get it on a good day, and you’ll wonder why you haven’t been before.
Yes, I’m Scottish (so perhaps a little biased?) – but really, if you want a ski or snowboard holiday with the added convenience of having your car in a familiar country with zero language barriers – this may well be the year you should try Scotland. Also, staying somewhere like Aviemore in the heart of the Cairngorms means easy access by either train or the main A9 motorway.
If you’re driving and stay in Aviemore, you could also think about visiting all five Scottish ski areas. Cairngorm is closest (and accessible by ski bus), the Lecht is around 45 mins drive, Glenshee approx 90 minutes, Nevis Range 90 minutes and Glencoe approx 120 minutes. You can see the locations of the ski areas on the map below. – or check for accommodation using the form.
Advice for booking ski holidays through the Covid winter 2021
For many, the first consideration will probably be safety – both your own and that of your family. Again, only you can make judgements on this front but I think most parents will probably shy away from travel with kids if there is risk attached.
In terms of booking, there is a sound argument to leaving things late. Over the last year, we’ve all come to learn how quickly things can change when it comes to Coronavirus – so leaving things until the last minute is perhaps the surest way to get a trouble-free holiday. Then again, if you have adequate insurance, you mitigate the risks and can claim back anyway.
Personally, for the reasons noted above, I’d be slightly wary advance-booking anything for January or February. March and April should (hopefully) be a bit more reliable – but, really, in the bigger picture there are zero guarantees when it comes to Covid. Bottom line, you need insurance.
Again, weigh up the odds and make your own decision. Being ready to be flexible and having insurance is key to everything else.
The importance of insurance and choosing the right operator
One other thing worth considering in the early booking vs last minute debate – there are going to be fewer beds available this year in resorts. This is partly being caused through distancing requirements, partly because of fewer operators and partly due to decreased chalet availability. This might mean you’ll have no choice but to book early if you have particular requirements in mind.
If you are booking in advance, be sure to go with a company you trust. There are multiple shock stories of people still waiting for refunds from last season so only go with high-rated companies or, better still, operators you’ve used before and know you can trust. These businesses need your business right now and are most-deserving of your loyalty.
Also, remember to use a credit card when booking so you have extra cover and make sure you have Covid insurance as standard (I can personally recommend the company on this link).
All-in-one ski and snowboard holidays
Also worth remembering – while I would always normally recommended trying to mix and match trip products (i.e. independent flights and transfers, direct booking with private apartment owner etc), if things do go wrong, you might have an easier time getting a refund if you’ve booked an entire package through just one operator. Crystal Ski are still operating through winter 2020/2021 and have extensive Coronavirus cover as standard.
Accommodation through Covid ski winter 2021
Alternatively, larger companies like Booking.com are also advertising Coronavirus cover should your plans change or trips be cancelled. You can use the form below to search for accommodation. Travel companies are very aware of their clients’ worries regarding Covid and most are offering total cover for pretty much every eventuality.
Ski flights through the Covid winter 2020/21
Most of the larger flight companies are also offering Covid cover – though, again, do be sure to have insurance and use a credit card for extra peace of mind and back-up. You can use the form below to check on flight deals (there are some incredible offers right now due to the virus).
Compensation for delayed/cancelled flights
Also, remember if your flight is delayed or cancelled, you could be due compensation (up to £530) apply on this link. This applies equally to Covid-related delays/cancellations or those caused by any other reason. If you’ve fallen victim to either, get in touch with Flight Delayed to see if you qualify.
Ski snowboard hire with Covid-cover
As with all other considerations, when it comes to booking hire equipment, you need to go with a company you can trust. SkiSet is one of the largest ski and snowboard hire companies in the Alps and made full refunds to all its clients last winter when Covid first hit. You can check availability and benefit from a 50% online reduction using the booking form below.
Ski and snowboard lessons with Covid-cover
By now, it should go without saying that any company you pre-book any element of your winter trip with should offer no-fuss cancellation and refund policies. SkiBro do exactly that and refunded all clients for the cancelled weeks through March and April last year. They have also vastly extended their network this year and are available in many more resorts. Visit their site on this link to book the best ski and snowboard tuition with Covid-cover guaranteed and a 20€/CHF discount.
A season like no other
No matter how things end up through the Covid ski winter of 2020/2021, it is most definitely going to be a season like no other before it. Distancing is going to be mandatory which almost inevitably will result in longer queues in most resorts.
As a general rule, when you’re booking, try to pick resorts with an abundance of low-lying resort-level chairlifts. Chairs offer greater possibilities for distancing than gondolas, cable cars or funiculars which should result in less queuing early in the day. Also, remember there will be no requirement for distancing as a family or group in the same accommodation – so you could help others and reduce lift queues by skiing or snowboarding and taking the same lifts at the same time, together.
You can see the policies being adopted in French ski resorts at the end of this article (pretty much identical to other ski nations). None should come as any particular surprise – but you will be obliged to follow them to the letter to avoid being fined.
Dumbed down aprés
While the situation with resorts opening seems up in the air, things are even less clear when it comes to aprés. As you would expect, distancing is going to be obligatory but, as anyone who’s been to a ski resort before will attest, the vast majority of ski bars and restaurants tend to be ‘cosy’ (at best) – meaning space is extremely limited. This will be even worse for fully indoor establishments i.e. those without terraces. It’s really quite difficult to envisage how any of our favourite small ski bars are going to be able to open in any capacity this winter – though, as ever, I’m sure they’ll find ways to adapt. If nothing else, I would expect to see a lot of outdoor heaters this season.
Nonetheless, if you’re looking for entertainment, you may well need to make your own. While the majority of the on-hill aprés bars should mostly be open, the atmosphere is going to be very different this year for sure. For example, the popular Folie Douce chain has already announced the typical end-of-day parties, dancing on tables and stage acts will be replaced through the Covid 2021 winter season with chill-out music and distanced seating. A *very* different experience from usual.
Eating out vs eating in
If you’re looking to eat out at night, options will most likely be very limited (again, most ski resort restaurants are tiny). For an alternative, if you’re in any of the Tarentaise resorts, consider ordering Huski gourmet pre-made food and drink (a full description is linked here with a further 10% discount from their site prices).
Huski operate in the main Tarentaise resorts (Val d’Isère, Tignes, Sainte-Foy, La Rosière, all Les Arcs stations, all La Plagne stations (Paradiski), St-Martin-de-Belleville, Les Menuires, Val Thorens, Brides-les-Bains, Méribel Villages, Méribel Centre, Méribel Mottaret, La Tania and all Courchevel resorts (Trois Vallées)).
Also, booking through Huski means you can avoid crowded resort supermarkets – and will save you having to carry your shopping home with you. Indeed, Huski can even deliver a whole week’s food to your accommodation before you even arrive. Check out Huski’s extensive menu here and remember to use discount code earlybird2020 for that extra 10% discount.
The Brexit effect
With all eyes firmly and justifiably fixed on Corona, it can sometimes be easy to forget the UK is about to pull out of Europe at the end of 2020. I realise we all have different opinions – and sorry if you disagree with mine – but Brexit is a bullshit idea at the best of times. During a global recession it’s nothing short of willful suicide. In years to come, I reckon we will all WTF at the idea of pulling out of the world’s largest trading bloc – particularly considering everything else that’s going on right now.
Anyway, it is what is and there’s nothing we can do about it. With Boris at the helm, it’s sure to be a resounding success. However, rest assured, from a ski and snowboard holiday point of view, it will have an impact. You can read some great advice and tips regarding European ski holidays after Brexit on this page.
The steps taken by the French ski resorts
You can see below an infographic explaining how the French ski resorts intend to deal with visitors through the Coronavirus ski season of 2020/2021 (or watch the UK video above). This graphic is available in additional languages on this link.
If you’re planning a trip this year, many of your choices will be made for you unfortunately. Snap resort closures and changes to travel restrictions are likely to continue as long as the virus is still circulating and we remain without the relative protection of a vaccine.
As with all other areas of modern life under Covid, it will be up to us as individuals to decide whether we want to take the risk of potentially booking trips only for them to be cancelled. With the right insurance cover, this actually shouldn’t be a risk – though it may cause you some personal upheaval and hassles along the way.
Personally, I would think the decision comes down to how important your ski or snowboard holiday is to you – and whether you want to take the chance of travel while the virus is still active. For me, the choice is simple – but I realise we’re all different and we all have our own priorities. Whatever you decide, it’s probably fair to say you should remain flexible and expect at least some changes along the way.
In these strange and disruptive days of Covid, nothing is simple unfortunately.
Bonne chance a tous.
The Snow-Guru apps
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