Is It Safe To Go Skiing This Winter?
Following the early closure of skiing and snowboarding resorts across Europe in March, and the subsequent lockdowns through spring and summer, many have been hoping that the 2020/2021 ski season would be a chance to make up for lost time. Whilst it may not be business exactly as usual, most resorts are expecting a busy and successful winter and hopefully many of us will be able to go out and enjoy the winter dreamt up over the course of this unusual year.
Last Updated January 7th 2021
- Austria delays opening of its ski resorts for tourists until at least January 24th (January 5th)
- Scotland forces all of its resorts to close as the country enters full lockdown (January 5th)
- The opening of Italian ski resorts has been delayed until January 18th (January 3rd)
- Austria enters another national lockdown, although ski resorts are staying open for local skiers and snowboarders (December 27th)
- In Scotland, Glencoe and The Lecht say they will stay open for local skiers. Cairngorm areas are closing, with Glenshee yet to make a decision. Nevis Range has said they are closed until 2021 (December 23rd)
- Some reports say that ski areas in Andorra may open on January 3rd (December 15th)
- Reuters are reporting that the French Government are looking at January 7th as the probable season start date (December 14th)
- Serra da Estrela, in Portugal, is the first ski area to open on the Iberian Peninsula (December 10th)
- Sweden's Åre, which is Scandinavia's biggest ski resort, is reopening on December 18th (December 9th)
- Some ski areas in Spain look to be reopening with one of the country's largest, Baqueira Beret, saying that they plan to open for the season on December 11th (December 6th)
- Ski areas in Poland are permitted to reopen from December 8th (December 5th)
Can I go skiing this winter?
The thought of planning and booking a ski holiday for this winter can seem a little strange given the current uncertainty caused by Covid-19, however, resorts have been busy making appropriate preparations and putting measures in place to ensure a safe and successful season. Many resorts, including most across the Portes Du Soleil, have been open through the later summer months. By working with local tourist boards and Government directives, they are confident in the measures put in place to prevent the spread of the virus, meaning the public will be able to enjoy the mountains once again.
Whilst there will be some extra rules and measures to abide by, as it currently stands, resorts across Europe are expecting to open this winter. Although delayed, France is hoping to open resorts in early January, and most European countries are also following a similar timeline. In the case that the situation changes and European resorts have to tighten down, do not worry, there are other options on how you can get the most of your skiing this winter, but more on that a little further down.
Which ski resorts are going to open?
At the time of posting, almost all resorts across Europe are expecting to open this season, although for most, this now may not be until early 2021. Glacial resorts such as Hintertux and Solden had already opened again for skiing before closing in early November due to new restrictions. However, Solden are hoping to reopen around December 12th, and Hintertux plans to reopen as soon as it is safely possible.
At the time of publishing, Switzerland and Finland both have ski resorts open. Further afield, Canadian ski resorts are open and seeing a busy early season.
The length of the season is of course dependent upon snow conditions, and uniquely for this season, virus conditions. However, resorts are confident that they have put all of the appropriate measures in place to ensure a safe season once local governments allow their opening.
Will I have to quarantine?
Update - Novemeber 26th
From December 15th, people arriving into England from abroad can potentially reduce their 14-day quarantine in half by taking a private Covid test five days into isolation. If the test comes back as negative then you will no longer need to isolate.
The short answer is on your return to the UK, quite possibly. It is important to check the latest travel guidance from the UK Government as travel to certain countries will lead to you having to quarantine upon your return. At the time of publication visits to France, Austria, Switzerland and Italy, will all require you to quarantine upon return to the UK.
It’s also worth checking the government’s entry requirements as some countries may not currently accept non-essential visitors, and others may require a quarantine period on entry to the country.
What restrictions and rules are in place?
Each resort and area has its own set of guidance with regards to the safety measures in place for this winter season, however, the majority fit a similar set of rules and principles.
Most resorts have the following, or similar, rules in place:
- Ensure you are fit and healthy before heading to the resort
- Where possible, buy lift passes online and in advance of your trip
- Wear a face mask on chair lifts, gondolas and whilst queuing for lifts
- Face masks must also be worn in indoor public areas and during certain parts of group ski lessons
- Keep at least 1 - 1.5 metres away from others
As a result of these rules, the normal ski experience will be a little different. The biggest change is perhaps the impact that these measures will have on après skiing. For example, across France all bars will be table service, putting a pause on the unique experience of jostling through a dancing crowd of skiers and boarders to get an afternoon vin chaud.
Is this the end of après?
For this winter season, it certainly looks like traditional après will not exist. With table service, face masks, social distancing and background music at an ‘easy listening volume’, après lovers are going to have to wait a little longer before a return to the normal mountain party atmosphere. Across the Tirol, bars and restaurants will also be closing at 10 pm, with similar rules elsewhere. Ishgl have also cancelled their Top of the Mountain Opening Concert, although they do state that they hope the easter and season finale concerts will go ahead if guidelines and rules allow.
The restrictions are expected to only be temporary measures, so hopefully après as it is traditionally known will be back in the not too distant future.
How will coronavirus impact skiing?
Whilst you are actually skiing, there won't be any impact compared to your usual experience. You are free to put your turns in and enjoy the freedom and peace that comes with the mountains. However, whilst queuing and using lifts, you will have to wear a face mask. For those that already wear a neck warmer like a Buff, this will be easy to accommodate. However, for those that don’t, resorts are doing all that they can to make this an easy experience for all with some, such as Ischgl, handing out free ‘multi-functional scarfs’ with the purchase of a lift pass that provide warmth and also act as a face covering.
How to travel to the resorts?
Unfortunately, Eurostar are not running their non-stop ‘Ski Train’ this winter which reduces the options for those trying to avoid flying. However, self-drive trips are still a good option for those willing to take a road trip. With a little planning and preparation, you can have your car ready for a trip to the alps in no time. Check out our quick guide, for some key tips. Ski operators are working to accommodate people driving themselves and Eurotunnel are requesting passengers remain within their car whilst on board, essentially creating a private bubble for the duration of the journey. Embarking on a road trip this winter is therefore a good choice to avoid contact with others and take the risk of a cancelled flight away.
However, there are still plenty of options for those wanting to fly, with Easyjet and British Airways both promoting flights this season to the major European ski airports. Ski tour operators are also still offering flight packages with their trips. Nearly all have implemented policies specific to Covid-19 to allow flexibility with cancellations and amendments, varying from refunds to rescheduling. When planning a trip, it is worth checking the policy with the operator just to ensure you are covered for any last-minute changes.
How will accommodation work?
Hotels and hostels will be open across resorts, however, in-line with resort guidelines they will require social distancing and face masks to be worn in certain areas/situations.
There is expected to be a reduction in the number of catered chalets, and an increase in self-catered accommodation allowing for easier distancing from others. Should you want a break from cooking, then do not fear, it is expected that many resort restaurants will set up convenient delivery and takeaway options.
What happens if the restrictions change?
As mentioned above, most ski tour operators are preparing for any potential changes by offering flexibility with regards to cancellations and refunds.
If booking a trip yourself directly, then most resort accommodation currently has similar policies, so be sure to check them over before booking.
Many areas, such as Morzine are also offering refunds or credits on unused lift passes depending on circumstances.
What about skiing outside of Europe?
The story for skiing is the same across most of the northern hemisphere this winter. The majority of resorts are planning to open, but with measures and rules put in place. Canada’s second-biggest ski resort, Sun Peaks, sold out of season passes, and with many resorts now open in the country, they are seeing a busy start to the season.
The biggest point to make note of if you are travelling further afield than Europe would be to keep up to date with any potential travel restrictions. For example, whilst Japanese ski resorts are planning to open this season, the country is currently closed to tourists from the UK.
Should the situation develop and tighter restrictions be imposed, or if you would simply rather stay a little closer to home this winter, then this is the perfect season to explore the excellent skiing that the UK has to offer.
Scotland has some fantastic, and often overlooked, skiing on offer. Glenshee has over 40km of piste to explore, whilst the Nevis Range and Glencoe also offer a great range of slopes. Just a short ten-minute drive from Aviemore, Cairngorm Mountain offers some excellent skiing with Lecht also providing further options for adventure.
Scotland has plenty of backcountry on offer, most of which is easily accessible from the resorts. Check out our full guide to the best resorts in Scotland for a complete rundown of the options.
When the conditions are right, England also has a couple of options with Raise and Yad Moss in Cumbria. The areas do require the right amount of snowfall and are slightly less consistent than Scotland, but on their day, offer some fantastic skiing and boarding.
When Should I book?
By booking early, you can ensure that you have accommodation close to the slopes/lifts (minimising the need for a bus transfer) and you will also be helping support the ski industry. Alongside this you should also have the peace of mind that for most bookings, dependent upon policy, you will hopefully still have options should you need to amend or cancel.
That being said, there will undoubtedly be some last-minute deals and discounts over the course of the season, and by booking closer to your trip, you can minimise the risk of any change and disruption to travel.
So, following a strange summer and abrupt end to the ski season in March, it looks like we should be able to enjoy the slopes almost as usual this winter. By following the measures and guidelines put in place, resorts are shortly going to be welcoming skiers and boarders back to pristine pistes and powder, a welcome retreat from the strangeness of this year.
The situation around Coronavirus is constantly developing. Whilst this information was accurate at the time of posting, do stay up to date with the latest information available on the UK Government website, and the resort you are hoping to head to.
About the Author:
Huw Saunders - Outdoor Expert
Growing up in rural Wales, Huw has been immersed in the outdoors for as long as he can remember. If not surfing the Welsh coast, he can now usually be found either running or hiking in the Peak District and through the winter, tries to get out to Europe to ski as much as possible.