2020 has been a tough one. But if there’s one thing we’re all looking forward to, it’s the winter season. So you can get back out there are easily as possible we’ve laid all of your options, as well as everything else we know about how resorts are preparing for skiing in the age of Covid.
After a tough 2020 there’s one thing we’re all looking forward to, it’s the winter season. Fresh powder. Wide open spaces. The way the sun hits the slopes at just that time of the afternoon, setting the snow alight. Damn. Can’t you just picture it now? Although this winter may look a little different to those you’ve experienced in the past, but don’t worry, there’s plenty of ways to enjoy yourself and stay safe. And we’ve laid all of your options, as well as everything else we know about how resorts are preparing for the season, below. So dig in!
In a word, yes. At this current time, there are no formal restrictions imposed on planning a skiing or snowboarding trip, and there’s nothing to say that you can’t go. A lot of countries have begun imposing ‘quarantine upon return’ measures, but that’s mostly for international travel. And you’ll be glad to know that there’s plenty of domestic options available for most European countries.
Though we still remain hopeful that things will ease as lockdown-restrictions become more normalised, and people get used to being a little more cautious. Luckily, if you can’t ski or board domestically, there are official no ‘no-go’ countries or areas which are totally off-limits to visitors and tourists. So that trip you’ve planned is still an option. Rejoice.
A lot of countries and resorts, however, are imposing some form of lockdown or restrictions on activity. In the interest of public safety, lots of measures have been put in place surrounding things like lifts, hotels, restaurants, and bars. So it’s always a good idea to check out the specific rules for the resort or country you’re thinking about before booking anything.
These rules on how things will run could change before and through the season, but currently, as it stands, most ski areas and countries are intending to open for the season as ‘normal’ in December — meaning you don’t have to do anything special before going (except maybe grab a negative Covid test), just change your routine when you’re there.
The major changes will come in the form of how you travel, your lodging, and the apres scenes, as well as anywhere that people are likely to congregate in groups.
By what we’ve seen already, this will mean things like socially distanted lift lines, restrictions on the number of people on lifts and in gondolas, and limited numbers allowed to enter on and off-mountain facilities like toilets, shops, and restaurants and bars. As well as mandatory use of masks in all public places and buildings, of course.
Still, if you’re careful, there’s no reason you can’t have an excellent time this year and get plenty of skiing done! We know we intend to.
There’s no reason not to. Many providers are offering full refunds on holidays if you’re not able to travel due to Covid. In these situations, booking ahead is completely fine and poses no risk. But make sure to read the fine print before you put money down!
While you’ll definitely be more versatile in terms of where and when you can go, you may find that if a country lifts lockdown, then everyone will rush to book there. So it’s always that trade-off of choice. You may end up losing out or compromising on your preferred resort and accommodation. But it’s definitely the safest option if you’re unsure whether you’ll even want to go.
Of course. Many countries in the Europe have domestic skiing options, either in the form of their own resorts or in the form of indoor slopes — though they definitely don’t provide a true alpine experience. Still, it’s edges on snow, and that’s hard to beat in a pinch. In the UK, there is indoor skiing in Scotland, Manchester, Birmingham, and London. And in Europe, there are large centres in most countries, but perhaps most famously in the Netherlands and Germany.
This is another option worth considering, definitely But, much like with snowdomes, you’ll find the snow a little different from real mid-season powder, and there’s likely to be a smaller choice of terrain than you’re used to. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. Many glacier resorts offer a wide array of both freestyle and resort skiing and are great to visit. Maybe not for a whole week, and you won’t find fresh snow in the summer. But they’ll definitely scratch that itch for you.
Is it safe to go to the supermarket? It comes down to how you approach the situation. If you wear a mask, sanitise and wash your hands regularly, use gloves if you can, and of course keep to social distancing rules, you can drastically reduce the risk of contraction. And, by following the recommendations of the resorts, as well as the advice we lay out below, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to experience a relatively ‘normal’ (albeit a little different) ski holiday this year. If you’re looking for apres parties, packed bars, or thronging streets and Christmas markets, then the 2020/21 season might be best skipped. But if you’re looking for good skiing or boarding and everything else comes second, well then heck, get your reading glasses on, because we’ve covered everything you need to know in this guide. And the best new of all is that by the looks of the predictions for this year’s season, it’s shaping up to be one for the ages!
That means planes, trains, and automo-buses. Enclosed spaces, recycled air, and lots of strangers. Luckily, there are other options!
You can choose your tunes, stop to stretch your legs whenever you want, you can save money, and you can also take in the beauty of the European countryside as you go. It’s really great, honestly.
Lots of shared spaces, shared dinnerware and towels … Much like with public transport, it could be a big risk increase for.
Kicking back in your own space for a week is a really nice way to spend a ski holiday. Plus, savings, freedom, and lots of space to dry soggy ski clothing. It gets a thumbs up from us!
Even outside, if you’re surrounded be people, you can be at increased risk. If someone coughs a hundred metres away and the wind carries it… Well, having a mask on is just good practice! So whether it’s surgical or skiing, keep it on when you’re around people at the very least!
This will help to minimise the amount of time you need to spend in shops, cafes, and restaurants.
Go contactless where possible in order to avoid transmission!
As well as saving money, you’ll be guaranteed some good food, too. Many resorts are already putting in place measures that will make getting lunch on the slopes difficult and time consuming by limiting capacity and enforcing social distancing measures for both patrons and staff. And we expect lots of the smaller slope-side refuges to be closed altogether.
You’ve seen people do it — you’re already squeezed on a lift and people just keep piling in! Don’t risk it this year. So don’t be afraid to hold back and grab the next one. You’re doing everyone a favour, whether they realise it or not.
Touching shared surfaces will sometimes be necessary — toilet door handles, ticket machines, money … So having some antibacterial gel or wipes on hand will be a big help!
Whether you feel like a million bucks or not, don’t take risks, and don’t put others at harm. The majority of healthy people may be asymptomatic, but still capable of spreading the virus. So keep your distance, and be smart. Everyone’s there to have a good time.
Much like at home, you’ll need to observe social distancing, read signs, and generally try to be as smart and safe as you can.
Okay, so, you’re here. Phew. You made it. Now, there’s a lot of information flying around and we’ve done our best to consolidate it here into a useful guide that will help you navigate these tricky waters. Booking a ski trip has never been tougher, but hey, we’re here for you. So let’s jump in, shall we?
If your Facebook newsfeed is anything like mine, you’ll have seen plenty of your friends jetting off on holidays to the countries in which there are no quarantine or lockdown restrictions upon return. They’re making use of the ‘official travel corridors’, which go to and from countries with low infection rates. And while definitely not risk-free, these countries often have the best safety measures in place, have a good handle on this whole thing, and could be a great option for a trip for you this year.
If you have work that you can’t afford to take two weeks off from, then going to a quarantine-free country could be a good option. But, that doesn’t mean you can operate freely without risk. You should always make the most effort to stay safe, for both your sake and everyone else’s.
So, what are we saying then? Board up your windows and hide under the bed? Head to the Winchester for a pint and wait for all this to blow over? No, not when there’s fresh powder out there waiting to be slashed. It’s just going to mean that this year you might have to plan more carefully and consider some options and you may not have before.
It’s always been an anecdote thrown around at dinner parties (back when they were a thing), that air travel is the safest mode of transportation; statistically speaking. But what about these days? The difficulty of flying comes not with the actual risk of flying itself, but in the procedures that still need to be followed.
Lots of people from lots of different countries coalescing in a single space, not to mention the use of public transport either side, can raise the risk factor. But luckily, flying isn’t the only way to travel. What are we talking about? Well …
Driving. Put simply, getting in the car with people from your family, and driving to your preferred ski destination is probably the safest way to travel these days. Plus, it’s also a lot better for the environment, and we do love going green where we can!
And, on top of the added safety benefits and ecological aspect, it actually works out cheaper than flying a lot of the time, too. Especially if you want to take your own gear. If, like me, you find it tough to squeeze everything into a carryon, or you hate having to wear your jacket and all your mid layers to go, driving can be a great way to travel with all the creature comforts, and also avoid paying for extra luggage charges. Which means more money for beer and tartiflette. Cha-ching!
Being able to take your own snacks and food, and having control over when you stop, get out, and stretch your legs are also huge pluses. And also not having to share recycled air with two hundred strangers… But beyond that, there’s also one major benefit and saving, and that relates not to the travel itself, but where you stay on the other side.
Hotels aren’t all bad. There’s no one ‘type’ of establishment that is at the heart of this issue, but hotels certainly will prove very difficult to manage in light of Covid.
Hotels are, in short, meeting places for people from all over the world. Whether you’re actually ‘meeting’ or not, you’re always going to be sharing tables, sharing dinnerware, bedsheets, towels, glasses with other guests. You’re going to be passing through public spaces, meeting people in hallways, in bathrooms. All in all, a hotel may offer the highest risk of contraction.
Now, we’re not condemning them completely. Hotels know they’ll have to really shape up if they want to continue to operate. And that’s great, because lots of people love staying at hotels and having a break from the chores of daily life (at least we do!). No laundry, no cooking, no cleaning… What could be better?
So, let’s dig into how they’re tackling it.
Hotels will now have to demonstrate that they have implemented enhanced health and safety protocols when it comes to cleaning. This includes guest rooms, meeting spaces, and common spaces. As well as back-of-house areas like kitchens, laundry rooms, and staff rooms. And you’ll be glad to know that it will be up to local governing bodies to audit hotels regularly to ensure they’re keeping up with things. So, all good news here then. A hotel can never be too clean.
Buffets are out, table service is in. When it came to enforcing social distancing, the sharing of tongs and jugs, and everything else that comes with buffet service, it was pretty clear that it wasn’t going to be allowed to continue. How they tackle this issue will differ from hotel to hotel, but you can likely expect having to book in advance for a time slot, being seated and served at the table, limited menus, and grab-and-go options that have been wrapped up or sealed.
You’ll likely see reduced staffing where possible, and things like automated or phone check-in become available where possible. Person-to-person transmission only occurs when people come together. Remove that and you mitigate a big risk. Hilton hotels all around the world are working towards contactless check-in and using your phone as a room key. I mean, that sounds great. Why didn’t we have that before?
While some hotels may close their facilities altogether depending on size, expect there to be some sort of reduced-capacity measures in place, along with advanced booking. Outside pools will be less affected but in the winter, you’ll likely want to stay indoors. Social distancing will be enforced with beds and loungers, changing rooms will likely be off-limits or managed in a safer way, and it’s more than likely saunas and steam rooms will be closed completely. Unless their private — as they often are in Finland. But hey, don’t get ahead of yourself. We’ll come to Finland in a little bit!
You’ll likely feel the brunt of the changes when it comes to general day-to-day living at the hotel. Floor decals will guide guests, hand-sanitizer stations will be placed at key doorways, and face-masks will likely be required in all public spaces. You may also see things like temperature testing at entrances to public spaces and during check-in, and info regarding what to do if there’s a case at the hotel. How they’ll handle isolation and potential quarantine will vary from place to place, but we recommend checking up on their procedures before booking just to be safe!
Goodbye knick-knacks, hello perks
In order to reduce risk of transmission and to minimise the overhead for cleaning, you can expect to not see things like complimentary pens and notepads, and maybe even tea and coffee facilities might face the chop depending on where you’re staying. We’d also expect to perhaps see hotels encouraging guests to reuse towels for the duration of their stay (or at least for more than a single use). The good news is that hotels are recognising that this all diminishes the ‘hotel experience’, and as such are making efforts to reward guests for their support in other ways. This could be things like scoring extra loyalty points for your stay with the chain, reduced rates on breakfast or dinner, or even a complimentary bottle of wine with your meal. Again, expect these drawbacks and bonuses to vary greatly from place to place, but they’re just some of the changes and offerings we’re witnessing in our research.
When it comes down to it, if you’ll only stay at a hotel when you go on holidays, then they’ll sure as hell be glad for the business. And with the safety measures in place, they are doing everything they reasonably can to mitigate risk. But, don’t think that a hotel is your only option when it comes to going away. There is another one, and it could offer the sort of isolation and security that you need to feel comfortable on your next powder hunting getaway.
Yup, that’s what we’re talking about. Self-catering. While shared chalets have taken a hit, apartments, individual chalets, and cottages/homes, offer a much more enclosed and controllable environment than hotels do. Sure, you’ll be coming in after another family/group, but that’s not really a huge problem. All self-catering residences are cleaned before arrival, but you can always take some cleaning supplies or buy some when you get there to make sure. A lot of places even require you to take your own towels and bedsheets. And even if they don’t, doing so lets you bring some comfort from home anyway.
As such, we’d definitely recommend taking at least a look at self-catering options this season if you’re trying to stay safe on a trip. You may also be a lot more comfortable, generally, as there will be strict rules on going to bars and restaurants, and being in public spaces, too. And let’s face it, curling up in a hotel bed watching Netflix is great, but doing it on a sofa in a living room is even better. Having that extra space to stretch out in when you’re staring down the barrel of a holiday without any apres can be a real godsend.
The next big plus comes in terms of your freedom of eating (and drinking). In a hotel setting, it’s breakfast and dinner between seven and ten. And you have to inevitably have to be around other guests. But what if you could eat whenever you liked and be completely safe to do so? With a self-catered apartment, you can make whatever food you like, eat whenever you like, and the best thing of all is that you can bring it from home.
Most countries have little to no restriction on taking food and drink with you on car trips. So you can stock up for the week and drive down with all the snacks and foods you love, together with some choice beverages, and enjoy them whenever you like without having to pay hotel-bar pricing for your drinks and that hefty half-board surcharge for reheated buffet food.
The only tradeoff is perhaps the convenience of it, ie. you have to do your own dishes and laundry. But with a little forward planning, you could be a lot safer, have a lot more room and freedom, and ultimately save quite a bit of money, too!
Selecting a resort can be difficult at the best of times, but now more than ever it’s important to consider the type of resort you’re going to, the size of it, and the way that you access the slopes.
Gondola-accessible resorts are going to pose the biggest issues this year. By this, what we mean is resorts that have no chairs up from the town to the groomers, or at least limited options. Mayrhofen, for example, which is one of the largest resorts in Austria, doesn’t have any chairs up to the mountains. Large gondolas transport passengers en masse, which means lots of close-quarters contact with other people. And while the resorts will be doing their best to limit the number of passengers per gondola, an open-air chairlift will still be much safer.
Research into the way that resorts transport guests and are laid out generally will pay dividends this year more than ever. Les Deux Alpes, for example, is a very popular resort with a great snow record, but the lift lines are always long as there are just two lifts which access the main mid-station, and then a single large cable car which ascends to the glacier. So, with half or less the number of people per car, expect to be waiting for a long time to get on a lift!
Other large resorts with this kind of issue may include the Grandvalira in Andorra, which includes five stations — Encamp, Canillo, Soldeu, Grau Roig, and Pas De La Casa — three of which only offer gondola access to the slopes. As well as Livigno in Italy, Hintertux and Kaprun in Austria, Morzine and Chamonix in France, and many of the larger Swiss resorts, too, like Verbier and Saas Fee. All of these resorts have sizable towns, but limited access to the mountains which relies upon a single or few large-volume gondolas to ferry guests up to the skiable area.
As such, for this season, why not look at a smaller resort that perhaps offers less crowded lifts and slopes? Or, do your research and find resorts which offer both size, but also the kind of easy access that will make skiing simple and safe. La Plagne and Les Arcs are good examples of lift-heavy resorts, as are Val Thorens and Les Menuires, all of which serve up high altitude skiing and vast ski areas. But, the simplest question of all, is why go at the height of winter at all when there are other options available both season and destination wise?
Flu season is in the winter, mainly because a lot more people spend time indoors, which allows the viruses to incubate and pass from host to host easier. Plus, the air is cooler and dryer, which suits the flu virus. Little is known about how Covid reacts to the colder weather as most of the cases took place over the summer. But there’s definitely reason to be cautious if the all-too-familiar seasonal flu virus is anything to go by. So, what are your options?
Letting January, February, and March slip by may seem heinous to those powder hounds among you, but that’s perhaps just because you’ve been frequenting the Alps. Though even there it’s possible to ski late into the season, albeit in ‘spring’ conditions. If you’re looking to cut some fresh lines, though, you might be surprised to know that in more northern resorts, fresh snowfall persists into mid-April a lot of the time. Especially for those in the north of Finland, Sweden, and Norway.
The Lappish snow season runs up until the cusp of June most years, and if you’re really desperate, you can head to Riksgränsen in the arctic circle, which is the most northern resort in the world. Alternatively, you can look further east, towards Eastern Europe, which often has a later spring than the Western Alps, and even towards Russia, which is pretty much known for being frozen and cold. It’s no surprise then that you can ski there right through the spring, too.
When it comes to summer skiing, several glaciers stay open right through the year, or close in just July and August before reopening in the early Autumn. In Austria, Hintertux, Kaprun, Stubai, and Solden, all have glacier skiing above the three-thousand metre mark and open pretty much all year round when conditions are good. In France, you can hit Tignes and Les Duex Alpes from the Autumn.
Further south, you can ski in the Italian sunshine and chomp down pizza in both Val Senales and Cervina through the summer, and visit Selvio on the Presena Glacier above Passo Tonale from the Autumn. Just across the border then in Switzerland, the Zermatt glacier awaits, and boasts a three-six-five day opening period. Saas Fee is your other Swiss option, with Laax joining the fray after the first Autumn snows have shored up the conditions.
However, for the best summer skiing, you might be best served heading north for the Fonna glacier in Norway, which is reliable all year round. Though do bear in mind that these resorts are ‘limited’ in comparison to what you’d usually expect from a ski trip. But hey, we’ll take what we can get these days!
Though if you’re really keen to make up for lost time (travel permitting), there’s always the option of heading to the southern hemisphere for their winter. New Zealand, Chile, and Argentina offer the best chance at southern snow, with Australia and South Africa (yeah, I know, right?) serving up a good dose of snow if the weather gods permit it. Though banking on the latter two in advance can be a risky strategy.