Can I’m going snowboarding this winter? Learn how to book and the place to go this season
The big push on the slopes this winter is to reassure skiers who want to forget the trauma of the year and to help the industry make up for the losses from the previous, abruptly broken season. With a reduction in the forecast number of skiers in the UK, travelers / skiers can expect natural social distancing and the ski resorts on the map have worked hard to develop anti-coronavirus strategies. As some are already open for summer skiing and most others will be open by early December, the distance systems will be well tested by the time UK skiers arrive for Christmas.
How will the resorts adapt?
You can expect to find chairlifts with closed seats (not really a problem as those big new chairs often come half full), cable cars that no longer look like rush hour subways, and smaller queues with skiers and ski poles length apart. Food may be associated with reduced restaurant menus, and apres-ski bars are being thinned out, and the crowd is drawn to outdoor drinking spots. Ischgl – the Austrian ski town for the Alpine party set, in which the largest group of coronavirus cases in the country occurred last season – has one of the most comprehensive Covid-Safe programs. Visitors must provide proof of testing negative or pay for an in-resort test within 72 hours of check-in. Skiers can expect disinfectant mist and free ski fans, as well as colorful neck cuddles that can be pulled over the face – the top face mask fashion this season. Ski masks are likely a common, if not mandatory, introduction, and tourism workers across Austria are undergoing Covid testing. Vail Resorts, which operates 13 ski resorts in the US and Canada, has put a number of measures in place, including face masks, and as of now the bars are staying closed so apres will be a DIY affair.
What are the prices like?
Ski companies are seeing slow bookings amid ever-changing quarantine regulations and FCO recommendations, but the industry has been confidently planning the fall in advance. “Skiers are resilient people. I’m sure we’ll have a good season, ”says Paul Carter, CEO of Hotelplan, the parent company of ski outfits such as Inghams, Esprit Ski and Ski Total. He says there won’t be any significant discounts (“If demand subsides, capacity will diminish”), although Richard Rice, founder and chairman of Ski Safari, a bespoke ski vacation specialist, says he even sees good prices on hotels and vacations Flights in high season.
Can I get insurance?
Yes. Travel insurance is slowly including Coronavirus, which covers various aspects such as cancellations and inability to travel and in some cases even covers travel against FCO advice (see our Questions and Answers about the Experts on page 75). Hotelplan’s Paid Travel Insurance covers these additional items and Crystal Ski Holidays (the UK’s largest ski company) recommends individuals purchase travel insurance. It even covers treatment if you get sick abroad or travel home. With general travel insurance, make sure that winter sports activities are included. Whether you want to book a DIY or ski package, always use a credit card (not a debit card) as purchases over £ 100 (and up to £ 30,000) are protected under UK law.
Where should I go?
As long as skiers realize that things will change from week to week throughout the season – from local lockdowns to quarantine orders in the UK – the choice is yours. If the industry-wide campaign for airport covid tests picks up enough speed, the ski season will get a much-needed boost.
If you want to go to a proven and Covid tested place, France is a great option. In ski resorts like Tignes, some slopes were open for skiing in summer. In Austria, too, there were summer openings on glaciers such as Hintertux near Mayrhofen. The Swiss Zermatt opened its Matterhorn glacier in June. And even Italy, the country that closed its resorts at the earliest last season, is on the UK’s low-risk list. Scandinavia is currently escaping travel restrictions. Norway even managed to reopen a resort, Myrkdalen, at the end of last season, thus getting its first experience of social distancing.
US resorts are busy with their usual professionalism, but with UK visitors currently banned from entry, they appear banned – although the upcoming presidential election could bring changes. Canada could be a better choice without the same restrictions.
All ski areas strive to make themselves safe and attractive, but have to face rapidly changing rules. What goes without saying, however, is that despite the low number of visitors, there are few bargains. But as Crystal’s Chris Logan says, “I wouldn’t worry about the queues!”
How to book
DIY trips with low-cost airlines, rental cars, and individually booked hotels can be harder to solve when things go wrong. For example, an airline may still serve a destination although local infrastructure issues make it more difficult to get there and have a decent skiing experience. However, many alpine hotels have flexible booking and cancellation conditions. But most skiers don’t travel themselves. So the rule this season is: Choose tour operators with ABTA, ABTOT and ATOL protection that offer a financial safety net and a guarantee of getting home in case your tour operator breaks down or the travel regulations change to change. But be ready to track refunds and haggle over rebooking. Before booking, be sure to check how your chosen tour operator responded to any issues caused at the start of the pandemic.
Chris Logan, MD of Crystal Ski Holidays, part of TUI Group that uses TUI]Airways, says it quickly brought 10,000 people home after last season’s breakup and is ready to do so again this season .
But what if you can’t travel? Companies have different options. Crystal Ski Holidays offers free group corrections to bookings if someone is diagnosed with coronavirus, has symptoms, has been asked to self-isolate, or if your area in the UK is locked. In the meantime, Hotelplan is offering free changes. If government regulations require you to cancel your vacation, you can choose an alternative trip or receive a full refund. If you want to postpone your trip (destination, accommodation, flights and dates, even until winter 2021-22) with Ski Safari or exchange it for a cycling holiday in Freedom Treks in 2021, you don’t have to pay anything until the balance is due, 10 weeks in advance Departure. The tailor-made ski tour operator Ski Solutions offers free changes to the destination or date (for this or the next season) up to 12 weeks before departure. And once you’ve paid a deposit to More Mountain, which has chalets and apartments in Morzine, France, you can swap your vacation up to 24 months in advance. Paid in full? You will receive a credit that is valid until April 30, 2023.
At the moment, chalets with meals for groups of up to 10 people in self-catering apartments are selling well – not least because the number of chalets with meals has decreased (due to Brexit and Covid problems). And there are some incentives: Mountain Heaven with Chalets in France offers a discount of £ 200 per person on chalets booked by groups if you’d rather cook your own food than have the staff do it.
Editor’s note: Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, some resorts in the Alps (particularly France) are delaying opening or closing where already open.
Published in the Winter Sports 2020 supplement, distributed with the Nov / Dec 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveler (UK)
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