As coronavirus numbers spike across Europe, winter holidaymakers are being urged to ensure that they are vaccinated and to book ski trips with reputable firms.
While it is highly unlikely that the UK government will reintroduce travel restrictions for travelling within Europe, the situation remains precarious. Austria has imposed a “firebreak” lockdown of up to 20 days. France and Germany are also experiencing fourth waves of Covid-19 infections.
Lynsey Devon, founder of Heaven Publicity, who has worked in the ski industry for more than 30 years, said she hopes the Austrian lockdown is a preventive measure to get more people vaccinated.
“Skiing is safe as long as you are vaccinated and follow local rules, and the hospital beds are not full. The real issue is the ever-changing rules. Book with a tour operator and they can handhold clients through the process.” Being unvaccinated, she said, was “a bigger headache”.
Industry insiders say there is now very little availability in European ski resorts. Peak dates –Christmas, New Year, February half-term and Easter – are almost full.
“The industry felt the full frontal of the pandemic when skiers had to stop from March 2020. Only diehard skiers who want glacier skiing are in resorts this early. The real thrust will come when the schools break up, and the industry needs this season,” Devon added.
Austria’s lockdown is due to end on 13 December. In France, the government has emphasised that ski resorts will remain open. However, the French government has just reintroduced mandatory mask-wearing in a wide variety of indoor public spaces. Those that are unvaccinated must provide a negative Covid test every 24 hours – even to enter ski lifts.
On Thursday, ministers announced that France’s vaccine passport, which is already mandatory for bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues, would be extended to ski lifts. Anyone over the age of 12 will need to provide proof that they are fully vaccinated; or have a negative current PCR; or the result of a positive PCR or antigen test showing recovery from Covid-19 that dates back at least 11 days and less than six months from infection..
Rob Stewart, founder of Ski Press and Mountain Press, said Austria’s lockdown was a blow for the industry, but it was encouraging that ski resorts were on course to be opened up before Christmas, with some even open now.
“Unlike last winter, governments are keen to keep ski resorts operating, but they will impose strict rules depending on case numbers. If you’re vaccinated, things are straightforward; if you’re not, then it will be complicated,” Stewart added.
Emma Morison, general manager of Oxygene ski school in France, said that while coronavirus infection numbers were rising, she felt confident that this season would go ahead.
“We don’t have a crystal ball, but we have all learned a lot about Covid-19 and its transmission over the last 18 months. We have been planning for over a year to get skiing again and all the mountain professionals feel ready to open safely,” she added.
Meanwhile, others working in the industry urged British skiers to book with reputable travel agents to avoid cancellations and difficulties.
James Cove, editor of the ski news website PlanetSki, acknowledged that it had been a frustrating time for UK skiers and snowboarders who want to get back on the slopes, and suggested they look further afield for winter holidays.
“No one really knows what will happen beyond the next four weeks. If they tell you otherwise, they don’t know what they are talking about,” he said.
“Cases and vaccination rates in Austria and Switzerland are not looking good, but they are within expectations in the mountain regions of France and Italy. The numbers are looking good in Norway and Spain if people want to look beyond more traditional destinations,” he added.