Is There Going To Be a Season for UK Skiers This Winter?
20th November 2020
Last modified on November 23rd, 2020
It is the question on many of our lips as winter approaches. Some operators have gone bust, and others have called off the whole season. There are grounds for some optimism, but the realistic ones know it will not be for a while.
One version of where we are at the moment is somewhat bleak.
In fact it is very bleak.
Covid-19 is surging across Europe and its mountains as winter approaches with increased cases, more people going into hospital and deaths rising.
This week has brought daily bad news with VIP SKI going into administration, Esprit Ski pulling the plug on its entire winter programme, with Inghams, Flexiski and Ski Total axing its chalet holidays in France for the season.
Austria went into full lockdown and Beijing cancelled planned test events for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Prior to these developments Ski Weekender mothballed its main alpine base for winter and Interski cancelled its winter programme in Italy.
We could go on.
You can read all about it here in our rolling blog, the coronavirus impact on skiing and snowboarding.
Next week will bring further bad news, given what we know is coming.
Expect more bad news.
And what about out in the Alps at the moment?
Apart from the resorts in Switzerland, the ski areas that were open are now closed to the general public.
Many have been ordered to delay their start with others worrying about the same fate.
Switzerland seems to be turning a blind eye to the spread and ‘doing a Sweden’ – 95% of Swiss intensive care beds are already taken.
It does not look good.
The authorities in the main alpine countries of France, Italy and Austria fear hospitals could be overrun and unable to cope with coronavirus patients and others needing urgent medical attention.
There are some UK ski web sites posting articles about this winter as if not much has changed, and coronavirus is a minor irritation.
The facts as we see them at PlanetSKI are very sadly, very different.
Though there is some hope of quarantine being relaxed next month to allow travel to resume.
Operators are still selling January and retain some optimism that reductions in isolation periods will encourage people to ski.
So, what are the current facts on travelling abroad?
At the moment in England most foreign travel is permitted only for work, education or another valid reason.
Skiing and snowboarding is not one of them.
“From 5 November to 2 December 2020, travelling away from home, including internationally, is restricted from England except in limited circumstances such as for work or for education,” says the UK Government.
“Different rules apply in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. You must follow all the rules that apply to you.”
Travelling to take a holiday can be punished by a fine, with penalties starting at £200 and going up to £6,400.
Some are looking to Scotland for their skiing, but that is looking less likely as one resort, The Nevis Range, has announced that it will not be opening at the beginning of the winter.
Even Sweden, a country that has had no lockdown, but large numbers of cases and deaths, says it is too early for its citizens even to plan for Christmas travel.
Sweden’s top state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, has told people to prepare for the possibility of restricted travel between different areas during the Christmas period so that regional healthcare services can avoid becoming overwhelmed.
France has echoed the view.
The Prime Minister, Jean Castex, has said it was “too early” to say whether citizens could buy train tickets to travel at Christmas.
The facts are extremely unpalatable, but rather simple.
December is a write off for the majority of ski businesses and there is little chance of any us, in meaningful numbers, stepping into our skis or snowboards next month.
The USA and Canada remain out-of-bounds with borders closed to the majority of international travellers.
We have been speaking to people that take decisions in ski resorts across the Pond.
“We believe this winter is unlikely to see any international visitors,” said a senior figure in the US ski industry to PlanetSKI.
And how about in Canada?
The early season conditions are good, but the head of international marketing at one of the major resorts could say only that “hopefully this continues to get people excited for a well-earned ski vacation in 2021/22.”
That is the current unfavourable, but factual, situation for us skiers and snowboarders as assessed by PlanetSKI after many conversations.
There is, though, the next version of events.
Covid-19 will be brought under control – by science.
The results of the various vaccine trials cannot be over-estimated.
With 90%+ prevention, it is the best news.
The burning question is, when will the vaccines be administered to the majority of the population?
It looks like after this coming ski season.
England’s deputy chief medical officer Prof Jonathan Van-Tam has said he doesn’t see the vaccine “making any difference” this winter.
“Summer will help us because the infection rate will go down in the summer and what is absolutely essential is that we get a high vaccination rate until or before autumn/winter next year,” said the BioNTech co-founder, Professor Ugur Sahin.
The key for some sort of limited skiing happening in the second half of this coming season is quarantine and travel restrictions.
Here things look more hopeful, in particular for the second half of the season.
“We would suggest the best dates to travel would be mid-February to April,” said the managing director of Ski Solutions, Craig Burton, to PlanetSKI.
“Travelling later in the season allows for enhanced testing regimes to be implemented, and what we expect to be considerable changes to quarantine guidelines.”
Travel measures and isolation requirements coming back to the UK are set to be eased in December.
It is currently 14- days from every major skiing country in Europe, except Norway.
The UK Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, has said the government wants to reduce the period of time people have to quarantine through a test and release scheme.
“We’re actively working on reducing both the quarantine and self-isolation periods,” said Mr Shapps.
So, where does that leaves us?
In the short-term in a very poor place.
In the medium-term things look slightly more hopeful and in the long-term very much better.
It is widely expected that we will be able to control Covid-19 at some stage next year – through a combination of a vaccine, greater immunity, improved medical treatment and more success in testing & tracing.
When the virus is brought under control, and it looks like it will be, we predict at PlanetSKI there will a surge in demand for snowsports.
“Unfortunately the vaccine will not in the main be rolled out until the ski season is over to the average skier, so it’s simply impossible to save this season with a vaccine,” said Nick Williams from Mountain Heaven.
“So maybe it’s best not to give false hope to some ski operators. However it’s very good news for the 21/22 season.”
Some of our readers who are based in France have been passing their time.
Alex Armand, Tip Top Skiing:
“I’m learning to play the guitar, have signed up for a PT and nutrition course and we are doing jobs round the house and garden that have needed doing for a while.”
Derek Tate, British Alpine Ski School, Megeve/Chamonix:
“I have taken the time to pursue my passion for writing and recently published Learn, Enjoy, Flow & Grow.”
Paddy Daly, Paddy Daly PR:
“Started this French course not long after lockdown 1.0 commenced. I can happily say that 15-20 minutes of learning every day for 200 days is having a beneficial effect.”
Here at PlanetSKI, at this moment in time, we have written off living in the Alps next winter.
We usually live in the Alps and ski 50+ resorts each season – but not this winter.
We are hopeful we might be able to head out later in the season, for some limited skiing.
Ideally in our winter home in the Aosta Valley.
We are neither optimistic or pessimistic, just realistic.
We are balancing the spread of the virus and our health with the restrictions in resorts and on travel.
If this winter is not possible, then so be it.
And we remember this message from Ski Weekender as it announced a very different season for its business, and pulled down the hatches.
“We will ski again, and despite so much uncertainty in the world – we can be sure that stunning mountains, fresh fluffy snow and clear blue skies will be part of the Alps forever.”
We leave the final word to our friends in the Tirol.
An area where we lived for three and a half months in the winter of 2018/19 and which is very close to our hearts.