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The Worst Ski Season of the Millennium

It was the year when skiing and snowboarding was stopped in its tracks by the coronavirus pandemic.  Winter 2019-20 was officially the worst of this millennium according to a major report just published.

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The verdict comes in the 2021 International Report on Snow & Mountain Tourism, authored by the highly respected Swiss consultant, Laurent Vanat.

The conclusion is, of course, unsurprising, considering the devastating impact of the closures forced on ski resorts across the globe when the pandemic took hold last year.

But the report gives an account of what happened where, detailing the action taken by individual ski countries.

The season had started with promise in the Alps and some other regions, with good numbers of visitors, but then it all went wrong.

“After the 2018-19 ski season was reported as the best season of the current millennium, the rapid spread of an unknown virus has unfortunately turned 2019-20 into the worst season of the current millennium,” it says.

St Anton, Austria, resort closes early 13 March 2020

St Anton in Austria closes suddenly, 13 March 2020

We’ll hazard an educated guess that the season just ending, which will be covered in next year’s report, will be declared far, far worse – at least in Europe.

The report acknowledges the fact.

“Currently, everybody also already knows that winter 2020/21 will even be worse in many countries.”

But back to Winter 2019-20.

The report says the global impact of the Covid-19 outbreak resulted in a decrease of 18% in the numbers of people visiting ski resorts across the world.

In most regions of the world the decrease was around 15%.

But the biggest drop was in the Asia/Pacific region where the fall was 31%.  This was the region where resorts were the first to close.

China – the source of the virus – closed all its ski resorts in February 2020.

“As incredible as it was, within one month, this virus spread over most of the world and resulted in a generalised lockdown,” the report states.

“Thus, most of the ski resorts in the world had to close by mid-March 2020.”

Lifts closed in France, 14 March 2020

The level and duration of the lockdown varied from one country to the other.

Japan, Iceland and – partially – Sweden were the only ski nations to carry on skiing through the pandemic.

Some Chinese ski areas managed to re-open by the end of March 2020 thanks to the strict control over the pandemic.

The southern hemisphere season was also impacted, with some delays to opening and closures.

The 2020 ski season began in Lesotho in Africa in early June, and New Zealand’s season started a few weeks later, slightly delayed, but with few restrictions.

Australia also managed a ski season from June to October, but only in some regions.

In South America, strict restrictions were in place for much of the winter but a handful of resorts managed to open with very limited access from mid-August to, in most cases, mid-September, or even mid-October.

South Africa’s sole ski area was not able to open in 2020 due to pandemic restrictions in the country.

There was good news from the early part of the season, and the response to lift closures once they happened.

The report found that:

  • Visitor numbers were higher than the previous years’ averages in the Alps until the end of February, despite warm temperatures.
  • Revenue was more reliable because of the spread of multi-resort season passes and ‘dynamic pricing’
  • There was a renewed interest in learning with empty slopes at the foot of closed lifts turning into nursery zones for beginners.

The 2021 International Report on Snow & Mountain Tourism was unveiled at an online news conference in cooperation with the organisers of the Mountain Planet International Exhibition. 

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