PlanetSKI Reports from the Ski Slopes of Austria
8th January 2022 | Graeme Wallace
Last modified on January 13th, 2022
We have been in Zell am See, Saalbach and Kaprun. Experiencing skiing under the Covid rules and enjoying some fresh powder on empty New Year slopes. Has it been worth it? You bet!
It snowed in Zell Am See this week.
Big flakes fell steadily on Wednesday and each one was very welcome after the record-breaking warm temperatures over New Year.
The resort was shrouded in thick cloud, bringing poor visibility for skiers, but hey, we are the lucky ones – out on the ski slopes in the Alps.
In the evening, when the fog lifted, it wasn’t just the mountain that seemed clearer.
At the same time, Boris Johnson relaxed testing requirements for travellers returning to the UK.
In the bar of the Hotel Daxer, at the foot of the Schmittenhohe cable car, there were loud cheers as word of the announcement spread.
The threat of neededing to self-isolate in Austria had gone, and people wondered what to do with all the lateral flows in their suitcases.
The move was reported by PlanetSKI at the time:
With most of the winter still to come, this could be an early sign that the rest of the ski season might just get a little bit simpler.
Here in Austria, strict rules are still in place to ensure that skiing can happen safely.
A negative PCR, taken within 48 hours prior to arrival, is still necessary to get into the country, along with proof of a booster jab.
Local police were checking these scrupulously – but with a welcoming smile – at Salzburg Airport.
You also need a high-grade FFP2 mask.
I am travelling with Crystal Ski Holidays and they had managed to procure a small supply of these and were able to help out the few passengers on the plane who did not have one with them.
You can’t leave the aircraft without one.
In resort everyone must wear the high-grade FFP2 masks indoors, including in shops and when moving around in restaurants, bars and hotels.
You must also wear a mask in lift queues.
People are often asked to drop their buff or neck-warmer momentarily to show that they are wearing an FFP2 underneath.
Even short queues for outdoor lifts like chairlifts still have staff checking masks in the queues.
Compliance is 100%.
People want to ski and resorts want to stay open.
And it’s not too difficult to do.
Once you’ve spent the first morning getting your helmet, goggles, buff and face mask, in perfect alignment, you get used to it pretty quickly.
Throughout Austria, there is a requirement to show proof of vaccination to enter public spaces.
In Saalbach this was being strictly enforced at slope side restaurants.
Even to access an open air bar, customers had their vaccination status checked.
The good news though is that both the NHS and the NHS Scotland Apps are accepted for this, so it is very easy.
Trying to stay on top of travel requirements has been daunting and could deter even the more adventurous from making plans to visit the Alps.
Facebook groups have been flooded with questions about vaccination checking and rules for driving through other countries.
But those who made it have been rewarded with fresh snow and quiet slopes.
Like much of Europe, it was unseasonably mild here at the start of the week.
The lower slopes of Zell had taken a battering in the sun, so the best thing to do was to head high.
Later in the week we had snow and sun.
On Tuesday, most people in resort seemed to converge on the Kitzsteinhorn glacier at Kaprun.
There was a mix of international visitors as well as locals enjoying the last few days of the festive holiday.
Lift queues were reasonable and there was plenty space for everyone to enjoy the cold grippy snow.
And that was before the 40 cm that fell up there mid-week.
Heavy snow on Wednesday, followed by a day of lighter showers at all levels on Thursday, has plunged the resort into full winter mode again.
Even to the lowest runs in Zell and Saalbach, there has been around 30cm fresh.
It means that last week’s sugary lower slopes have been topped up with fresh powder, making that last run home so much more enjoyable, even if it does get a bit tracked by the afternoon.
Mid-week also saw the departure of some Austrian holiday makers, leaving quiet runs and virtually non-existent queues, even at usual bottle necks.
Despite feeling apprehensive, Alison King, a PE teacher from Derbyshire, made a late decision to travel to Zell am See after her French holiday was cancelled because of tightened restrictions there.
For Alison and her family, it paid off.
“We’ve had a fantastic week of skiing” Alison told PlanetSKI.
“There are so many good deals available just now, so even with having to get all the tests, it hasn’t been any more expensive.”
“The measures in place here to prevent Covid have made me feel really safe. The snow is great, the slopes are quiet and you can still get a bit of après.”
Bars and restaurants in Austria must close at 10pm and are socially distanced, but some still have live music.
“I feel we’ve had a really normal ski holiday. It feels like we’ve actually been able to live our lives again! We haven’t worried about the virus at all, and we’ve been able to enjoy this fantastic sport just like we did before.”
“I’m due to take a school trip of 90 pupils skiing later in the season. I was apprehensive about it before this week but, having been out here with my family, seeing everything that is in place and working safely, I’m no longer worrying about it.”
Alison recommends anyone thinking about booking a trip to the Alps to get on and do it.
And so do I.
PlanetSKI will keep you up to date on the snow and restrictions as the season continues.
Fingers crossed that both will continue to get better.
In Austria another lockdown has not been ruled out after the country’s Covid Crisis Coordination Commission met last week.
Masks are now needed outdoors & other measures are tightened.
Ski resorts are watching developments closely with World Cup ski racing called off:
We’re pleased to report there has been reaction to Graeme’s article over on the PlanetSKI Facebook page: