(CNN) – Roller coaster rides are experimenting with skiers and snowboarders as doubts grow over when the mountains will open for sport this winter.
Until this week, there was some optimism among ski industry experts, hoping that the ski season will start before the end of the year, and the prospect of uncrowded slopes may help ignore any fears of catching Covid.
But recent moves by European politicians to delay or restrict opening winter sports destinations mean a new state of uncertainty for the ski industry and anyone hoping to make a reservation.
Europe’s ski season is now unlikely to fully begin before 2021, and even then it may be subject to last-minute cancellations and closures. One operator described it as a “season of hell”.
Here’s what you need to know if you are planning a ski trip to one of the main snow sports destinations on the continent.
What places are open?
If enforced, the lockdown would affect many of the continent’s major alpine ski areas and resorts in the northern Pyrenees.
Austria’s huge Arlberg region – particularly home to Saint Anton, Lech and Zürs – and other nearby resorts such as Ischgl, a virus hotspot last winter, are currently scheduled to open on December 17, three weeks later than usual.
Switzerland, which is not in the European Union, is also open and a number of resorts, including Zermatt, Saas-Fee, Verbier, Engelberg and Andermatt, already offer a small number of lifts operating on a limited basis, with some expected full openings. Time after December 5th.
Resorts in Sweden, which tightened restrictions in recent days but never imposed a national lockdown, are also open for skiing.
What is the effect of that?
A number of resorts in Switzerland, including Verbier, are currently open and offer a limited number of lifts.
FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP via Getty Images
Any shutdown would be a big blow to the ski industry, which had been hoping for a relatively lively season after the COVID-19 measures came into effect.
“We are disappointed,” said Olivier Desulte, director of France’s huge Les 3 Vallees, which claims to be the world’s largest ski area with 600 kilometers of dedicated tracks.
“We will respect the decision, but it is difficult for us to understand it because we have prepared everything.
“From December 15th, the French will be able to wander around France and if people come to our resorts, maybe their owners, and walk in the mountains, or see the lakes, then the shops will open, and it is strange to say that we can not open.
“The situation is very difficult from an economic point of view. In Les 3 Vallees, our economy is 90% winter based.
“Christmas represents about 25% of this economy, so it’s very important for us to launch the season.”
The popular Val d’Isere resort is also ready to open, according to Communications Director Cecile Ferando, who is anxiously awaiting the final decision.
“Val d’Isère has been ready to welcome its customers as of November 28th and will be ready again when health and government allow it,” says Ferando.
“If the ski area remains closed, the village of Val d’Isere is open all year long and still available to those who want to come and recharge their batteries in mountain air (private renters, second-homeowners) etc. Companies are allowed to reopen from this weekend.
Strict new protocols
An employee at Alpine Ski Resort Sestriere in Piedmont, Italy, wears a face mask while inspecting chair lifts.
Marco Bertorillo / AFP via Getty Images
Resorts across Europe have put in place sets of Covid protocol measures to ensure a safe environment when allowed to open.
Face masks on elevators, regulated elevator waiting rules, some restrictions on tickets sold, rules for social distancing and wearing masks in stores and restaurants.
But beyond the standard COVID measures in place to protect skiers, what other changes can skiers expect once the resorts reopen?
“But the important thing will be snowboarding. You are unlikely to have flocks of people dancing at a table in the likes of St. Anton or Verbier this season. Table service drinks will be on smaller tables.”
One of the arguments in favor of the lockdown is that local hospitals already inundated with Covid patients will not be able to cope with the extra burden of ski-related injuries.
Desulte added: “We respect, of course, the hospitals and what they say, but given that there has been a significant decrease in the number of people going to hospitals, we think it would have been more appropriate to make the decision within 10 or 15 days.”
“We are considering the decision too early and this is what disappointed us,” adds Corkhill, who believes that a protocol is likely to happen across Europe.
“If Germany and France put pressure on them, it will be difficult for other countries not to comply with that. Austria will swing and will have to.” “I think Switzerland will be open but it is difficult to know how to respond.
“People will have to come out with more clarity because of the pressure on the resorts themselves, the number of hotels etc. If an ad comes out much later, that is huge.”
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has urged Italians not to spend their ski holidays this winter.
Marco Bertorillo / AFP via Getty Images
But Lomb thinks letting people ski and travel could be a “feeding frenzy.”
“The demand is definitely there, and that is unambiguous,” he says. “People are eager to flee but until the airport tests are done and the quarantine is reduced, everyone is sitting and waiting. This will be the last moment.”
Corkhill agrees: “If you were a very wealthy individual and you could travel, you would, but normal people would probably just say,“ I can’t handle stress, I’m just going to have Christmas at home and look forward to going skiing in March and April. ” ) “.
Since the end of the epidemic last winter in the Alps, travel companies have scrambled to restructure their businesses in the face of the ever-changing cycle of news about COVID.
Renegotiating leases with chalet owners so that they only pay for the weeks they use, plus more flexible cancellation policies are just some of the tactics.
Previous reliance on young, relatively inexpensive seasonal employees from the UK to work in ski chalets will depend on travel restrictions in the European Union, which could lead to higher rates that companies have to charge based on local employment laws.
A number of prominent UK tour operators have already cracked down.
A torrent of changes
New safety instructions for Covid-19 are on display at the Pitztal Glacier ski resort in Austria.
Joe Clamart / AFP via Getty Images
“We are fighting the perfect storm,” Lomb says. “It’s the season of Hell.” “It was a roller coaster ride and a complete nightmare to plan, but you have to see that things will get better and that must be in this winter’s cycle.
“I expect occupancy to be half of last year which is a big thing in itself but manageable under the restructuring. But it’s crystal ball time,” Lomb added, speaking before widespread calls for a unified late start to the season.
Corkhill agrees. “ The size decreased by about 50% in terms of the number of vacations booked, but it was offset a bit by reserving the wealthy for a longer period in the mountains to have a place to go, so you don’t have to worry about any quarantines.
“People have rented a place for two or three months, but that’s clearly a very small percentage of the market.
But for anyone who manages to go skiing when resorts open, whether it’s at their home resort, or as an international visitor, they can definitely enjoy skiing early in the season.
“I think anyone who takes the bull by their horns and goes is going to have a great time,” Lomb says.
“They will have quieter resorts and will enjoy the slopes for themselves, so it could be a very pleasant experience.
“Standing on top of a mountain that is about to slide down will feel like you are in a different galaxy compared to your natural world right now in and out of the lockdown.”