(CNN) – Skiers and snowboarders across Europe are embarking on a roller coaster ride as doubts arise as to when the mountains could open up to the sport this winter.
For the week, he was quite optimistic among ski industry professionals, hoping the ski season would start before the end of the year, and perhaps the possibility of crowded slopes could help allay fears of catching Covid.
But recent moves by European politicians to delay or limit the opening of winter sports destinations create new uncertainty for both the ski industry and anyone hoping for a reservation.
It is now less likely that Europe’s ski season will start completely before 2021, and even then it could be a last-minute cancellation and closure. One operator described it as a “hell season.”
Here’s what you need to know when planning a ski trip to one of the continent’s most important snow sports destinations.
Which places are open?
If ordered, these closures will affect many of the main Alpine ski areas on the continent and the resorts of the Northern Pyrenees.
Austria’s vast Arlberg region – home to St. Anton, Lech and Zurs – and other nearby resorts such as Ischgl, TV of the virus last year, are scheduled to open on December 17, three weeks later than usual.
Switzerland outside the EU is also open, and many resorts, including Zermatt, Saas-Fee, Verbier, Engelberg and Andermatt, already offer a limited number of lifts, with full opening expected some time after 5 December.
Resorts in Sweden are also open for skiing, which have tightened restrictions in recent days but never imposed a national lock.
What effect will this have?
Many Swiss resorts, including Verbier, are currently open and offer a limited number of lifts.
FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP via Getty Images
Any closure would be a huge blow to the ski industry, which had hoped for a relatively lively season after the introduction of Covid measures.
“We are disappointed,” said Olivier Desaulty, director of France’s vast Les 3 Vallees region, which claims to be the world’s largest ski area with 600 kilometers of manicured pistes.
“We will respect the decision, but it is difficult to understand because we have prepared everything.
“From December 15, the French will be able to tour France, and if people come to our resorts, the owners might come and go for a walk in the mountains or see the lakes, then the shops will be open, it’s weird to say we can’t be open.
“It’s very difficult economically. Les 3 Vallees is based on 90% of our farm in the winter season.
“Christmas is about 25% of this economy, so it’s very important for us to start the season.”
The popular Val d’Isere resort is also ready to open, says communications director Cecile Ferrando, who is eagerly awaiting the final decision.
“The Val d’Isère has been ready to receive customers since 28 November and will be ready when the health situation and the government allow it,” Ferrando says.
“If the ski area remains closed, the village of Val d’Isère will be open all year round and will still be available for those who want to come and charge the battery in the mountain air (private tenants, second home owners) and much more. Businesses are allowed to reopen from the weekend.
Strict new protocols
An employee of the Sestriere alpine ski resort (Italy, Piedmont, Italy) wears a face mask while checking the lifts.
MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP through Getty Images
European resorts have introduced a number of Covid protocol measures to ensure a safe environment when left open.
Face masks on lifts, regulated lift lines, certain restrictions on tickets sold, social isolation and mask wearing rules in shops and restaurants.
But in addition to the usual Covid measures taken to protect skiers, what further changes can skiers expect if the resorts reopen?
“But the big thing will be the apres ski. It’s unlikely you’ll be dancing at a table like St. Anton or Verbier this season. There will be carpentry drinks at smaller tables.”
One of the arguments for the closure is that Covid patients are already flooded with local hospitals unable to cope with the additional burden of ski-related injuries.
“Of course, we respect hospitals and what they say, but since the number of people going to hospitals has dropped a lot, we think it would have been better to decide in 10 or 15 days,” Desaulty added.
“We consider the decision too early and it will disappoint us,” adds Corkhill, who believes a Europe-wide protocol is likely to happen.
“If Germany and France put pressure, it will be difficult for other countries not to line up. Austria will have teeth and will be forced to do so,” he says. “I believe Switzerland will be open, but it’s hard to know how to respond.
“People need to show up with more clarity as the resorts themselves are under pressure, as well as the number of hotels, etc. If an announcement came much later, it would be huge.”
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has called on Italians not to ski in the winter.
MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP through Getty Images
But Lumb believes it could be a “nutrition frenzy” when people can ski and travel.
“The demand is definitely there, it’s clear,” he says. “People want to get away with it, but as long as there’s no airport testing and limited quarantine, everyone is sitting and waiting. It’s going to be such a last minute.”
Corkhill agrees, “If you’re an extremely high net worth man and you can travel, yes, but everyday people probably just say,‘ I can’t cope with stress, I’ll just have Christmas at home and we’ll ski in March and April. “
Ever since the pandemic shortened the last winter season in the Alps, travel companies have tried to transform their business in the face of ever-changing news around Covid.
Renegotiating leases with chalet owners so they only pay for the weeks spent, plus more flexible cancellation policies are just a few tactics.
In the EU, travel restrictions are eliminating the reliance on former relatively cheap young seasonal staff from the UK to work in ski resorts, which could lead to higher prices that companies have to pay under local employment laws.
Many of the UK’s leading tour operators have already taken drastic steps.
New Covid-19 safety instructions at the Pitztal Glacier ski area in Austria.
JOE KLAMAR / AFP through Getty Images
“We’re having the perfect storm, this is the season of hell,” Lumb says. “It was a roller coaster ride and a complete nightmare that needs to be planned, but you have to see things get better and that has to be in the winter cycle.
“I expect occupancy to be half of last year, which in itself is quite high, but manageable due to restructuring. But it’s time for a crystal ball,” Lumb added, speaking before widespread calls for a uniform late start to the season.
Corkhill agrees. “The traffic is down about 50% in terms of the number of holidays booked, but this is somewhat offset by the extremely rich booking, which spends more time in the mountains to have where to go so they don’t have to worry about quarantines.
“People have been renting space for two or three months, but it is obviously a very small part of the market.
But for anyone who manages to ski when the resorts are open, whether it’s a local resort or as an international visitor, it can be enjoyable, certainly at the start of the season.
“I think anyone who grabs the bull by the horns and goes will have an amazing time,” Lumb says.
“They’ll have quieter resorts and they’ll enjoy the slopes themselves, so experiencing it can be damn good.
“If you want to ski down a mountain, you’ll feel like you’re in another galaxy, momentarily, locked and locked up compared to your normal world.”