As travel recommences, skiers and snowboarders are keen to secure their spots on the slopes next winter, but is it safe to book now?
While initially the announcement of these 'travel corridors' will provide a lifeline to summer holidays and operators, it also shines a ray of hope on next season’s ski holidays, with the majority of winter destinations in Europe, plus Japan, named as safe. Below is a list of some of these destinations and how they are preparing for the new season and what it will look like when you visit.
France has long been the favoured destination for British skiers and snowboarders. The inclusion of France on the government’s safe list comes as a great relief to ski resorts there, who can now be somewhat confident that Brits will return to the pistes of the Alps and the Pyrenees next winter.
The country is using a traffic light system to categorise each region, (red, orange or green), dictating the extent of measures in place – the entire country is currently marked as green. However from July 20 it is complusory to wear a mask in all enclosed public spaces, including restaurants, mountain huts and bars, as well as on public transport.
Some resorts in France including Val d’Isere, Tignes and Les Deux Alpes are among those that have been able to reopen recently for summer skiing and snowboarding on high-altitude glaciers. Covid measures here will act as a blueprint for the coming winter months. In Les Deux Alpes it is compulsory to wear face coverings on lifts while Val d’Isere have limited the number of skiers and snowboarders permitted on the mountain each day to 500.
Ski resorts in Italy were the first in the world to close last season as cases in the European country quickly surged. Following a strict period of lockdown the Italian border has reopened to foreign travellers and now the British government has announced Italy is on the list of low-risk destination available to visit from July 10.
Popular ski resorts in the likes of the Aosta Valley, Sud Tyrol and Dolomites have begun to plan ahead for next winter and how restrictions in resorts might look. Cervinia, which shares a high-altitude glacier with Zermatt in Switzerland, has reopened for summer skiing recently and its approach will no doubt inspire others as they prepare to reopen.
The Italian Tourist Board published an extensive list of guidelines for future travellers to the country. These include guidance on social distancing, which is currently a one-metre rule, face masks, which are currently mandatory in enclosed spaces and in all public spaces in the Lombardy and Piedmont regions, and specific protocols in place for all aspects of a holiday from restaurants to accommodation and public places, which are now all permitted to open but some are asking visitors to provide their name and contact details before entry.
A number of ski resorts in Austria were placed under strict quarantine as the virus spread across Europe but now as the world adjusts to the new normal the country has reopened its borders to visitors from the UK.
Similar to their French neighbours, some Austrian resorts have already welcomed back skiers and snowboarders to snow-sure glacier slopes. Hintertux and Zell am See kicked things off in style with impressive snow depths, as skiers and snowboarders adjusted to new measures such as reduced hours in restaurants and limited capacity on lifts.
The Austrian resort of Ischgl was the first to address the compilations around crowded apres ski bars and the virus, suggesting that it was looking to change its party hotspot image. It’s a move that could influence others to reconsider off-the-slopes entertainment and activities.
Looking ahead to next season and the drive to welcome back skiers and snowboarders is in full force. "In Austria, accommodation providers were permitted to re-open to guests on 29th May, with social distancing of at least one metre and mandatory face masks in certain enclosed areas. Many providers also introduced features such as extended check in and check out times, newly installed disinfectant dispensers, protective glass screens, one-way systems, expanded outside areas and limits to the number of persons permitted in spa and swimming areas at any one time. Similarly, rules were put in place for chairlifts and gondolas," said Martina Jamnig, UK Director, Austrian National Tourist Office.
"With the above measures – and those that will be introduced or altered between now and the start of the 2020/21 winter season – we aim to secure the health and safety of Austria’s guests and residents, which is our priority. We look forward to welcoming skiers and snowboarders back to our slopes – and we’re doing everything we can to ensure that when this happens, our guests can enjoy Austria’s awesome winter sports offering in a safe and enjoyable environment," she continued.
The Austrian National Tourist Office announced last month that the Alpine country would be one of the first in the world to implement nationwide Covid-19 testing for anybody working in the travel and tourism industry, with a goal of 65,000 tests to have been carried out by July. Businesses where staff have been tested will be given signage to allow tourists to know their employees are being regularly screened and the premises is ‘Covid safe.’
Current safety measures in place across the country, where hotels, restaurants and bars have been permitted to reopen since mid-May, include social distancing of 1 metre and mandatory masks on public transport, including ski lifts.
With the majority of Europe on the list of travel corridors, ski resorts in Switzerland are among the most prepared in Europe to welcome back visitors, with many resorts using the summer season to test new procedures.
Switzerland’s tourism industry has launched a new ‘Clean & Safe’ campaign in an effort to reinstate traveller confidence and label the Alpine country as a safe destination to visit.
The campaign includes a ‘Clean & Safe’ stamp that will be adopted by hotels, restaurants and transport providers, among others, that commit to a new set of Covid-19 health and safety guidelines. Future visitors have a chance to see what specific measures are being taken in Switzerland, including on trains, in hotels, at spas and on cable cars.
The popular Swiss resort of Zermatt is leading the charge when it comes to reopening for skiers and snowboarders. The resort welcomed visitors back to the slopes on the Matterhorn glacier in June with a number of new measures in place. While there isn't a limit on capacity in lifts people must remain two metres away from each other when in gondola cabins and station buildings. If they can’t they are advised to wear a face covering, which are available to buy as well as hand sanitiser. Skiers are also encouraged to purchase lift tickets online in advance or use contactless payment methods when they arrive and groups no larger than four will be able to eat together at the glacier’s restaurant, where tables will be two metres apart.
"Switzerland opened its borders to European countries including the UK in mid-June and is happy to welcome guests back to the country. With our Clean & Safe label we want to make sure to instil confidence in our guests while they use tourism services in Switzerland. The label guarantees that a provider adheres to the safety and security set out by the state and the industry," said Alex Herrmann, Director Switzerland Tourism UK & Ireland.
Current measures in place include social distancing at 1.5 metres and compulsory masks on public transport but restaurants are permitted to welcome groups of more than four and events of up to 1,000 are permitted.
Despite it not making the list nations opening up via travel corridors with the UK, the FCO is lifting its advice against all non-essential international travel to Canada from July 4, meaning hopes are high it will be a likely candidate for future quarantine-free travel with the UK. Unlike its southern neighbour Canada was included on the EU’s ‘safe list,’ meaning residents from Canada can travel to Europe unrestricted.
Looking ahead to the winter season and the largely uncrowded slopes of Canada’s resorts tendency to favour self-catered accommodation, and many off-the-beaten track destinations could prove popular with those looking to escape Europe.
As it stands everyone arriving in Canada is legally required to self isolate for 14 days and regular entry requirements such as the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) are still in place and should be organised before you travel. Social gatherings are still banned, bars and restaurants are still closed and public transport remains to be limited across the country.
Japanese visitors are now welcome back in Europe as part of the EU’s new ‘safe list’ and the British government announced the Asian homeland of skiing as one of the travel corridor partners.
"Although borders are still closed to the vast majority of international travel, remaining restrictions around non-essential domestic travel between regions in Japan have now been lifted, with detailed government guidelines regarding ways travellers can reduce the risks of infection and transmission," read a statement from the Japan National Tourist Office.
These guidelines include making bookings in advance, avoiding excessive conversation on public transport and ski lifts, and returning to a destination later in the day if it looks busy. This is in addition to more general advisories encouraging travellers to wear masks, wash and sanitise hands as often as possible.
The popular ski destination of Hokkaido has launched the 'New Hokkaido Style' campaign, which encourages new habits and business practices as part of a new normal. These include protective screens at check-in desks, floor stickers for social distancing, daily health checks for employees and temperature and travel history checks for guests. Gassan ski resort, which operates only in summer, has been welcoming skiers since the beginning of June and putting new covid-19 guidelines to the test.
Rusutsu resort in Hokkaido is operating reduced capacity on its airport transfer buses and gondolas are being disinfected regularly. While Kiroro resort, also in Hokkaido, has introduced digital menus in its restaurants that work using QR codes and ski rental company Rhythm Japan is offering guarantees for free cancellation on orders.