Last year’s ski season was a mixed bag due to the pandemic, with France, Germany and Italy closing the majority of slopes for the 2020/21 season, while Austria and Switzerland opened most of their resorts.
This year, many snowsports destinations are hoping to boost their economies by allowing international travellers to return to the mountains.
However, rising Covid case figures in some ski hotspots across Europe are creating obstacles for national and provincial governments, as some nations re-impose lockdowns, or consider capping the number of tourists allowed into ski resorts.
But most countries are hoping to reopen their ski resorts for 2021/22 – albeit with Covid-related restrictions in place.
Here’s what we know so far.
Which ski resorts are open at present?
The earliest ski resorts began to open last week, including Flaine in France, Cervinia in Italy and Bansko in Bulgaria.
The French resorts of Val Thorens, Chamonix, Deux-Alpes and Val d’Isère are all set to open over the next week.
Austria’s winter season has been hampered by news of a nationwide full lockdown from 22 November, the same fortnight several of the country’s ski resorts were due to open.
Covid-related restrictions vary from resort to resort, so it’s worth checking the official website – on Cervinia’s, for example, it states that you need an NHS Covid Pass (or the local Italian Green Certification) in order to eat indoors at restaurants and participate in indoor sports, but not for local accommodation. You can also present a negative antigen test result from within the past 48 hours.
In France, a health pass is required at present to go into venues including cafés, bars, restaurants, leisure centres, cinemas and theatres – people aged 12 and over should download the “pass sanitaire” TousAntiCovid app, through which they can add their vaccination status or evidence of a negative test from within the previous 72 hours.
In Bansko, you must present a negative PCR test result from within the previous three days as well as proof of full vaccination (12 to 18-year-olds only need the negative test result, under 12s are exempt from both).
Many of Italy and Switzerland’s main resorts will open from the end of November and have not indicated that they will close or restrict access.
Which countries have restrictions that may affect ski holidays?
Austria, one of the countries worst hit by an autumn spike in Covid cases, has taken the step of introducing a nationwide lockdown from 22 November – this will initially be in place for 10 days, with the option to extend for a further 10, to 12 December.
Leisure travellers are still allowed into the country, but will have to go into lockdown along with the rest of the nation during this period.
Winter breaks are extremely important to the country’s economy, accounting for around 60 million overnight stays.
Even before the full lockdown, Austria had introduced so-called “2G” rules (also in place in Germany) – meaning vaccinated and unvaccinated people encountered different rules and restrictions.
For example, fully vaccinated people over 12 needed to show proof of vaccination or past infection in order to stay in a hotel, use ski lifts, visit museums and shops, and go to restaurants. In recently opened Obergurgl-Hochgurgl (prior to the lockdown), all visitors had to show either proof of full vaccination or proof of recent recovery to enter indoor venues.
This is expected to return after the full lockdown.
Germany is also seeing a peak in cases, with chancellor Angela Merkel describing the country’s fourth wave as “dramatic”.
Various states across the country have implemented 2G rules, meaning only people who can prove they have been vaccinated or have recently recovered from Covid will be allowed entry to non-essential shops and indoor facilities.
The country is expected to change the rules to require proof of vaccination or recovery, or a negative test, in order to enter ski resorts – but this has not yet been announced.
Despite being one of Europe’s lowest vaccinated and hardest hit countries for Covid cases – deaths in September were 50 per cent above the normal average – affordable ski spot Bulgaria is light on restrictions, only requiring masks worn on public transport and social distancing elsewhere.
It does, however, require tourists to be double jabbed or provide proof of recent recovery – as well as a negative test result taken within the 72 hours prior to arrival – in order to enter the country.
What about countries not experiencing a surge in cases?
Most ski resorts in Switzerland have either already opened or are opening in the next few weeks, with no delays or closures reported.
“Switzerland was the only Alpine country which was able to almost fully operate the ski resorts and wider mountain hospitality industry during the last winter season and has proven that it’s possible to have an enjoyable and safe winter holiday despite Covid,” Alex Herrmann, the UK director of Switzerland Tourism, tells The Independent.
“Nevertheless, we are following the development of the Covid situation carefully. The Swiss resorts and hotels are very much looking forward to welcoming back the wintersports enthusiasts from the UK this winter.”
France is seeing a smaller resurgence of Covid cases at the moment, but its main resorts still appear to be planning to open for the ski season, with some health and safety restrictions in place.
Val Thorens’ website emphasises the nationwide need for an EU-approved Covid health pass showing proof of full vaccination or a recent negative test result (the NHS Covid Pass will suffice) for indoor venues but not ski lifts.
French prime minister Jean Castex announced on 9 November that ski resorts would remain open this winter, and this has not been contradicted since.
A source from the tourist board tells The Independent that the only measure that could be taken is that a “health pass” may be required to ski if the national incidence rate exceeds 200 per 100,000 inhabitants.
As with other countries, it is worth checking the individual rules on ski resorts’ websites shortly before you travel.