Early snow cover at altitude in the Alps is the deepest in recent years. Sadly, we can’t enjoy it at the moment.
But it’s my belief that the European ski season will have a strong second half from mid or late February until late April. In Austria, France, Switzerland and Italy too many livelihoods depend on skiing for cancellation of the entire season.
And there’s no harm in planning ahead, so here’s our lowdown on this winter’s ski season…
Q. Does the emergency over coronavirus mean the end of the world for ski companies?
Compared to the last ski season, the number of holidays available is down by up to 80 per cent
A. The number of available ski holidays is down by as much as 80 per cent on last season. Crystal, Britain’s biggest ski operator, has dropped all its chalets, while most other companies have pared back their accommodation to the bone. The same goes for Skiworld, which has hugely reduced its chalets, while Powder White has dropped all its French chalets.
Q. What’s the lowdown about flying to ski resorts in Europe?
A. Airlines continue to slash schedules and bookings are subject to last-minute cancellation. Only three independent chalet operators will be running holidays inclusive of charter flights and transfers: Le Ski (leski.com), VIP (vip-chalets.com) and Skiworld (skiworld.co.uk).
Q. If I’m struggling to find flights, can I use the ski train instead?
A. Eurostar has dropped its weekly direct ski train to the French Alps and reduced other services. Driving to the Alps is likely to be increasingly popular.
Q. Not a lot of good news. So will ski resorts in Europe open as usual later this month?
The resorts of Val d’Isere, pictured, and Val Thorens in France will stay closed until at least early December
A. Not as the situation stands. A handful of resorts in France, Austria and Italy opened in October, but have since closed. In Switzerland, Zermatt remains open and Verbier fired up some of its lifts last weekend. But with Swiss Covid cases rising, this could change at short notice.
Val d’Isere and Val Thorens in France will stay closed until at least early December. The former is still planning three weekends of World Cup races in December.
Resorts are praying lockdowns across Europe will suppress infections and allow slopes to open for the festive period.
Q. If the UK lockdown is lifted on December 2, why can’t I go skiing for a week before Christmas?
A. You can. But the window of opportunity is small if you want to share Christmas with the family. With the current 14-day quarantines, you would need to return by December 10.
Q. If I go to a country on the Government’s restricted list, will my insurance be valid?
A. Probably not: nearly all UK policies cease to be valid. However, ski specialists MPI does offer cover (MPIbrokers.com), but even it is not considering Covid-related claims.
Q. Can’t I just take out Carre Neige insurance in France, like the French, when I buy my lift pass?
Carre Neige insurance in France will ensure that if you injure yourself seriously, mountain rescue will come and summon a helicopter if necessary without demanding a credit card. Pictured is the ski resort of Courchevel
A. Yes, you can — and at £2.70 a day I thoroughly recommend it (carreneige.com/en). If you injure yourself seriously, mountain rescue will come and summon a helicopter if necessary without demanding a credit card while you lie in pain. This is valid for claims of up to £45,175, including repatriation.
However, for safety you should also have a full-blown UK winter sports policy for troubles off the slopes. Remember, during December European Health Insurance Cards remain valid, although they will cease to provide public health care in Europe for Britons from January.
Q. I keep seeing tour operators offering money-back guarantees, but how safe is my cash really?
A. If your resort closes prior to departure, your tour operator is obliged to return your money in full under such money-back guarantees.
Other companies may let you rebook at a later date or another destination. Insurance is unlikely to be useful as most insurers do not cover Covid-related claims. Carefully read the small print on cancellation policies. Crystal’s ‘Holiday Promise’ provides free amendments up to 28 days before departure and free changes if you develop Covid before travelling.
It also provides medical cover, accommodation and return flights if you catch the disease in resort. But the company will only offer trips to countries on the ‘travel corridor’ list.
Q. Will I get a better break if I book now for January, or should I wait and book later in the season?
If you book a ski holiday now, you will have the pick of the reduced holidays on offer
A. If you want the pick of the reduced volume of holidays on offer, book now: it’s a buyer’s market.
However, if you wait, you will have a better idea about travel restrictions and a holiday in March or April could be a safer bet. And don’t write off February half-term — ‘travel corridors’ without quarantines could still be introduced by then.
Best to play it by ear. In all cases there is one huge silver lining: the slopes will probably be quieter than ever.
DEALS TO BOOK . . . IF YOU DARE
- Chalet du Berger in Val d’Isere, France, sleeps 16 and costs from £965pp from March 21 half-board, flights and transfers included (leski.com).
- Chalet Corbeau in Les Menuires, also in France, sleeps up to 17 and has availability in February half-term; from £5,937 for a family of three with one child up to four years from February 14, travel included; childcare with supervised lunches from £119 extra (skifamille.co.uk).
- Asian-themed four-star Hotel Banyan in St Anton, Austria, is a five-minute walk from the main lifts; from £1,495pp B&B from March 21 with flights and transfers (skisolutions.com).
- Eden East is a chalet-apartment sleeping four in the smart Fontbelle area of Alpe d’Huez, France; from £1,389pp half-board on January 17 with flights and transfers (vip-chalets.com).
- Chalet Benoite in the Plagne Soleil area of La Plagne in France is a comfortable ski-in-ski-out chalet with a hot tub; from £1,651pp half-board (a saving of £137) from March 6 with lift pass and ski hire (skiworld.co.uk).
- Hotel Aurach is in the village of the same name in the Austrian Tirol, a 3km ride by ski-bus from Kitzbuhel; from £665pp half-board from January 2 with flights and transfers (crystalski.co.uk).