So it's been a total white out as far as this winter's ski season is concerned for many skiers and snowboarders. Roll out the vaccines and roll on next winter. Right?
What effect will Covid have on our travel and ski holidays? Our crystal ball is more like a shaken snow globe as far as seeing exactly how the future will look and how long it'll take for normality to return to ski resorts.
But for a start, skiers and snowboarders are more resilient than some, hard-wired to accept challenges be they a 180 off a kicker, hucking a steep couloir or bossing a double black diamond. Even a pandemic did not deter many from booking holidays for this winter even though, in the end, they were deterred by practicalities such as no actual flights.
Simon Hudson, Tourism Professor and author of the acclaimed book COVID-19 & TRAVEL published by Goodfellow, points out 'Certain target markets will recover quicker than others post COVID-19. Research related to crisis-resistant tourists has shown that a segment exists, which is inherently more resistant to crises than other tourists. This market is younger than average (millennials), more extrovert, willing to take high physical risks, motivated to travel by opportunities related to sports and health, and actively engaged in activities like skiing and snowboarding.'
The ski and snowboard market is potentially going to be richer post-pandemic since few have been able to splash out on the usual leisure activities including ski holidays. Indeed bookings for winter 2021-2022 are already way up on usual for this time of year.
There may be some changes ahead as listed below, but it's not so much Apocalypse Now after the Pale Rider of pestilence has passed over the planet. For skiers and snowboarders it's more Apocalypse Nah.
Yes, the aftermath of the global pandemic is bound to have an effect on how we explore the world. However, the mountains will always be calling to skiers and snowboarders - and this is now how they must go...
1. Jab Proof
Moving out of lockdowns from COVID-19 is via the invention and implementation of vaccines. As this happens, many governments are working with health agencies to create vaccination passports. The United States is currently assessing how feasible it would be to begin administering vaccination certificates and passports throughout the nation. Airlines are also joining this discussion, creating practical ways to help everyone travel safely.
The New York Times reports that Emirates and Etihad Airways are days away from rolling out a digital travel pass for their customers. These passes can tell airline staff whether someone received a negative COVID-19 test, a vaccination, or both.
2. Road Trrrrrrip!
Understandably, the thought of being on a plane with potentially infected strangers is worrisome for most people during a pandemic. And, also, post-pandemic as who knows what new infections or mutations from Mars could start to circulate? This is why many will opt for travelling by car to reach their vacation destinations, staying in their own motor bubble to reach the mountains.
3. Home Sweet Motorhome
This bubble will even be extended to lodgings. Motorhome and campervan sales have gone through the pop top roof with travellers wanting to move around with their homes rather than stay in hotels and mixed guest chalets. British tour ops who more or less invented the shared catered chalet experience are now moving their winter accommodation options into self-catering. So alas no more of that infectiously fun-fuelled atmosphere - or indeed, infectious atmosphere, full stop.
4. Going Remote
Skiers and snowboarders who are among the new WFH brigade will now be able to take long breaks, even whole seasons in resorts. Why go for just one week's ski holiday when you can work remotely up a mountain for the whole winter? Like Barbados who offered 12 month long stay visas for visitors wanting to work from home with a palm tree shaded beach view, countries with mountain vistas might do the same, especially those within the European Schengen area.
Also, as far as ski resorts go, size no longer matters. The bigger ski towns with their vast areas of groomed pistes, many lifts and multiple bars that pack in the crowds are now less appealing than the more remote resorts.
Who wants to be a part of a large crowd and long lift queues post-Covid? Smaller ski resorts are infinitely more appealing as with less facilities and accommodation they will never have too many people. Remote workers, as above, will favour the off grid spots so long as they're not completely off the wifi grid.
5. Steeper Prices?
It's a conundrum for ski resorts as to how to make up for lost revenue from the Covid winter yet attract visitors back for winter 2021-2022. It's the Pushmi, Pullyu two-heaed animal from Doctor Doolittle, with ski resorts not quite resolved as to which direction to go in, hike up prices or reduce them.
Most likely scenario is that ski resorts will step up their promotions to encourage visitors throughout the year to spread the crowds and not infections and increase year-round revenue. Incentives for non-peak travel days and times are the future.
In Europe, Brexit will have an effect on ski holidays taken by the 1.5m from the UK who go skiing or snowboarding at least once a year. If the post grad and gap year young Brit brigade cannot be employed on a pittance for wages (but with 'free' bed, food and ski passes) because of European law then UK tour operators will be facing a hike in staff salaries. The result, more expensive ski holidays.
6. Alternative Action
With closed lifts, especially in Europe, alternative activities on the snow have gained in popularity. Suddenly whole families are skating along the crosscountry pistes, snowshoeing through the forests and riding fat bikes over the snow trails. Add in zip wires (main image, Val Thorens) and mountain roller coasters to the new action attractions and you have a picture of how ski resorts will continue to attract more visitors to the mountains.
7. Party On? Maybe Not
Can't wait to down shots, dance on the table in ski boots, put your hands in the air and party likes it's 1999? Thought not. Post-pandemic the bar-crawling, table-dancing, Prosecco-spraying apres vibe is far less appealing unless you're a student who's never stopped socialising all through the pandemic, in which case, party on.
Even Ischgl, fondly known as the Ibiza of the mountains before its less favourable title of 'ground zero' because of the spread of coronavirus owing to it's hedonistic festival-style après atmosphere has vowed to change it's image. Who can blame them with 800 infected tourists traced to this party town in 2020, with 1200 superspreaders taking the virus home to Germany, Norway and the UK - and now looking to sue. But the resort is going into rehab to recreate its image so that, according to Mayor Werner Kurz, there will be, "More quality and less party tourism, prioritising skiers and fewer day-trippers on buses who only come to party".
8. Safety Gear
Skiers and snowboarders know how to dress to keep out the cold with many layers and accessories so no skin is exposed to the elements. This is handy, also, for keeping out viruses. So gloves? Check. Ski pass? Got it. Mask? In my ski jacket pocket. Checking you have a medical standard mask as you go out the door will become routine. A mask is as essential for safety in a ski resort as a transceiver in the backcountry. No mask, no lift, at least until Covid - or any other deadly virus - is no longer circulating in the mountain air.
9. The Touring 20s
For Europeans who managed to visit resorts where the lifts were closed and for American skiers wanting to avoid queues, this winter saw the start of a ski touring revolution. While Aspen’s Buttermilk Mountain is positioning itself as a hub for uphill skiing, a new entirely people-powered backcountry resort opened in Colorado, Bluebird Backcountry with perfect timing in the uncertain pandemic times. It has all the usual bells and whistles - ski patrollers, instructors, guides, base building, gear rentals, high altitude hut, trails and avalanche hazard reduction. The only thing missing is lifts. And COVID infections.