One of Britain’s leading ski operators has cancelled all chalet holidays for the upcoming season, as the Government continues to put in place travel restrictions to destinations across Europe.
Crystal Ski Holidays, one of the largest booking platforms for winter sports trips, has said it has had to slash its entire ski chalet programme for the upcoming season due to the impact of the coronavirus.
This will be a blow for hundreds who have already booked their trip and those planning to head to the mountains later this year.
In Europe, ski season typically runs from the end of November to early April.
Slippery slope: Crystal Ski Holidays had to cancel its entire chalet programme for the upcoming season
Crystal had originally planned to run 30 chalets this season – out of the 45 it usually offers – but said it just wasn’t possible anymore.
A spokesman for Crystal said: ‘We’re sorry for any disappointment but the health and safety of our customers is our top priority.
‘There are still a range of great ski holiday options available to choose from, including self-catering apartments to half board hotels.
‘We’re proactively contacting everyone affected to discuss a full range of flexible options available, including amending to an alternative ski holiday, or cancelling and receiving a full refund.’
The firm has revealed it is still planning on going ahead with its 2021/2022 programme and has already put out its schedule so holidaymakers can book early.
Despite this, a number of other ski resorts have already confirmed they are trimming back their programme for the upcoming year for similar reasons, including Skiworld and Hotelplan, as the coronavirus continues to cause travel chaos across the globe.
This is Money takes a look at the current booking trends for skiing holidays, whether people feel safe heading to the slopes and what those who are going can do to protect themselves should their trip be cancelled.
Is skiing problematic in Covid times?
Most ski resorts will open their doors despite the ongoing pandemic, as firms struggle to stay afloat.
This is likely due to the fact that skiing is actually considered a holiday in which it is easier to social distance due to the nature of the activity itself.
People are generally more than two metres apart and are, for the most part, outdoors.
Whilst some of the enclosed ski lift cable cars would need to limit numbers, other ski lifts are outdoors with a bar over so should be fine.
Families can also ensure they shared lifts and cable cars to reduce social interaction with other groups.
A number of resorts have made changes to ensure that holidaymakers can remain safe
It is likely the accommodation aspect of the holiday is the reason for some who have cancelled as many groups of holidaymakers stay in chalets, sharing facilities such as kitchens and lounge areas.
Similarly, with the cold, many people stay inside in the evenings either in bars, restaurants or chalets, which in itself creates a social distancing issue that will be harder to solve.
Crystal Ski Holidays sell many properties on a room-by-room basis, making it harder to deal with social distancing.
However, hotels are a bit easier to manage as holidaymakers have their own room and share much larger communal spaces.
It seems a large number of people are still interested in ski holidays, however, with Skyscanner revealing that Reykjavik and Geneva feature in its top 20 searched locations.
Gavin Harris, commercial director at Skyscanner, said: ‘What we have seen with people being flexible with summer holidays – sometimes going somewhere less traditionally popular and being really flexible with dates – will probably continue.
‘Especially with British travellers, who quite often will say they “live” for their holidays.
‘Winter snowsport holidays are quite often trips that people take every year with the same group of people, so we expect keen travellers to find a way to continue that.’
What are resorts doing to keep people safe?
Due to the current spread of coronavirus, all holidays resort have put in place a number of steps to protect holidaymakers.
Most ski resorts are saying that anyone over the age of 11 will have to wear face covering. However, as most people who ski do anyway due to the cold, this shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
There is also set to be more regular cleaning on chairlifts and the installation of hand sanitisers at lift stations.
Courchevel, one of the most popular resorts in France and the most famous, said it will be disinfecting all cabins at least once a day.
It is also offering a 100 per cent refundable ski passes up until the day before the start date. In the case of total closure of the ski area or sudden departure linked to Covid, lift passes will be reimbursed pro rata and for any unused days.
There has been a trend of holidaymakers booking last minute trips due to the coronavirus
Trends: Last minute looks to be the norm
Some companies have found that those who are still planning on going on a winter sports holiday will now want more private accommodation.
Mark Gibbins, managing director at the Oxford Ski Company, said: ‘We sell a lot of private chalets as well as hotels and have found that recently, people want to book the exclusive use chalets as there will be less crossover with other people.
‘Our chalet sales have increased when compared to hotels. We’re expecting the season to go ahead as normal and we haven’t heard of any other large operators, aside from Crystal, who are pulling their programme.’
Mark added that there are a number of operators and private renters who are reducing the number of properties they are advertising.
Additionally, those who are still offering luxury chalet experiences are having to be more flexible with their service offering.
Whereas most chalets are fully catered, offering all meals, some are now offering only bed and breakfast and the option to just deliver dinner, rather than serving it to guests, to reduce human contact.
Despite this, booking numbers have dramatically dropped based on consumer confidence.
Mark added: ‘There are a lot of customers who are not ready to commit and are waiting to see what happens. There is a definite trend of last minute bookings compared to normal.
‘We are working with properties to give the best terms possible to customers so if there is another spike in cases and the UK puts on tighter restrictions, there will be much more flexibility in terms of cancellation policies.’
He revealed that some chalets which are privately owned have decided not to rent out their homes this year and instead use it themselves.
There has also been an increase in people doing long-term rentals in the Alps as they realise they can work from home for the foreseeable future.
This means a number of high-ranking executives are moving abroad for two or three months during the ski season.
There has also been a trend of people who haven’t skied before but want to go for the first time as they don’t want to go to a busy, summer destination.
The appeal of being outside in the fresh mountain air has driven up demand.
People are also looking to potentially drive to these destinations and avoid planes with there being a 22 per cent increase in people driving whereas the vast majority would tend to fly.
To add to this, there has been an increase in private jet charter requests with those who often fly business class starting to look into the benefits of avoiding airports.
What can you do to protect yourself
If you are still planning on booking a ski holiday for the upcoming season, there are steps you can take to ensure you are protected should anything go wrong.
Whilst a lot of insurers initially pulled all cover at the start of lockdown, a number of firms are beginning provide policies to new customers again.
Many are now excluding any form of Covid cover but some are offering cover for cancellation if policyholders catch the virus before travelling.
Not only is getting travel insurance important, ensuring you get winter sports cover is essential as this will cover you for skiing, snowboarding and any other activity you take part in when abroad.
However, one issue that is unlikely to still cause issues later this year is that there are still a number of countries known for skiing that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises against all but essential travel including France, Austria, Switzerland and Andorra.
But others, such as Iceland and Norway, along with lesser known ski spots such as Slovenia, aren’t on the list and could offer an alternative option.
It is not guaranteed that the EHIC will still be available from next year to protect travellers
Brian Brown of Defaqto said: ‘As it stands almost all no travel insurer will cover travellers to any country where the FCO advises against all but essential travel.
‘Very few insurers will cover customers who want to travel against FCO advice but they will not cover you if something happens due to the reason the FCO told you not to travel – in this case Covid-19.
‘So it will be almost impossible to get travel insurance which will cover medical costs due to coronavirus if you travel to a country against FCO advice.’
Those people who travel against FCO advice but don’t get ill will still have to face 14 days in self-isolation on their return to England.
If the FCO changes its advice between now and the skiing holiday and customers travel, there is still the possibility that the FCO will change its advice again and customers will have to isolate on their return, which is the same risk everyone faced this summer.
There will also be an issue around cancellation cover – if the FCO says you can go to a country, and then after you book the holiday they change their minds and say you no longer can due to Covid-19, almost every travel insurance policy will not cover the costs of cancellation.
Brown added: ‘In summary, as it currently stands, if the FCO makes no changes to its current advice it is going to be very challenging to go skiing in the major ski resorts in Europe this winter.
‘The best that I think most people can do is not make any bookings too early and wait until very close to the time of their trip before they book a resort, and then only travel to countries in the FCO’s travel corridor list. This won’t eliminate any risk, but it will help to minimise it.’