WINTER IS COMING
Will ski holidays be more expensive? What is the news for UK seasonaires working in Europe? What about UK retirees and the new WFH-ers doing a whole winter? What is the Covid effect and where's best to go post-pandemic? And, most importantly, will there be good snow?
Will ski holidays be more expensive?
After the commercial catastrophe of Covid and closed resorts last winter, the ski ops have been torn between what makes the most commercial sense, hiking up prices to compensate for lost revenue or reducing them to attract as many customers as possible.
Demand, though, from the ski-starved holiday crowd, is apparently starting to outstrip supply, especially as many tour operators allowed clients to carry their cancelled ski trips over from last winter, therefore reducing the number of holidays available for 2021-2022. Count yourself lucky if you were unlucky enough to miss out on your booked holiday last winter and carried your trip over, securing yourself a prime time ski holiday slot at last year's price
According to Rob Stewart, director of Ski Press specialist snowsports PR and media relations agency, 'tour operators are unanimously saying that bookings are strong and actually the concern now is lack of availability. This is going to push prices up potentially, and because of Brexit and Covid combined, costs have increased overall in the market'.
Meanwhile, ski resorts are going all out to attract the punters with blatant commercial bribes, shouting their wares via not-to-be-missed promotions. Roll up, roll up, book your holiday here in Les Arcs, 20 percent off if you book before 1st November - and, by the way, Les Arcs can once again be reached directly from London by the Travelski Express train service. Or come to Steamboat for 25 percent discount on lift tickets and lodging. Who wants ski lessons? Yes, free ski lessons, ladies and gentlemen, in Chamonix, 'to show our gratitude to all those who choose Chamonix Mont-Blanc for their winter vacation'.
Now the general aim among resorts is to encourage holidays in the mountains throughout the year to spread the crowds -and not infections - and increase year-round revenue. So, unsurprisingly, although the resorts and ski ops are offering great deals for winter 2021-2022, most are currently for those off-season dates such as early December or mid-January..
But, however attractive these discounts might be, they are not an option, of course, if you have a family.
So should you book now for next winter?
Haven't booked for half term yet? Well, be prepared to shell out. But timing is key. There was a surge in bookings in September fuelled by optimism that the ski season will actually happen and a desperation to go skiing again. In mid-September, five months before half term, a return EasyJet flight from Gatwick to Turin on 12th February hit £1213.53 per person. Two weeks later it was down to £450, reflecting a yoyo-ing uncertainty over whether or not to book in advance.
But, yes, it is going to be expensive if you go skiing or snowboarding in the peak periods, which include European half term that, in France, spreads from 5th February to 7th March.
So, now with even the off peak discounted weeks being snapped up, what are you waiting for?
What is the news for seasonaires working in European ski resorts?
The fear in Europe has been that the post grad and gap year young Brit brigade can no longer be employed on a pittance for wages to work for UK ski companies in Europe (albeit with 'free' bed, food and ski passes) because of EU laws preventing employment of non-EU staff without work permits. This would mean a steep rise in staff salaries. The result, even more expensive ski holidays - or the operators go bust.
However, SBIT(Seasonal Business in Travel) had a positive meeting with the Ministry of Labour and the Prefecture in Albertville in July, who have declared they will do all they can to facilitate work permit applications and visas. They also said for the moment there is no work permit quota for France, which is still a concern when it comes to other EU countries. But, ski ops really need a company with a base in France to make the application for a work permit – a long stay (more than three months) visa follows that.
So there is good news for UK ski operators who have put their recruitment drives into gear and have quite a few returners packing their bags,
Meanwhile, for Europeans working in the seasonal ski and tourist industry in France, a revision of the benefits system to reduce the number on short term contracts, has been implemented from 1st October, restricting the amount of benefits they receive by taking into account their average income including periods when they are not working (ie out of season) instead of a percentage of their previous salary.
There is also an incentive for businesses to employ fewer on short term contracts, as contributions to unemployment insurance is reduced for those offering long term employment. As Macron said in July, “In France, you must earn a better living by working than by staying at home, which is currently not always the case”.
Two chalet operators, SkiWeekends and Mountain Heaven, have decided on a blended approach with around 50 percent British staff and 50 percent EU or other passport holders. As it’s mandatory to advertise jobs in France, they have received applications and will be taking on French staff now and in the future, but the rest are Irish, Eastern European and a mix of other nationalities.
But not all tour operators have decided to employ British staff. Chalets1066 based in Les Gets is British owned, the largest independent chalet operator in the resort. They have a flexible business model for guests that now doesn’t involve employing any UK staff, but they do hire French locals. Guests can book private catering services, as well, which includes chefs that are French and British. This has actually helped push like-by-like prices lower than when they offered a fully-catered package.
And in the USA
Across the pond in the US, there is a rising shortage of seasonal workers in ski resorts. The main issues are the increasing lack of affordable accommodation and high cost of living, so the ski bum lifestyle is no longer sustainable. Rentals for low-paid seasonal workers are being threatened by high yield holiday options such as Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway and Owners Direct (all more attractive post-pandemic alternatives to multi guest hotels and lodges) luring landlords away from long term seasonal renting.
So, this season will see positive steps to attract seasonaires to keep the wagons rolling in American ski resorts. Steamboat in Colorado, for instance, has launched a housing programme to attract new workers and increased the minimum wage from $12/hour to $15/hour.
But there are still more than 8,000 positions to fill across Colorado ski resorts in mid-October, as many prepare to open for the new season, with virtual job fairs held and increased wages offered to attract more workers
So should UK Gap year students be sending their CVs to ski operators?
For now, work permits are free of charge and the process is quite simple, but the visa application process is currently taking a while due to an outsourced agency in France struggling with demand. According to Rob Stewart, 'It’s expected that this will improve in the future, so that’s good news for anyone British that still has a dream about working a ski season in the Alps'.
Diane Palumbo of SBIT, also confirms this, 'The process is still slow and as you may have read in the press in relation to those UK students needing their passport visas to get to Spain for the start of their year abroad studies, there are simply not the staff in place in these embassies to deal with the volume – but, in fairness to them, they would have had no idea what was coming.
'So if anyone is even thinking of working a ski season, they need to get on to it NOW! Last minute recruitments are not going to happen as they have in the past as all the paperwork needs to be sorted. Now we are out of the EU, all this can change at the whim of any GVT. But for France, for next season, we think we can make it work if we get all our applications in sooner rather than later.'
What about UK retirees and the new WFH-ers doing a whole winter?
Brexit has thrown a shovel of cold snow over those Brits who may be retired or who can work from any home even in the mountains so long as there's WiFi and, therefore, want to spend a whole season in a European ski resort.
Currently, under Schengen law, you can only spend 90 days out of 180 days in Europe without a long term visa. Many avid skiers with second homes in the European mountains have already applied and received residents' cards, allowing unlimited stay in one country but they then need a health card or health insurance for any medical issues that will not be covered by the new GHIC.
Long term visas are available to extend visits over 90 days with applications via the country's consulate or embassy. Note that ETIAS similar to those needed for the USA, will be required for travellers from the UK from the end of 2022, available online.
Where to go skiing this winter 2021-2022?
It's tempting to book a ski holiday in the mountains of a green light or 'go' country with no travel restrictions apart from double vaccinations, such as (in September), Norway, Switzerland or Canada. But, of course, the lights can change and 'go' can turn to 'no go' pretty quickly when it comes to pandemics, leaving you in quarantine chaos.
Going off grid, dodging Covid waves and restrictions, is an appealing option. Mountain Heaven has launched three new Ski Explore trips to, Georgia, Uzbekistan and Iran, destinations not on the usual list for skiers and snowboarders. They can be booked as separate trips, or combined as one.
Prefer to be within heli reach of European medical attention? Then small is now a big attraction. Those purpose built ski resorts boasting vast areas of groomed pistes, multi lifts and many apres bars that pack in the crowds - and infections - are now less appealing than more remote resorts. Significantly, British Airways is running a promotion (September) featuring Europe's Hidden Resorts, the smaller mountain satellite villages linked to larger resorts such as La Tania, Vaujany and Samoëns.
So if one of these is your 'secret' resort, away from the crowds, blame Covid AND British Airways if your lift queues are rammed, this winter.
The Covid effect?
You're going to need to be double-vaxxed to travel, no doubt about it. Much as anti-vaxxers might complain about their freedom being taken away by vaccinations, it's their freedom that they're losing as in ability to go where you please without some sort of immunity and/or their freedom as in being locked up in quarantine..
Carrying proof of double vaccinations- and maybe still a negative Covid test - is going to be essential to the travel process, wherever in the world. And, also, potentially, in ski resorts to use the lifts, bars and restaurants. In Switzerland, where resorts managed to remain open more than most in Europe over the Covid-crisis winter, top health official, Lukas Engelberger, has recently declared that ski resorts should only be open in the 2021-2022 season, for people who can demonstrate a clean bill of health with a Covid-19 certificate.
The Secretary of State in charge of Tourism in France, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne has stated he is in favour of the presentation of a pass sanitaire, the health pass currently needed for bars and restaurants) being extended to ski resorts including lifts, this winter. Confirmation is expected this week (20th September) following a meeting of mountain professionals.
For UK families, though, there's the issue that 12-17 year olds have so far only been offered one Covid vaccination. But if the French insist on the pass sanitaire being used on ski lifts including children over 12 (mostly double vaxxed in France) then British families with 12-17 year olds are going to have to have them tested every 72 hours - and Covid tests are no longer free.
In the USA, both Aspen and Arapahoe Basin in Colorado have announced that all staff need to be double vaccinated for this winter season. Ditto for Vail Resorts.
Long distance travel to ski or snowboard will, for sure, be a less attractive option as who wants to be thousands of miles away and in a foreign hospital with a pandemic still circulating around the globe? Medical insurance certainly won't be cheap for such trips. In fact, next winter medical insurance isn't going to be cheap, full stop.
But if you want blow pow all to yourself head for Japan, from Europe or the UK. The chances are there'll be no Australians or New Zealanders whooping down Mt Yotei, if international travel is still prohibited for them.
Expect self-catering to be booked up everywhere as, perish the thought, do you want to mingle with strangers in hotels or larger mixed guest chalets? British tour ops who more or less invented the shared catered chalet experience are now moving their winter accommodation options mostly into self-catering. So alas no more of that infectiously fun-fuelled atmosphere - or indeed, infectious atmosphere, full stop.
Of course, the pandemic cancellations of last winter have taught us to only book with companies that offer free amends in case your plans have to change. Also make sure your trip is covered by ABTA and ATOL protection and take out travel insurance with additional comprehensive Covid-19 cover to be really safe.
Is ski touring the way to go?
Ski touring, which was a necessity with lifts closed last winter, will continue to increase with the healthy fresh air appeal of avoiding queues and crowded gondolas. Catering for this surge in demand, French Alps based ski school, Oxygene, that specialises in English-speaking ski and snowboard lessons, has opened in Serre Chevalier, offering the chance to discover the vast off-piste terrain available with ski touring lessons for all levels.
The appeal of ski touring once you know how, is that it's free, right? Not in Aspen, the first resort (that we know of) to monetarise this trend and, perversely, charge for NOT using the lifts. This winter, uphill skiing in the resort will cost $69 for any of Aspen's four ski areas. Ten dollars from each pass goes to Mountain Rescue Aspen. So fair dos.
Will there be good snow?
Ah the all important question, how good will the snow be this winter? Of course, it's not an exact science, especially this early, but according to the meteorologists what we know so far is that the gulf stream is weakening and/or heading north and there's another La Nina for the second year in a row. Check out our Snow Forecast for Winter 2021-2022 ...