As travel recommences, skiers and snowboarders are keen to secure their spots on the slopes next winter, but is it safe to book now?
The coronavirus pandemic left the hopes and dreams of thousands of British skiers and snowboarders in tatters last winter. But following the government's announcement of a list of quarantine-free travel corridors and changes to FCO travel advice thoughts turn to the future when we will be to return to the slopes once more.
The uncertainty of recent months has seen operators refuse refunds, airlines on the verge of collapse and Britons stranded abroad, leaving travellers worried and largely confused about future holiday plans.
However, with the 2020/21 ski season four months away many are hopeful that the pandemic will have eased its grasp on the world, countries will have fully reopened their borders and we will be able to travel, albeit potentially under restrictions, again when the snow starts falling. Find out what the experts think ski holidays of the future might look like here, or if looking specific check out our country-by-country guide to Covid restriction in ski resorts.
Here we answer the top queries from our readers regarding booking their future ski holidays, from alternative to flying to how life in resorts might change.
What's the latest travel advice?
The government has released a 'safe list' of quarantine-exempt destinations, allowing international holidays to kickstart. This list of countries banishes the need for travellers visiting the named nations, which are deemed as low risk, to quarantine on arrival home in the UK, news many have been waiting for for months – although the destination itself could still impose a quarantine or restrictions on arrivals and the government has taken to removing nations from the safe list at short notice if infection rates rise about 20 per 100,000.
The list lifts the Foreign Office ban on non-essential travel to all the named destinations, including Italy, Japan and Norway.
All international arrivals in the UK from nations not listed, now including Switzerland, France and Austria, must still self-isolate for 14 days.
Are ski holidays for next winter on sale?
Yes, and in fact there are a number of good deals on offer for those willing to take the plunge and book early. For example, Crystal Ski Holidays is offering low deposits and childcare savings on new bookings. The tour operator has revealed a surge in bookings for next winter since the government eased restrictions on travel.
Similarly Inghams is offering free lift passes for children and all inclusive deals to Andorra and SkiLine is offering discounts on all-inclusive packages and free places for large groups. While Peak Retreats and Ski Collection are offering discounts on four-star self-catered self-drive holidays and family specialists Esprit is offering free child places. See our full list at the bottom of this article.
EasyJet made its winter 2020/21 flights available ahead of schedule, promising “exceptional value” for early bookings, in an effort to encourage holidaymakers to book in advance. The airline, which was forced to ground its fleet due to coronavirus, leading to the cancellation of thousands of flights, said the spring dates would cover next year’s Easter school holidays – a peak time for ski holidays.
This has prompted some keen skiers and snowboarders to book their flights, saving booking accommodation and extras until later – many saying the bargain prices outway the risk of flights being cancelled or amended in the future.
What if my future booking gets cancelled because of coronavirus?
If you book with an operator you are entitled to a cash refund, however there is an increasing number of companies that are refusing to give refunds, offering a travel voucher or “Refund Credit Note” for a future holiday instead.
British skiers and snowboarders have already faced this problem following the premature end to the 2019/20 ski season and cancellation of thousands of ski trips because of the rapid spread of Covid-19 in Europe and beyond. While many have been left frustrated as they battle for refunds, some customers, who have been keen to secure a future trip to the slopes, have accepted credit and alternative trips instead. This has gone some way towards filling accommodation spaces and bookings for next winter, however it is important to understand the difference between a travel voucher and a Refund Credit Note before agreeing to accept.
A travel voucher might expire, or potentially become worthless should a tour operator go under. This is why Abta is encouraging its members to issue Refund Credit Notes (RCN) instead.
Abta explains: “A Refund Credit Note entitles you to rebook a holiday at a future date or receive a cash refund at the expiry date of the note. It also retains the financial protection that you had with your original booking. If your original booking, for example a package holiday with flights, came with Atol financial protection, the RCN will still provide this protection. If your original booking came with Abta financial protection, for example a cruise holiday or other package holiday including rail or coach travel, the RCN will still provide this protection.
Refund Credit Notes do not apply for flight-only bookings with airlines. Read our full guide to the alternatives to refunds here.
Holidaymakers are advised to be savvy and do their research beforehand. “Before booking smart customers are asking 'did they refund in the current crisis?' because no one will give their money to an operator who has shown they might cancel the holiday and still keep their money,” said Richard Sinclair, managing director of ski travel agent SNO.
The latest research from the Mountain Trade Network (MOTEX) has found that offering coronavirus insurance and the guarantee of a refund are now major considerations for those looking at booking a ski holiday.
A statement from the HotelPlan group, which operators Inghams, Ski Total and Esprit Ski, aimed to reassure customers looking to book for next season: “All our bookings are either Abta or Atol protected so customer money is protected. We are continuing to abide by the package travel regulations as they stand currently so if a holiday is cancelled and the customer is not able to postpone or take a Holiday Exchange Voucher then they can have a refund.”
Chalet operator Mountain Heaven is one of a number to launch introduce a 100 per cent refund guarantee in the event of any cancellation due to Covid-19 related issues on all bookings for 2020/21.
What if the company I have booked with goes bust?
Travel businesses currently face an uncertain future and it is inevitable some will fall. The money you pay or have paid for a future holiday or travel service will be secure as long as you book with a credit card (and the total cost is over £100). If the company goes out of business, the card issuer will be responsible for refunding you the lost cash. If the company is an Abta member or Atol protected you money will also be secure.
Can I claim on my travel insurance in the future?
When we can travel again it will still be necessary to have the appropriate winter sport insurance for your trip, which covers you for all the specifics related to skiing and snowboarding.
However, claiming on travel insurance for coronavirus-caused cancellations became redundant when the Foreign and Commonwealth Office introduced its indefinite advice against all but essential overseas travel – this automatically meant that the operators were obliged to cancel trips and offer customers a refund. Before this, and likely after it is lifted, some travel policies won’t cover Covid-19-related claims but specific coronavirus cover is a big topic of discussion for experts in the industry, with winter sport specialists MPI Brokers announcing they will be one of the first to offer customers coronavirus cover. If travel restrictions changes again find out here how to how to get travel insurance should you choose to ignore Foreign Office advice.
“We hope this, along with many travel and ski companies extending the length of their cancellation scales, will go some way to give skiers the confidence to book holidays and travel again, now restrictions are lifting,” said Michael Pettifer, managing director of MPI Brokers. The new policy includes emergency medical cover if holidaymakers contract coronavirus whilst overseas in countries exempt from the FCO’s advice against non-essential travel.
Is it safe to book independent ski trips, rather than a package?
There are always risks associated with booking independently, however some travellers, especially those who favour multiple short breaks throughout a season appreciate the flexibility it provides.
“As trust in the tour operators and the package travel regulations collapse, this has created an increase in enquiries for hotel bookings with free or very last minute cancellation policies. With operators proving untrustworthy, people are choosing to take a punt on the flights which are currently very cheap, and book a hotel which has free or very late cancellation allowed,” said Sinclair, who deals with customers looking to book both packages and flight-only or hotel-only trips.
It is important to remember however if you cannot travel because of coronavirus and you have paid for your trip in full, you may face difficulty when trying to get your money back and are at the mercy of each individual supplier. Some travel insurance policies do cover this situation under a ‘travel disruption’ section of the policy, but most do not.
You also do not have the same repatriation protection as those on an Atol-bonded packages, therefore if a country were to go into lockdown again you’d be responsible for getting yourself home.
The unprecedented nature of the coronavirus pandemic has led many businesses to change their policies and introduce more flexible options and means of credit for independent travellers. Leading by example, ski resort giant Vail Resorts, owner of the multi-resort Epic Pass and some of the world’s biggest winter destinations, is offering credit between 20 percent and 80 percent on next season's ski passes for customers who didn't get to use their 2019/20 passes due to Covid-19 closures.
To encourage people to book with confidence for next winter equipment rental chain Intersport has introduced a new ‘Flexi-ski’ system, which enables skiers and snowboarders to book their equipment hire online at a discounted rate with the chance to cancel their booking up to 24-hours before collection.
I’m nervous about flying, can I still go skiing?
Many winter operators, who offer European packages, predict increasing interest in self-drive and self-catered ski trips, which offer the chance for couples, families and groups to remain in their own company throughout a holiday, at a safe social distance from others.
“We always recommend self-drive via Eurotunnel, so clients can already get from home to their accommodation in the Alps without being in contact with a single person. We also focus on self-catered ski holidays, so our clients can spend their entire break in their own space and therefore also limiting contact with others,” said Xavier Schouller, managing director of Peak Retreats and Ski Collection. Read more about the rising popularity of self catering in ski resorts here or why driving to the Alps is a valid alternative to driving here.
Jane Bolton, managing director of Erna Low agrees. "The majority of our clients are keen to self drive, we hope this will be an even more popular option for skiers next winter, as they may be less keen to fly," she said.
Will I still be able to visit all the same resorts?
Operators are still offering the same resorts as last winter, with plans to open new hotels and chalets and add new destinations to their books still in the pipeline (coronavirus permitting). All resorts, many of which were placed under strict lockdown and quarantine measures in March, are keen to reopen when it's safe to do so and a number have begun to announce opening dates for the upcoming season as usual.
Those keen to head off the beaten track and avoid the crowds might find relief in these quiet resorts next winter.
Will any other restrictions be in place on my ski holiday?
It’s impossible to tell how long coronavirus will have an impact on our lives and what future restrictions, whether they be social distancing or reduced travel, might look like. Our research has found that most resorts and operators are preparing themselves for a very different reality once we are allowed to travel though, using the southern hemisphere season in New Zealand and Australia as a blue print, as well as the measures adopted by the European resorts that have reopened for summer skiing on glaciers.
“Our core package structure of flight, accommodation, transfer and ski packs will remain, however we continue to follow the advice of the Government and will align to any new health and safety guidelines and measures which may be introduced. The safety and wellbeing of our customers and staff remains our highest priority,” read a statement from Crystal.
Tour operator Inghams recently revealed the changes it will be making to its ski holidays next winter, including no buffets or apres ski events.
Plans are being developed to enforce social distancing in lift queues and cable cars, enhanced hygiene standards, contactless chalet service and restrictions on crowds in apres bars and restaurants, plus procedures to encourage people to pre-book lift passes, lessons and equipment online before visiting. Read our full country-by-country guide to Covid restriction in ski resorts here.
Are many people booking ski holidays?
“In the weeks since the relaxation of air travel we’ve had a whopping 125 per cent increase in customers booked with us – this is a great indicator that demand for ski holidays is still there,” said Chris Logan, Managing Director of Crystal Ski Holidays.
“Many of our customers lost their time on the mountain last winter, as the pandemic forced us to cancel our entire programme in March. We are delighted to see that skiers and snowboarders are itching to get back on the slopes in just a few months.”
Industry experts expect there to be a rush to book for next winter once the future of travelling is made clear by the UK and foreign governments and travel recommences.
“The key take-home for keen skiers is that next year is already filling up with people who deferred their cancelled holiday this year, and there will be another big booking rush from those with Refund Credit Notes the moment we have a better view ahead,” said Sinclair.
Some keen skiers and snowboarders have already secured their spot on the slopes next winter, with peak dates such as New Year being particularly popular, according to Nick Morgan, managing director of British chalet operator Le Ski. “We are already 30 per cent full for next winter. Our Refund Credit Notes are valid against any Le Ski holiday next season or the one after. Most are being converted into holidays very quickly to ensure space is guaranteed,” he said.
The interest in peak dates continues for self-catered accomodation. "Many of our regular clients who had Easter holiday bookings for this year have been asking if they can to defer to 2021, which we are delighted to help them do. Those who want to reserve apartments, we are asking for just a £100 deposit," said Jane Bolton, managing director of Erna Low.
The best early-bird ski holiday deals
Crystal Ski Holidays is offering a week’s half board at the three-star Hotel Dei Camosci in Courmayeur, Italy, from £625per person. The price includes flights from Glasgow to Turin and transfers, departing February 21 2021. Crystal is also accepting low deposits of £100 per person on new bookings.
Self-catered, self-drive deal
Peak Retreats is offering 10 per cent off self-catered ski holidays to Samöens all season. A week’s stay at the four-star Alexane apartments, with spa and pool facilities, costs from £280 per person. The price includes accommodation for five in a two-bedroom apartment and Eurotunnel FlexiPlus crossing, arriving January 2 2021. Peak Retreats is also offering low deposits of £200 and free cancellation up until 17 October 2020.
Erna Low is offering 20 per cent of January ski trips to Les Menuires. A week’s stay at ski-in/ski-out Les Alpages de Reberty apartments costs from £1,721 total, saving £309. The price includes self-catered accommodation for six and Eurotunnel FlexiPlus crossing, departing January 9 2021.
Ski Solutions has launched self-drive self-catered holidays for this season. A seven-night stay at the five-star Residence Daria I-Nor in Alpe d'Huez costs from £585 per person. The price includes self-catered accomodation for four and Eurotunnel crossing, arriving January 9 2021.
Free ski extras
Ski Solutions is offering free lift passes for guests in selected French resorts on selected dates throughout the season. A week’s stay at four-star Chalet Roc Merlet in Val d’Isere costs from £699 per person. The price includes chalet board, flights and transfers, departing April 18 2021.
Le Ski, which runs 34 chalets across Courchevel, Val d’Isère and La Tania , is offering a free six-day Espace Killy (Val d’Isère ) or Trois Vallées (Courchevel and La Tania) lift pass to all its guests who book a full flight and accommodation stay with them over Christmas week and throughout January. This is chance to save over over £300 per person.
SNO is offering half price equipment when you buy a lift pass with selected chalet holidays. A Christmas week break at Chalet L’Ancolie in Meribel costs from £1,088 per person, including chalet board, flights from Gatwick and transfers, departing December 20 2020.
Family ski deal
Esprit Ski has released its timetable of savings for families, including free child places and discounts of up to 60 per cent throughout next season. During its BAT (Baby and Toddler) weeks there's a chance to benefit from free child places and half-price nursery places and ski lessons for youngsters.
Inghams is offering chance to save up to 55 per cent of trips to Whistler, Canada. Seven nights room-only at the five-star Fairmont Chateau costs from £1,286 per person, including flights from London Heathrow and transfers and complimentary room upgrade, departing December 5 2020.
Ski Solutions is offering the chance to save up to 50 per cent off accommodation on trips to Canada. A week’s stay at the Westin Resort & Spa in Whistler costs from £1,250 per person, saving 50 per cent, plus another £50 off per person when you spend over £1,000. The price includes room only accommodation, flights and transfers, and a free room upgrade, departing December 5 2020 – must book before September 7 2020. Ski Solutions is also operating a reduced deposit of £150 and no amendment fee on changes to dates or destinations up until the date the full balance is due.
SkiLine is offering discounts on Club Med all-inclusive holidays. Three nights at the four-star Club Med Val Thorens Sensations, including all meals, drinks, lift pass and lessons cost from £496 per person, departing April 25 2020, based on independent travel.
Peak date deal
Erna Low is offering a 20 per cent early-booking discount. Seven nights in a two-bedroom apartment for six people at New Year in Arc 1950 costs from £594 per peron. The price includes self-catered accomodation, Eurotunnel crossing with Flexipass upgrade, departing December 26 2020, a full refund on cancellations is available up to six weeks before travel.