Traveling in Corona times: what will happen to this ski season?

Status: 11/19/2021 12:16 p.m.

The ski resorts in the Alps are hoping for a reasonably normal winter season. Is that realistic in view of the corona development? And under what conditions could it work?

By Holger Schwesinger,

If the pandemic has taught us one thing, it is that it is not possible to make reliable forecasts – especially not when it comes to the question of how politicians will react to changing numbers of infections. But what does that mean for people who are planning a skiing holiday? Will that be possible in winter 2021/2022? A look at the currently valid regulations, the statements of politicians and experts as well as the experiences from the past season at least give an indication of how things could go in the individual countries.

Holger Schwesinger

Basically, sport itself is not the problem with regard to Corona. Whether on alpine or cross-country skis, a snowboard or a sledge – you are in the fresh air and inevitably keep a lot of distance if you don’t want to collide. But winter vacation also means that people travel from A to B, sit next to each other in a cable car, go to a hotel, restaurant or bar and meet other people there – all conditions that favor the spread of viruses.

Christmas business in Austria was probably over

One of the most important travel destinations for German winter vacationers is Austria. In the 2020/2021 season, the hotels there were closed, ski lifts were only allowed to open to locals or day visitors from Austria – which gave the locals wonderfully empty slopes, but did not pay off for most lift operators. Since tourism plays an important role economically for Austria, those responsible will do everything possible to ensure that it is different this winter.

The 2021/2022 season had already started on the glaciers and in some high-altitude ski areas. But from Monday the lifts will have to stop operating there – Austria will then go into lockdown due to the extremely high incidence values. However, this should not last longer than mid-December and push the number of infections so far that the country can then return to the rules that previously applied.

Only with an FFP2 mask in the gondola

Austria has relied on comprehensive 2G regulations for the entire leisure area: Anyone checking into a hotel or entering a restaurant must provide evidence of a vaccination or an illness that has been overcome. The same applies to the purchase of a ski pass, with the exception of children under the age of twelve. There are no restrictions on the ski slope. FFP2 masks must be worn in gondolas and chairlifts with weather protection hoods, as well as when queuing in buildings.

The Christmas holidays are particularly important economically for most ski resorts. According to experts, the classic Christmas and New Year’s Eve holidays are over. At best, a few regular guests can be expected, says Susanne Kraus-Winkler from the Hotel Association in the Chamber of Commerce. The latest German travel warning for Austria had already led to a wave of cancellations in the hotel business.

Holidays for the unvaccinated are practically impossible

The industry is set to take off in the second half of the season from mid-January. “We hope that something can still be saved.” There is no alternative to the lockdown itself. “We have to support that now,” said Kraus-Winkler.

For unvaccinated people, however, a vacation in Austria will almost certainly no longer be possible. Because it is unlikely that the country will overturn the 2G rule again. According to the government, it has been shown that the pressure from 2G definitely helps to increase vaccination readiness. And from February Austria wants to introduce a general compulsory vaccination anyway.

Switzerland relies on the 3G rule

Switzerland is taking a different path. It was the only Alpine country in which winter holidays were largely possible without major restrictions last season. The Swiss have made ample use of this – without ski resorts having developed into corona hotspots. Guests from Germany would also have been welcome most of the time, but would have had to be in quarantine on their return journey to Germany – and came accordingly sparsely.

This is supposed to be different this season – Switzerland is attracting guests from abroad and has so far mainly relied on the 3G rule in tourist areas. Unvaccinated people can also use it to enter the country and check into the hotel. However, they have to present a negative test upon entry and again later during their stay – and also pay for it themselves, which can be relatively expensive in Switzerland. Protection concepts apply in hotels, restaurants and mountain railways.

3G in Italy in almost all areas

Italy is also relying on 3G – albeit to a far greater extent than Switzerland. For practically all areas of everyday life – for example, the use of trains or buses – you have been requiring proof of vaccination, surviving infection or a negative test for weeks. The same applies to the use of cable cars.

Italy has a high vaccination rate and currently an incidence value that is well below that of Germany. But here too the numbers are increasing. It is therefore conceivable that the rules will also be tightened in Italy.

Hotels in Germany should remain open

And in Germany? Here, like in Italy, the past season was practically complete. It is true that masses of walkers and tourers came to the mountains for day trips. Hotels were closed, however, and skiing on the slopes was only possible in a few rather exotic exceptional cases. For example, Baden-Württemberg allowed families to rent individual, small ski lifts by the hour. In the Sauerland, at the very end of the season, it was possible to ski a little on the artificial snow that the lift operators had produced at the beginning of winter – in the hope of being able to open at Christmas.

The lift operators still have this hope – but there are also many question marks again. In the German low mountain ranges, due to the lack of snow, it will take a while before the season can start anyway. And in the Alps you look spellbound at what is decided in Berlin and Munich. “We can only plan up to the deadline of the respective infection control measures ordinance,” says Antonia Asenstorfer from the Alpenbahnen Spitzingsee, Brauneck and Wallbergbahn in Upper Bavaria. But you are clearly planning with skiing.

“Changes at short notice at any time”

According to the Infection Protection Act passed by the Bundestag, hotels and restaurants will not have to close completely again – as they did last winter – or travel would be prohibited. How the rules for vacationers then look in detail is a matter for the federal states and depends on the so-called hospitalization incidence. In Bavaria, the 2G rule has been in effect in hotels and restaurants since Tuesday. The Bavarian Zugspitzbahn was the first German ski area to start the winter season today – also with 2G, i.e. exclusively for vaccinated and convalescent people, and with various hygiene measures.

A similar concept is also being planned in Germany’s second major ski region, the Allgäu. It should start there at the beginning of December. As a precaution, the Bergbahnen Oberstdorf Kleinwalsertal indicate on their website that “changes may be made at short notice at any time due to official requirements”. How quickly and how drastic these changes can come is shown by the lockdown in Austria, which no one expected a few weeks ago. And that also applies to the Allgäu mountain railway company. Because part of the ski area is in Austria.

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