How has COVID-19 impacted ski resorts?
It goes without saying that 2020 has been a challenging year for tourism all over the world, thanks largely to the effects of the global pandemic.
As of December 2020, sensible travel restrictions and social distancing measures remain in place across much of Europe. They continue to make life difficult for people-oriented resorts and businesses in Switzerland, just as they have done across all four EU countries with which it shares a border (Italy, France, Germany and Austria).
The promise of more widespread vaccine availability in the near future suggests we can allow ourselves a degree of cautious optimism looking ahead. As of now, the impact of COVID on ski resorts in Switzerland remains highly visible - although it’s still very possible to visit and have a wonderful time, provided you take sensible precautions and abide by all the latest restrictions and measures.
How will resorts operate under the latest COVID-19 restrictions?
At the time of writing (mid-December 2020), the Swiss government’s latest advice on safe travel applies equally in all areas of Switzerland - whether you’re flying into Zurich airport, escaping the urban hubs to ski in Zermatt, or looking to cosy up in a Verbier ski chalet. However, more definitive measures such as curfews and closures are currently being assessed on a region-by-region basis.
Travel remains ‘mostly possible’ between Swiss airports and the rest of the EU, while the latest rules regarding visits from further afield will always need to be checked on a case by case basis. In all but the most exceptional cases, the vast majority of citizens and residents of non-Schengen countries are currently forbidden from entering Switzerland as visitors.
Even for many EU and perceived lower-risk tourists, additional quarantine-related measures may well apply at either end of your journey (depending, to some extent, where you’re arriving from). This is likely to affect the amount of time your overall journey takes, and may potentially impact on various social obligations and required behaviours after you arrive.
Beloved Alpine cantons like Verbier, Zermatt and Crans-Montana haven’t experienced any more severe a rate of infections than Switzerland’s nearby neighbours in Italy, France, or Germany, and are currently being allowed to operate with sensible social distancing rules in place.
While ski lifts and leisure venues have so far managed to remain largely open for skiers and apres-skiers alike, all visitors will find themselves obliged to adhere to strict requirements around mask-wearing, indoor group sizes and queuing protocols both on and off the piste.
Will ski resorts remain open in 2021?
At present, restrictions continue to apply in both city hubs and regional getaways alike. However, while Federal authorities have tightened coronavirus rules at all Swiss ski resorts, most have managed to remain open with strict social distancing measures in place.
This makes the COVID-19 situation in Switzerland a little different to those in neighbouring countries, most of whom have had to close a majority of their more popular ski lifts in order to limit the risk of increased transmission rates. At present, the intention is for Swiss regional resorts to remain open over the Christmas and early 2021 period, pending regular reviews and assessments.
The hope is that this status quo can be maintained at the very least, and that restrictions might be gradually lifted if and when things improve. However, it is of course difficult to predict what measures may be required next week, next month, or next year - all we can say with certainty is that Federal authorities will be monitoring the situation closely for any signs of change, positive or negative.
Do I need to wear a mask when I go skiing?
While masks aren’t obligatory on the slopes themselves, they are strictly required at all times while queuing for and using ski lifts, cafes, toilets, and any other publicly accessible shared facilities.
It’s likely you may well be wearing some form of neck warmer or face protection from the cold while skiing anyway. However, it’s obviously very important that you can breathe freely and easily while going about any form of physical exercise, and skiing is no exception.
To that end, you should wear whatever you’d normally wear while actually traversing the slopes. Just be sure to keep your COVID mask handy at all times, and be prepared to put it on promptly as soon as you come to the end of a run, or enter a more populated area. Be sure to check in with authorities at individual resorts to stay abreast of any specific rules for each area or facility you’re using.
Also, be aware that required COVID measures are continually under review across all regions and cantons of Switzerland, and that you have a responsibility to keep up to date. Anyone found in contravention of the current rules faces the potential risk of heavy fines, and ignorance of a recent change is not considered an appropriate excuse.