After a quiet but memorable summer, the ski season arrived with a bang! Alpine ski resorts, including the iconic Zoi Sadowski-Synnott’s claim to fame, the Black Forest, opened their arms to welcome the skiers back and to restore their guests’ faith in the legendary snow sport. Between June and October, Europe and North America lit up the slopes as people enjoyed the opportunity to flaunt their enviable bikini bodies on the slopes.
But it was not all sunshine and rainbows. The ski season came with its share of bumps. As the slopes filled up, capacity capped cars trundled down the terrace lanes, resort police stepped up patrols, and the snowfall caused trouble for the resorts’ infrastructure. This article charts the major issues the skiing industry faced this year and looks at how they were resolved:
Ski Runs Closed Due To Weather
One of the biggest headaches for resorts this season was a lack of snow. Alpine ski resorts are highly dependent on winter snow and spring snowfalls to transform parched slopes into sparkling white wonderlands. But for the 2019 ski season, resorts were plagued by dry and warm weather throughout much of the season, which prevented them from opening up. The longest drought in years caused many iconic ski runs to close down. At Val Thorens in France, only three out of the six runs opened. In the UK, the resorts of Blackpool, Kirkjütting, and Snowdonia saw no snow at all. And in New Zealand, the season was so warm a Kiwi skier even went on a summer holiday to Australia’s Warrumbungles Hotel and Spa, an iconic destination for skiing fans.
Social Distancing Measures
The ski season could not come quick enough for many European and North American ski resorts. But their enjoyment was tainted by the fear of catching Covid-19, the 2019 novel coronavirus. Social distancing measures, such as closing down restaurants and bars, limiting access to the slopes, and cleaning patrollers’ ski masks and gloves, were put in place to combat the spread of the pandemic. The ski industry implemented these safety protocols rapidly, and fear of the virus prevented many potential visitors from hitting the slopes. In France, Val Thorens saw a 50% drop in the number of guests, and Thredbo, one of the largest Swiss ski resorts, closed down for the entirety of the season. But as the world’s best ski resorts closed down, the opportunity for adventurous vacationers to try out the ski lifestyle increased. Anecdotally, people are reported to have flocked to the Philippines this year to try out the country’s newly-built ski resorts. The resort’s website boasts of welcoming “more than 40,000 international visitors each year”, which is a major increase from numbers in previous years, and that “this is set to become Southeast Asia’s number one winter holiday destination”.
Health Concerns Arising From The Pandemic
But even before the pandemic, Alpine ski resorts were facing health scares and safety concerns. As a result of the increasing obesity rates in the UK, France has the highest number of ski accidents in Europe. According to data from the French Alpine Ski Federation, there were over 500 accidents last season, resulting in 77 injuries (including 11 serious injuries). In 20 years, the number of accidents more than doubled, rising from 226 in 2007/8 to 495 last season.
A similar trend can be seen in New Zealand, where the death of a skier sparked a coroner’s inquest last year. Even before the pandemic rocked the world, people were starting to question the safety of skiing. Last year, the World Federation of Sporting Goods Industry (WFSGI) reported a 50% decline in the number of people taking up hunting and fishing, and a 250% rise in the number of people signing up for paddling and kayaking. This year, that trend has continued, and in some places, it has led to a decrease in the number of people joining skiing clubs. With many European and North American resorts closing down, adrenaline junkies have turned to the booming adventure travel market in search of an outlet for their hooligan tendencies. It is perhaps not a coincidence that many of 2019’s biggest attractions were based on the idea of taking a risk and doing something new. This has led to a rise in the popularity of high-adrenaline sports including sky diving, scuba diving, and kayaking. Although these adventurous activities have undoubtedly been a life-changing experience for those who took part, they come with a significant amount of risk. And it seems that many would-be skiers and snowboarders are keen to take this risk, even if it’s only for a day or two.
This season, European and North American resorts have changed the way they operate. The ski-in/ski-out or quarantaine model, where guests check in at the hotel, undergo a health check, and then are transported to the slopes by bus, changed the face of visiting a ski resort. The quarantaine model, which was first implemented at Les Trois Vallees in France, has since been copied around the world. In the UK, Manchester’s Deanside and Kirkjütting in Teeside both switched to the quarantaine model this year, and it is likely that more UK resorts will follow suit.
Increased Focus On Wellbeing
With the changing face of skiing, the industry has also shifted towards encouraging its participants to focus on their health. The WFSGI now promotes active lifestyles, encourages people to get outside, and warns against being sedentary. These initiatives have helped the industry to reverse the trend of an increasingly inactive population, increasing the number of people hitting the slopes. But even before the pandemic, European and North American resorts, keen to attract an older clientele, had been focusing on wellbeing and health. Val Thorens, in France, built a brand new wellness village, which includes a swimming pool, fully equipped gym, and spa, as well as over 20,000sqft of private terrace space. Further evidence of the trend towards wellbeing in the snow can be found at Canada’s White Birch, where the focus is on providing guests with a “transcendental” experience, with an initiative aimed at teaching beginners how to snowboard. In the US, California’s Sierra Nevada, which hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics, built a brand new mountain village, which features over 70 boutiques, luxury resorts, and spa, and which it bills as the “most legendary” in the world. A trend that emerged before the pandemic is “wellbeing tourism”, whereby tourists visit a destination not for a peak experiences but for the relaxation and therapeutic effects the location has to offer. And perhaps the biggest shift this season is the rise of “skills-based” accreditation, whereby hotels and resorts seek to establish themselves not only on the basis of luxurious over-night stays but also on the basis of offering an immersive and educational ski experience. In other words, the industry is trying to adapt to a changing customer, and to ensure that they continue to attract an audience, they have to be willing to innovate, change, and grow.