With the majority of ski resorts across the Alps currently closed and a travel ban prohibiting holidays during England's own national lockdown, you’d be forgiven for assuming the chances of skiing this Christmas and New Year are slim.
But as the saying goes, where there’s a will there’s a way, and news that the 14-day compulsory quarantine for travellers returning to England from high-risk countries (currently all Alpine nations) will be cut to just five days using a new test and release scheme from December 15 has renewed hopes that it might not be impossible to celebrate the festive season in the mountains.
What’s more, for now, resorts in France, Austria and Italy are all standing by their newly planned December opening dates (until officially told otherwise), alongside their counterparts in Switzerland and Scandinavia that are already open, meaning those that are determined on making fresh tracks before the year is through might just get the opportunity to do so.
It may involve travelling against government advice if your local area enters tier 3 under Boris Johnson's new winter plan (though that doesn’t mean you’d be breaking the law) and the risk of (now reduced) self-isolation on your return home – but is an escape to the mountains worth it? Many would firmly agree, in fact research has shown that the majority of skiers are willing to quarantine on their return in order to get a ski holiday under their belts this year.
Those prepared to jump through the hoops could find empty slopes and the white Christmas and happy New Year we’re all dreaming of. Here’s, tentatively speaking, where you could ski this December and how to do it.
Opening date: Glacier now open, full winter opening on December 5
Resorts in Switzerland have bucked the trend and those that are already open for skiing have remained in operation, despite surging cases in Europe and closures in France, Austria and Italy – those that aren’t open yet are due to do so as planned. Zermatt is one such resort which has been open for skiing since the summer, on its high-altitude glacier. This has provided bosses with extensive experience in operating during the pandemic. One of the main attractions for experts in Zermatt is the off piste and yellow itineraries (runs that are avalanche controlled but not checked by ski patrollers). A mountain guide can take guests ski touring beyond the lift system – a real opportunity to socially distance and escape it all. That said the resort has something for every level of skier, plus plenty for non-skiers to enjoy in the charming village.
The rules in resort
While there isn’t a limit on capacity in lifts in Switzerland, people are required to social distance, or otherwise wear a face covering, which are available to buy (along with hand sanitiser) from lift stations. The resort has also adopted the country-wide Clean & Safe label, which showcases businesses that have committed to new measures to keep guests and employees safe, which include social distancing in restaurants and bars and increased hygiene standards.
Where to stay
Zermatt has a number of independent hotels and bed and breakfasts, all available for independent booking. The Schweizerhof Zermatt is one of the resort’s longest-standing. It’s close to the train station and Gornergrat lift and punches above its four-star rating. Prices start from CHF 310 (£256) per room per night on a bed and breakfast basis, booked direct.
How to get there
SWISS airlines operates weekly flights from numerous UK airports to major Swiss hubs such as Zurich, Munich and Geneva from £52 one-way. Train transfers are popular in Switzerland with many resorts benefitting from railway stations at their centre, including Zermatt which is car-free. Despite the pandemic all train schedules are running as normal – the Swiss Transfer Ticket covers return trips from all airports to destinations, from £122. It is possible to drive to the resort (nine hours from Calais passing through France) but cars must be left outside the resort in a designated garage in neighbouring Täsch, with the rest of the journeys completed by shuttle train or taxi. British visitors do not have to quarantine on their arrival into Switzerland. See full flight options at the bottom of this article.
Verbier, which began to open its slopes at the end of October and is at the centre of Switzerland’s largest ski area, and Andermatt, two hours from Zurich and also already open for weekend skiing thanks to investments in snow making.
Opening date: December 1
President Macron has thrown cold water on hopes the country's ski resort will reopen as planned in December as plans to lift lockdown are announced. However confirmation is due before December 5, so for now skiers can cling to what hope is left. Tignes, which was already open for skiing on the Grand Mötte glacier before the lockdown, is prepared to be first out the blocks and open as soon as restrictions are lifted at the start of next month, igniting hopes of a festive break on the slopes. In another boost of confidence, neighbouring Val d’Isere, which shares its ski area with Tignes, is set to host the Criterium de la Premiere Neige event from December 5 to 20, which sees a number of international ski races take place (albeit without any spectators allowed). Tignes is split across five villages of varying styles, from Val Claret at 2,100m to Tignes Les Brévières at 1,500m. Thanks to its high-altitude early-season skiing here is almost guaranteed across the giant linked ski area spanning 300km.
The rules in resort
The association for major French ski resorts, France Montagnes, has revealed the new rules that will be in place this season. Capacity on the slopes and on lifts will not be reduced, however there will be one-way systems, regular disinfection of cabins and chairs and masks will be mandatory when queueing and riding on the lift. Apres-ski will be muted, as venues are required to only operate table service. Tables will be distanced one metre apart or separated by screens to adhere to social distancing rules. Masks will also be compulsory at the beginning and end of ski school, but not once the lesson is underway. Masks will also be compulsory on ski buses and in all communal areas in hotels and apartment blocks.
How to get there
France is by far the easiest Alpine destination to access by car: a simple hop across the Channel, no other borders to cross and no quarantine on arrival. Tignes is a nine-hour drive from Calais, during which travellers avoid any contact with the outside world, safe in their own bubble. Eurotunnel services start at £72 each way for a car with up to nine passengers and run daily, it's a totally contactless and socially distanced journey – the FlexiPlus upgrade allows travellers to catch any train if travel restrictions change and all tickets are currently fully refundable. Alternatively fly to Chambéry (an hour and 40 minutes away) or Geneva (two hours and 30 minutes away), or catch the Eurostar to Paris and then a connecting train to Bourg St Maurice before a bus or taxi into the resort – but timetables for both these options are uncertain and subject to last-minute changes.
Where to stay
Tignes is home to a vast array of accommodation – self-catered apartments and chalets is something it does very well. L’Ecrin des Neiges in ski-in/ski-out Val Claret is easy on the budget, and the options become cheaper the more friends or family are prepared to share the space. A standard one-bedroom apartment, which can sleep up to six, costs from €2,263 (£2,020) total over the festive week with Pierre et Vacances. Huski is a food delivery service that offers packages of home-cooked meals, which can be delivered directly to your apartment, even before you arrive – it’s one of the perks of the new era of self catering.
Courchevel, which is also poised to host an FIS World Cup event in mid-December once the full 3 Vallées ski area has reopened, and Tignes’ neighbour Val d’Isere, which will also reopen on December 1 if it can and where visitors will find a vast array of luxury chalets and hotels.
Opening date: December 17
Until December 6 at the earliest, travel in Austria is banned and hotels, restaurants and bars are closed as residents are told to stay at home during the second national lockdown. While ski resorts are currently closed many have begun to release plans for their reopening. The Arlberg Ski area, which covers two of the country’s most popular resorts Lech and St Anton, is hoping to get lifts up and running on December 17 in time for Christmas. Few resorts have a more exclusive image than Lech, but while the resort in the Voralberg region might sound like a place for the rich and famous to see and be seen, with no shortage of five-star living, the picturesque resort remains true to its farming village origins. The ski area is extensive and snow-sure. Those heading towards St Anton will find some of Austria’s best off piste skiing, whilst on Lech's local slopes intermediate and beginners have ample space to explore – most likely without the usual crowds this season.
The rules in resort
Once things reopen, specific rules in ski resorts in Austria this winter will include a ban on traditional après-ski and curfews on bars and restaurants, which will have to close by 10pm. Masks will be mandatory during ski lessons, when one metre social distancing cannot be maintained, and on ski lifts and buses.
How to get there
There are multiple options for those wanting to get to the Austrian Alps this winter and no current quarantine requirements for British visitors. Innsbruck is the closest airport to Lech with direct flights set to operate from the likes of Heathrow and Manchester from mid-December. It’s possible to catch the train from the city to St Anton, and then a bus into Lech, or take a direct transfer or hire a car (it's a 90-minute drive). Salzburg, Zurich or Munich are also possible flight routes, but the transfer is notably longer. See full flight options at the bottom of this article. Alternatively, it’ll take those looking to drive the entire distance 10 hours to reach Lech from Calais, travelling through France and then either Switzerland or Germany – if lockdown rules remain in place prepare for checks at the borders.
Where to stay
Lech is home to some of the Alps’ most luxurious chalets. The family-owned Kristiania is one of them with an art collection boasting more than 200 pieces. It has 65 five-star suites that offer privacy and seclusion. The chalet also offers a guiding service to help make the most of the resort. Rooms start from €1,040 (£924) per night, half board at Christmas. Alternatively hire the entire property from €18,000 (£16,000) per night.
Obergurgl, Austria’s more snow-sure non-glacial resort, hopes to reopen on December 11 along with neighbouring Sölden, or Ischgl, which hopes to reopen on December 17 with a new sophisticated (and clean) image, following its moment in the global spotlight as the epicenter of the pandemic last winter.
Opening date: Already open
The ski season is already underway in Finland’s largest ski resort. What’s more, from November 23 the Scandivian country scrapped the current 10-day quarantine on arrival and the ban on entry for any non-residents, in favour of a testing-based model – it could be the only option for skiing this festive period without the risk of quarantine at either end of the journey. This weekend Levi is hosting the FIS Alpine World Cup, one of the first professional competitions to take place this winter and a sign of its determination to get people skiing. Levi is more than 160km north of the Arctic Circle and while there’s only 44km of pistes (small by Alpine standards), a holiday here is about more than just skiing. There’s a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights and at Christmas Finland really comes into its own and Levi’s location in Lapland makes for a truly magical affair.
The rules in resort
The Finnish Ski Area Association (FSAA) has released guidelines for the country’s resorts this winter – they’re largely less intrusive than those being introduced in the Alps. As well as the usual social distancing advice it recommends masks are worn inside gondolas and restaurants, but it’s not mandatory, and skiers are advised to order their lift passes online in advance.
How to get there
Currently there are still some, but few, flights operating to Finland, but these are subject to change. TUI, which owns Crystal Ski Holidays, runs flight-inclusive package holidays to the resort with flights to Kittilä airport, a 15-minutes bus ride away from the resort, still scheduled for Christmas week. It is possible to get to Levi from other major airports in Finland by combining a train transfer to either Kolari or to Rovaniemi, and then catching a bus.
Where to stay
Crystal Ski offers seven nights at the Panorama Hotel from £675 per person. The price includes half board, flights, transfers and two-for-one lift passes, departing December 20 2020. The resort's website lists other accommodation in the resort including igloo hotels and wooded lodges.
Opening date: December 9
As it stands, ski resorts in Italy’s Aosta Valley are under the toughest lockdown restrictions in the country – lifts there will not be allowed to open until December 3 at least, with fears mounting that they may remain shut over Christmas. Resorts such as Champoluc are remaining optimistic though and are standing by their planned opening dates and will continue to do so until an update is given on the official Government guidance – expected on December 1. Champoluc, in the Ayas Valley (part of the wider Aosta Valley region), is a charming village, with a typically Italian laid-back atmosphere. The 200km Monterosa ski area is one of the most underrated in the Alps, the scenery is beautiful and there’s a general lack of crowds on the slopes. It stretches over three valleys with one small resort in each – Champoluc, Gressoney and Alagna. If early-season snow cover is an issue and you’re keen to explore, the snow-sure resort of Cervinia is just over an hour’s drive away, with access to Europe’s highest skiable glacier on the Swiss border.
The rules in resort
An official announcement is yet to be made by the ski resorts of the Aosta Valley regarding the new rules that will be in place this winter. However, as was the case on the country’s glaciers over the summer months, one metre social distancing and face mask rules are likely to be enforced. Under current rules there’s a curfew across Italy from 10pm and masks must be worn in all public spaces, both indoors and outdoors. Groups of up to four people can sit together in restaurants and bars.
How to get there
The Aosta Valley’s location on the border with France means it's totally feasible to drive to resorts in Italy in less than 10 hours from Calais. Visitors from the UK (and France) must show a negative Covid-19 test on their arrival into Italy, or take one at the airport, to avoid quarantine until a negative result can be supplied. The majority of people arriving by air fly to Milan Malpensa and Turin, and direct flights to both are currently available for the festive period with the likes of Wizzair, EasyJet and British Airways. See full flight options at the bottom of this article.
Where to stay
CampZero is the resort’s eco-friendly five-star. Its 10 family suites span two floors, with a living area and two bedrooms, floor-to-ceiling windows and balconies. Plus there’s a swimming pool and spa, two climbing walls (one on ice) and two restaurants to choose from in the evening. While the hotel can be booked direct from €220 (£196) per person per night for a week at Christmas, British-run Ski2, which has been based in the resort for more than 20 years, offers a week’s stay for a family of four from £1,929 per adult and £1,829 per child, including bed and breakfast, private airport transfers, six-day Monterosa lift pass, lunches each day on the mountain and ski guiding over the festive week.
Cervinia was one of the few Italian resorts already open before the lockdown, it has snow-sure slopes and hopes to reopen as soon as restrictions are lifted, and Courmayeur, which is close to both Geneva and Turin airports and is one of Italy’s most popular year-round Alpine destinations.
How to book lift passes and equipment
Covid-19 has forced ski resorts into a long-overdue digital revolution. Most are now advising skiers to book their lift passes online in advance, with reduced prices and flexible last-minute cancellation terms. This will help resorts keep track of the number of people on the slopes at one time (despite there being no restriction on the total number) and prevent queues from building up at kiosks and ticket offices in resorts. It then recommends visitors use contactless, self-service machines in resorts to collect their passes. Anybody travelling with an operator may find that passes can be delivered straight to their accommodation
The same book-in-advance mantra goes for equipment hire. In most resorts it is now possible to order all the gear you need in advance online to avoid having to fill out complicated forms once you arrive, ultimately reducing the time you’re hanging around in store. The majority are also offering free cancellation up to the day before you arrive to give total peace of mind. Some of the bigger rental shops, such as Intersport in France, are using text alerts to give customers designated times for collection of their equipment, which is undergoing thorough cleaning and disinfection using fogging machines, between rentals.
How to avoid the crowds completely
Lifts will be in operation in ski resorts this winter; in all Alpine nations they are classed as public transport. But those with an adventurous streak may look to ski touring to totally remove themselves from the masses. Many rental shops now have top-of-the-range tour equipment available. Remember if you’re heading off piste it's strongly recommended to enlist the services of a guide through a local ski school or guide service such as Ski Bro. These areas aren’t patrolled or checked for avalanche risk.
How to get insurance
If you choose to travel against FCDO advice (which is unlikely to change before Christmas) it’s important to understand the implications this has on insurance. In short, regular policies will be void if you head to the slopes when the Government is advising against all non-essential travel.
However there are some companies that are providing cover to those keen to travel, but not all cover winter sports – always check the small print. Some that will cover you include winter-sport specialists MPI Brokers, which will provide travel insurance to countries on the FCDO 'essential travel only' list, but the policy will not settle any claims to do with Covid. Voyager Insurance will also provide winter sports insurance as well as cover for Covid-related claims in countries that have been taken off the travel corridor list.
Where can I fly to?
While driving could be your best option for a last-minute escape, planes are taking off this festive period. A spot check by Telegraph Travel of current flight schedules for Christmas week (departing Saturday 19 December returning 26 December) shows the following.
For the most frequent flights and access to all Alpine nations Geneva is your best bet. There are direct return flights to Geneva from London Stansted (from £81), London City (from £143), Heathrow (from £151) and London Gatwick (from £164) as well as Manchester (from £101), Birmingham (from £73) and Leeds Bradford (from £101) with the likes of Jet2, EasyJet and British Airways.
For those keen to head to France there are also flights scheduled to Chambery, but far fewer options and higher prices, including London Gatwick (from £236) and London City (from £272), with just a single flight from the likes of Manchester and Leeds Bradford, with TUI airlines.
Flights to Grenoble are similarly less frequent. Wizz Air, Ryanair, Jet2 and EasyJet are still planning to operate routes from Luton (from £37), London Stansted (from £96), London Gatwick (from £117), Birmingham (from £94) and Manchester (from £113).
SWISS Airline and British Airways are still serving the major Swiss hub of Zurich. There are direct return flights from Heathrow (from £121) and Manchester (from £113). With Munich catered for directly by Lufthansa from Manchester (form £120).
As is often the case, flights to the Austrian hub of Innsbruck are limited and prices are high. EasyJet, British Airways and Jet2 are operating flights from London Gatwick (from £213), Birmingham (from £177) and Manchester (from £505). Jet2 presents the only option to get to Salzburg, from Manchester (from £150).
Flying into Italy is possible with direct return flights with EasyJet and Jet2 to Turin from London Gatwick (from £192) and Manchester (from £137).
For a week-long New Year break (departing Saturday 26 December returning January 2) similar routes apply, with Geneva having the busiest schedule and most reasonable prices – especially considering a cost of £150 per person for a Covid-19 test on your return home in order to cut your quarantine to five days.
Or should I drive?
Driving to a ski resort also gives you complete control over when you travel. Much of the Alps are easily reachable in a single day of driving, with many French ski resorts, including popular winter boltholes Chamonix, Flaine and Morzine, between eight to 10 hours from Calais, as well as options in Italy, Austria and Switzerland.
Eurotunnel services start at £72 each way for a car with up to nine passengers and run daily, it's a totally contactless and socially distanced journey – the FlexiPlus upgrade allows travellers to catch any train if travel restrictions change and all tickets are currently fully refundable.