Europe’s skiers ready for ’emotional’ comeback

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(CNN) – Few remember the thrill of it. Few people miss breathing in the crisp, pure air on a glistening mountain. Others crave a cold drink on a sun-drenched terrace, or a cozy meal by a thundering fire after a day on the slopes.

Whatever draws people to the mountains, winter holidays in Europe have been largely halted for two years because of the pandemic.

But now skiers across the continent are buzzing with the prospect of what will be an “emotional” return to the slopes for many as travel restrictions are eased and resorts are given the green light to open.

It seems that the mountains are calling like never before.

“The desire to return to the slopes has created a clear sense of excitement,” said Richard Lumb, co-founder and director of the company. Kaluma Skis, an upmarket tour operator with luxury properties in Courchevel, France and St. Anton, Austria.

“The sheer tenacity of guests preparing for ski season is evident in the calls we are taking – people will ski this season.

“There’s a lot of positivity. We are well ahead of booking in a pre-pandemic market.”

tears and smiles

Last winter most of Europe’s ski slopes were deserted.

Julian Goldstein/Getty Images

He said: “For most people clipping into our skis for the first time in two years will be an emotional moment.

“Whether we express it through tears or with a smile on the face, it’s going to be very special indeed.”

The COVID-19 outbreak in Europe in February 2020 cut short the winter season with ski resorts seen as virus hotspots as people around the world mixed in confined spaces such as ski lifts, bars, restaurants and chalets. Were.

After the initial lockdown, many resorts were hoping to reopen before last Christmas, but the enduring pandemic prompted governments in France, Italy and Germany to delay and then eventually order lifts to close for the season. should remain.

In Austria, some lifts remained open only to locals at reduced capacity, with no accommodation or hospitality available at resorts. Ski areas in Switzerland, Spain, Sweden, Slovenia and Bulgaria continued to function, although travel restrictions limited access for most.

Now, however, with widespread vaccines, many borders opening in some capacity and lockdowns on hold, ski season is about to take place across the continent.

Restrictions will vary among nations and regions, and include the wearing of masks in some settings, some limits on lift capacity, social distancing measures, and importantly, access to indoor venues such as bars and restaurants as well as some ski lifts. will be involved. An EU-wide vaccine passport to show a person is either double-jabbed, has recovered from COVID or has evidence of a recent negative test.

‘this is happening’

Some mountain areas will require skiers to show proof of vaccination.

Some mountain areas will require skiers to show proof of vaccination.

Fabrice Cofrini / AFP / Getty Images

British vaccination certificates will be accepted in more than 40 countries covered under the scheme, including member states and other non-EU countries such as Switzerland and Norway. The rules are in flux for US travelers in Europe, with vaccination currently open to visitors in 27 countries, although Bulgaria, Norway and Sweden in particular are completely closed to those arriving from the US.

Elevators are already running at some high-altitude glacier resorts such as Zermatt, Engelberg, Andermatt and Saas Fei in Switzerland, Tignes and Les Deux Alpes in France, Cervinia in Italy, Hintertux and Sölden in Austria, as well as Rucka and Levi. Finland and Idre Fjell in Sweden.

“I think it’s the point of return for most of the resorts, they’ve created a lot of space. It’s happening and everyone’s going to enjoy it, people are biting off a little bit. It’s a big deal for the Alps. Will be back,” added. Lumb, who was recently reassured at a travel industry event at an embassy in London.

“There are some concerns about how things will operate, and there will be some restrictions, but I don’t think there will be many.

“My kids are already in the loft to take off their ski gloves and goggles. Skiing is always our best family vacation and we plan to make up for the lost season.”

back to normal’

Skiers will need to adapt to changing requirements.

Skiers will need to adapt to changing requirements.

Julian Goldstein/Getty Images

Although parts of Austria were this week ready to provoke a new lockdown For the uninitiated, Austrian lifts had planned to operate at full capacity for those able to produce their “3G” certificates – or Covid passports – to fp visitors into gondolas and cable cars when they purchase tickets. Requires wearing of 2 face masks and shops.
In St Anton, part of western Austria’s vast Arlberg ski area, signs are showing that the weather will go on “as normal”, according to Mario Mats, owner of the famous Crazy Kanguru Restaurant and aprs-ski bar located on the slopes above the city.

Matt, double world ski champion and 2014 Olympic slalom gold medalist, said: “It looks great at the moment, everyone is ready for the season, we are ready, our staff has been hired and we look forward to a normal season.” are doing.” , who bought the bar in 2009 while competing on the World Cup ski circuit.

“We’ll have to see how the rules change, it’s hard to tell at the moment, but we’re looking forward to a great season. People just want to get back to a normal life and be happy and enjoy their time together.”

Last winter St. Anton operated a handful of lifts for locals but the resort was closed and had the air of a “ghost town”.

“We’ve had a hard time,” said Matt, who was known as the “Eagle of the Arlberg”.

“Two years ago we had the best season ever and then we had to close in March [2020], Sad to see last winter. Locals could use a few lifts but to see the ski resort completely closed, no one would have ever imagined that something like this could happen.

“So to see Crazy Kanguruh back as we did before, full of people, happy people, would be an amazing feeling.”

The Austrian, who also trains Arabian horses, is keen to relive the atmosphere of the old in “KK”, in which revelers dance across tables in ski boots, with restrictions allowed.

“It’s fun, I love it when it’s a busy environment, I’ll help out behind the bar. I enjoy it,” he said.

Rules vary subtly across the continent and are subject to change. For example, France will not require a “pass sanitaire” to purchase lift tickets, but is mandatory for indoor bars and restaurants, while Italy’s “green pass” is required for those indoor hospitality venues as well as buying lift tickets. For both, for anyone. 12.

In Italy, open air lifts will run at full capacity but enclosed lifts will only run at 80%. There are currently no COVID Pass regulations on ski slopes in Switzerland, but the certification law for indoor venues is for those over 16.

“Fresh air and cleanliness”

Skiers say they are desperate to return to the slopes.

Skiers say they are desperate to return to the slopes.

Olivier Chesinole / AFP / Getty Images

The key to a successful winter vacation would be to be aware of the up-to-date requirements in the destinations chosen.

“The rules are straightforward: when you reach the top you can remove your masks and make the most of the fresh air, breathtaking views and stunning landscapes,” said the official website for les 3 valley, which includes the resorts of Courchevel, Maribel and Val Thorens, and claims to be the world’s largest ski area with over 600 kilometers of groomed slopes.

The feeling of reaching the top of an elevator, taking in the scenery and anticipating your next run has been remembered by many during the pandemic and is the essence of why many return to the mountains year after year.

“It’s the openness and excitement of breathing in the fresh air and cleanliness in the Alps and just in the mountains,” said Briton Mandy Hickson, a regular skier with her husband and two sons.

“It’s something that even my teens have missed. We are all desperate to get out of there.”

“It’s just the rush of cold air on your face and the feeling of being in the snow. I can’t believe how much I’ve missed it.”

Hickson, a former Tornado pilot, said: “Clicking in your skis when you haven’t done it for a while makes you think you’re going to be like Bambi, but in reality it comes back almost immediately. .

“I’m a speed freak so I love the crowd and that feeling of speed, so I’m really looking forward to pure skiing.”

Even for locals like Matt, who have spent a lifetime on skis, a return to normalcy will be a much-needed tonic for the soul.

He said, “After a snowfall, when we have a blue sky in the morning, it’s an amazing feeling to just go up in the first lift and enjoy the powder and anyone who’s done it before knows what I mean. ”

“Even for me who does it every season, it’s always something special.”

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