As the ski season edges ever closer resorts in the Alps are preparing for the new normal of winter holidays
Ski resorts in Austria are preparing for a winter season like no other. A number of new Covid safety measures will be brought in across the country to ensure skiers and snowboarders can return to the slopes.
Curfews will be in place, testing will be widespread for both staff and visitors and Austria’s famous après-ski culture will be significantly muted.
Last week Tourism Minister Elisabeth Koestinger said: “There will be no après-ski as we know it from earlier times.” The new measures, announced yesterday by the National Tourist Office, confirm this.
Bars and restaurants that traditionally host après-ski parties and concerts will be forced to only operate table service, both indoors and outdoors. A distance of one metre must be maintained between groups of guests at all times and singing and dancing will not be permitted, with music only playing in the background.
What’s more, groups in restaurants and bars will be limited to just 10 people, excluding children, and opening times will be restricted, forcing venues to close by 1am.
This curfew is even tighter in the states of SalzburgerLand (resorts including Obertauern and Zell am See), Tirol (Ischgl, St Anton and Mayrhofen) and Vorarlberg (Lech and Warth-Schröcken), where bars and restaurants will have to close by 10pm.
“Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2020/21 winter season will look a little different to previous years,” read a statement from the Austrian National Tourist Board.
Masks will form a large part of the new normal in ski resorts. They will be compulsory in bars and restaurants when not seated, when queueing and riding on ski lifts and during ski lessons when social distancing cannot be maintained.
Further measures are in place to protect those who attend ski school while on holiday. Group sizes will be limited to just 10, including the instructor who, if travelling from abroad, must present the school owner with a negative PCR test on arrival.
Similar to France, there will be no restriction on the number of people who can travel in a gondola or on a chairlift at once and staff will be fully trained in regular disinfection protocols. One-metre social distancing measures will be in place in lift stations and at ticket offices to avoid crowds gathering in high-traffic areas of the mountain.
Resorts in France have also announced their plans for the season, with blanket measures across the country, unlike Austria where there are specific measures in place in some ski areas.
Ischgl is one such resort bringing in its own measures. The resort has been hit hard by the virus and four civil lawsuits have been filed against the Austrian government over the outbreak of coronavirus there. The private Consumer Protection Association (VSV) argue that authorities in the Tirol reacted too slowly to the outbreak, mishandled the response and possibly gave in to pressure from the tourism sector not to act.
In an effort to reinvent itself and reopen safely Ischgl is recommending that all guests present a negative Covid-19 test no more than 72 hours before they check in. This is not mandatory but guests who are unable to get a test before they arrive have the option to undertake a voluntary test in the resort. To further curtail its après-ski the resort will not be hosting its famous Top of the Mountain opening concert and to encourage people to follow the rules skiers and snowboarders will also be given a free face covering by lift station staff.
“These measures have the explicit goal of promoting safer winter tourism. We know that Brits hoping to visit Austria in the coming months will be looking forward to classic winter activities, including skiing and snowboarding. With the new guidelines for cable cars, ski schools, mountain restaurants and Christmas markets, our hope is that visitors will be able to enjoy their winter holidays in a comfortable environment, with the knowledge that their safety is our top priority,” said Martina Jamnig UK Director of the Austrian National Tourist Office.
Cases in Austria surpassed 53 per 100,000 people this week, meaning its infection rate is now lower than the United Kingdom’s. The country’s travel corridor was revoked at the end of August as cases surged and Britons are currently advised against all non-essential travel to the country. However, the Government has brought in measures, such as mandatory masks, to curb the spread – in hope that things will be back on track before the lucractic winter season.
To further mitigate the risk of spreading the infection Austria was the first Alpine nation to bring in country-wide testing for anybody who works in the travel or tourism industry. More than 230,000 tests have been carried out to date, after a trial began at the end of May – the cost of which has been covered by the Government. During the winter this testing scheme will be expanding to include ski instructors and guides.