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Ski guiding in Meribel France with British ski instructors
Ski guiding in Meribel France with British ski instructors
Ski guiding in Meribel France with British ski instructors
Ski guiding in Meribel France with British ski instructors

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Going Into The Unknown

Posted on
November 27, 2020

Hi everybody, and welcome to the very first post of the 2020/21 winter, from your favourite blogging Méribel Ski Instructor. I'll start off by saying that, bizarrely, l've been exposed to skiing a couple of times already this month here in the UK! The first occasion was attending a two day First Aid refresher course up at the Chill Factore in Manchester (an indoor ski slope). This was the weekend that Prime Minister Boris announced we were to go into Lockdown again. Although I didn't actually ski that weekend, some of the course was held on the snow, close to the skiers on the slope. One of the things that I noticed, and I mentioned this to James the course coordinator (who is also a ski instructor in the French Alps), was that everybody on the slope had a massive smile on their face. They were loving it, which was so nice to see - especially this year of all years.

Granted, skiing indoors on artificial snow is a very different experience to being up a big mountain. James and I wondered what percentage of the skiers at the Chill Factore would ever get to ski in the high mountains?

The second time that I was exposed to skiing this month was attending my annual CPD (Continuing Professional Development) course with BASI (British Association of Snowsport Instructors). As with many things this year, it was hosted as a virtual event: adapted to be run as an online performance analysis course using videos and a clever app. Running the course was a BASI Trainer who I had met before in Val d'Isere, along with eight candidates including myself. It was a very interesting day, and great to be watching some skiing again and able to discuss it constructively.

How very 2020!

I also recognised one of the candidates; he is a director of a ski school that is located in both the French and Swiss Alps. At the start of the day, as an icebreaker, we all introduced ourselves. After explaining who he was, he came out with an interesting statement - that particular week his school had matched the numbers of clients cancelling their lessons, to those who had booked lessons! I'm not sure if he was hinting this was a positive thing, or negative. But let's hear that again: as many people had cancelled lessons that week, as had just booked. We didn't discuss this coming winter any further during the course, but it got me thinking.

There's no doubt that we continue to head into the unknown this winter with the pandemic. The Méribel Tourist Office has stated that current bookings are around 30% down on last winter so far. The ski school is keeping us informed, and they have said that lesson bookings are down by a similar amount. People just aren't booking their ski holidays in advance like in previous years, and understandably so. Even those who have already booked their holiday could still cancel.

Evidence of snow-making on the Altiport during early December last year

This situation is making it incredibly tough for businesses within the industry to plan for the winter. Visitor numbers are bound to be down on previous years, but by how much? Will holidaymakers book last minute? In particular, Tour Operators are struggling to forecast what might happen. One thing I've picked up recently is that companies are having to make some big decisions now in order to help them survive. Interski, a British company which specialises with large group holidays, is a ski tour operator in the Aosta Valley just over the border from Mont Blanc in Italy. They have decided to not operate at all this winter, cancelling all bookings.

Closer to home in Méribel, the Hotel Plan group which includes Inghams, Ski Total, Ski Esprit (plus other companies) have recently said they will not now be able to provide holidays in the month of December (this was before President Macron's speech earlier this week). The European lockdowns, low bookings, and struggles to coordinate getting their staff to resort and trained in time, have all contributed to this decision. In fact Ski Esprit will also not operate at all this winter. Not being able to operate in December (at the minimum) is actually quite significant. Two of the main earning weeks, ie Christmas and New Year, have now been lost. That's quite a percentage of their season's income..... gone.

A popular British chalet company called 'VIP Ski' announced in mid-November that they have ceased trading and are in administration. They quoted that they were unable to navigate the extraordinary challenges of managing a winter ski operator through the current Covid crises. Without sounding alarmist, I wonder if there will be other travel companies within the ski industry that will suffer the same fate? I'm not in resort myself, so haven't got much of a feeling yet.

An owner of a medium-sized chalet operator in Méribel and Courchevel contacted me earlier this week and said that they have had to cut their number of chalets down from fifteen to just seven for this winter. Even these are hardly selling. This is a well established company, in good hands both in the UK and in resort, really struggling.

However, slowly but surely we are starting to hear some good news. Vaccines are arriving, although none have been approved yet by regulatory bodies. Sadly these vaccinations (although absolutely brilliant news for the big picture) will be too late to rescue this winter and turn it back into anything like a 'normal' season. Having said that, the vaccine good news appears to be having a positive affect. Inghams reports that consumer interest in their ski holidays has seen a 50% increase since the first one (Pfizer/BioNTech) was announced. Whether this increase will convert into bookings or not I don't know.

The well known and popular travel company Club Med have conducted research that suggests that 69% of British skiers this winter plan on booking less than a month in advance. And over a third will leave it until just two weeks before departure. Again, this is understandable on the holidaymaker's side, but also confirms that planning for the winter within the industry is very challenging.

Other good news announced earlier this week was the reduction of number of days required in quarantine, down from fourteen to five (depending on testing results and speed). Again, will this help people grow in confidence to book and come and visit? It's a big decision to make; people make choices that are right for them, with one person's decision being no better than anybody else's.

I haven't even mentioned 'the big picture' yet of the pesky coronavirus, ie number of cases, regional infection numbers and hospital admissions! It looks as though the second lockdown across many European countries has done the job and stopped the latest surge, in fact numbers are gradually dropping. There is a delay to the start of the ski season in France announced earlier this week; we hope to know more in about a week's time from the French Government.

The very latest - confirmed at the end of this week - is that you can still go and visit French ski resorts over the Festive Period from December 15th. But the ski lifts will remain closed. Walking and cross country skiing will be possible depending on snow conditions. Life in resort will be different, with restaurants and bars only being able to provide takeaways. So one could say that it will still be possible to visit Méribel to get your mountain fix, benefit from plenty of beautiful fresh clean air, and have a jolly nice break from things that have been going on over the last few months. But no alpine skiing.

Will tour companies be strong enough to survive and operate effectively through this winter? Will people have confidence that they can come to the mountains and enjoy the incredible sport of skiing (when the ski lifts open)? But you see, the virus of course doesn't give a monkeys whether this ski season will be a success or not for anyone. We are without doubt going into the unknown.

There are a few things I do know though: the snow will still fall this winter, the sun will still rise, the high mountains will open their arms and welcome us, the views will definitely blow our minds, and we will all occasionally lean too far back on skis (for those of us lucky enough to ski). Any apres ski will be subdued of course, but we will still eat silly amounts of tartiflette and pizzas, some of us will enjoy the odd glass of vin chaud and wine, and we will more than likely go to bed with heavy legs. Oh, and somehow those amazing mountain creatures called Bouquetins will survive living high above the ski resorts, even in filthy blizzards. What's that all about? And how do they do that?

At the time of publishing this post I'm not sure when I will be able to travel back to the French Alps, hopefully it will be sooner rather than later. But when I do, I'll be sure to let you know via 'the socials' and on this blog page. By the way, it was great fun going through my photo library for this post, a nice reminder of happy days. I'll sign out again with my 2020 theme......Stay Safe, Stay Healthy and Stay Fabulous. Martin.

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With our skills- based system of learning, we give you the tools to safely negotiate any demands the mountains make on you, helping you to increase your comfort zone and ski in a wider range of conditions. Whether you are a nervous novice, a blue piste cruiser or an all mountain adventurer, we tailor your ski lessons to create a perfect fit. The question is, which one are you?

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