Foreign holidays are back and after the abrupt end to last winter’s ski season and weeks in lockdown spent daydreaming of the mountains, finally the prospect of returning to the slopes seems realistic.
Following the lifting of FCO advice and the introduction of new travel corridors, last week I took the plunge and booked a ski holiday for next winter. And while there are many uncertainties surrounding future trips to the slopes – how resorts will implement new rules, what protection operators will offer and if indeed we’ll be able to travel quarantine-free to the mountains – my biggest worry when I signed on the dotted line was: what if there’s no après?
I have every faith that resorts will implement the correct social distancing measures both in the villages and on the mountain (some are even getting to practice during the summer months) and I’ve booked with a bonded operator for financial peace of mind – but the future of après ski, with its foot-stomping crowds dancing on tables, remains uncertain.
My suspicions began back in April, when Myrkdalen in Norway reopened for end-of-season skiing but without lifting the shutters on its slopeside bars. Things intensified when Ischgl, the Austrian après hotspot, announced it would be cleaning up its party-hard act. Then last week, when leading operator Inghams revealed its detailed plan for the future of its ski holiday packages, without the inclusion of its popular après ski events, I really began to worry.
Without après, ski holidays simply won’t be the same.
Some of my best ski holiday memories have been made once the lifts have stopped turning. Dancing in a snowstorm to 90s legend Fat Boy Slim with 6,500 other people at Snowboxx festival, befriending fellow skiers of all nationalities in cosy mountain huts over a mug of gluhwein, spending afternoons in the sunshine drinking Aperol spritz while watching cabaret at the Folie Douce, or joining the post-race celebrations in Kitzbühel at the Hahnenkamm race.
I worry too for the family members joining me on next season’s trip. They’re ski holiday novices and I fear I’ve sold them a lie. My tales of clanging steins of beer to toast a day on the slopes and conga lines of ski-boot-wearing party goers may not materialise into reality in January if bars remain closed.
They’ve got their hearts set on four days of learning the ropes on the slopes and harmless fun in the bar afterwards – I’ve assured them there’ll be no better way to start 2021.
Don’t mistake me for one of these stay-up-all-night types, that only rolls out of bed in time to slide to the nearest bar before the lifts close. For me ski holidays are all about burning the metaphorical candle at both ends, first lift and last orders make a perfect pairing. I just hope the latter part of that equaviation will survive this ghastly pandemic.
I must remain confident that by the dawn of the New Year resorts around the world will have found a way to safely balance the two, skiing and après. Whether that involves having to leave track and trace information before entering a bar or indeed wearing a face covering while enjoying a well-earnt vin chaud – neither will dampen the atmosphere. Reduced numbers wouldn’t be the end of the world either, surely that means less time queueing at the bar and or chance of treading on a stranger’s toes in your ski boots. Après ski may need a makeover in the post-pandemic world but it certainly doesn’t need to be eliminated.
Yesterday the infamous Punta Ballena strip of bars and clubs in Magaluf was closed by authorities, following reports of drunken Brits caught floating social distancing rules and even jumping on cars last week. I can only pray these antics don’t spread to the mountains and force ski resorts to take similar measures next winter. Après ski is so much more than just a drunken binge on the Costas.
It’s a match made in heaven, a perfect pairing, the Torvill and Dean of the holiday world. Without après, ski holidays could lose their way, running the risk of becoming the bounty of the super-rich, privacy conscious minority who prefer to stay in the seclusion of their own chalet rather than venture out into resorts and bring those quaint Alpine streets to life.
It’s always disheartening to see any business crumble and the small independently-run bars and restaurants in ski resorts are some of the most at risk. The seasonal staff, musicians and performers look set to lose their livelihoods if resorts opt to change track to a more muted approach to life in the mountains.
Granted there are bigger things to worry about at present; if there is a second wave of the virus my maiden voyage to the slope post-lockdown may be cancelled entirely. I’m not overly worried about the inconvenience of wearing a mask though, us skiers have been doing that for decades anyway. But not being able to celebrate a great day on the slopes (guaranteed come rain, snow, shine or indeed pandemic) with my fellow skiers fills me with dread.