What it's really like to get tested in a ski resort this winter

·6-min read
ski holiday testing covid omicron travel - Lucy Aspden
ski holiday testing covid omicron travel - Lucy Aspden

As the Alps continued to be battered by one of the heaviest snow storms in recent history, rather than racing to be first on the lift to chase the powdery bounty that had fallen over night (and was still falling), I was trudging through the ankle-deep snow on my way to a Covid testing centre – an unimaginable scenario the last time I was on a ski holiday.

Ski holidays have never been short of logistical challenges – the amount of equipment required, lift passes, language barriers and hot stuffy boot rooms first thing in the morning can often be enough to leave even the keenest of skiers wondering why they bother.

This year there’s a new level of complication in resorts across Europe: Covid testing.

The main culprit is France, which reopened to British skiers on January 14 and where the nation’s health pass scheme currently rules the slopes.

passe sanitaire france covid pass ski season 2022 - Lucy aspden
passe sanitaire france covid pass ski season 2022 - Lucy aspden

With the pass vaccinal now in force for all over-16s in France, families in particular are set to be stung by the testing rules. Unless their teenagers (aged 12 to 15) are double jabbed, or have proof of recovery, in time for departure, they face carrying out the testing process on a daily basis in France to activate a pass sanitaire in order to access the slopes – over-16s can no longer test under the new pass vaccinal rules. In Austria teenagers are being granted what is being called the ‘Ninja Pass’ if they carry out one antigen test plus two PCR tests during a week’s holiday to swerve the harsh measures for the unvaccinated.

And, of course, this all comes at a price.

In early December, my partner Dan and I were lucky enough to be among some of the first British skiers to hit the slopes in the world’s largest ski area, Les 3 Vallées, in France – meaning we were among the guinea pigs for the testing regime thousands of skiers can now expect to endure as half term approaches.

We don’t have children, so the only test we were required to carry out in the resort was a pre-departure lateral flow in order for us to board our flight home – which has since been dropped by the UK Government. Nonetheless it was an eye-opening experience and one Britons should be prepared for.

Both Dan and I were required to take a lateral flow test to be taken on the final day of our holiday in Méribel – having not taken pre-ordered tests with us, we were required to rely on the in-resort services.

Five days before our required test, we visited Méribel’s website, which directed us to the synlab.fr booking platform. I found, all in all, the process of booking a test was simple, minus a few translation hiccups (deciphered thanks to Google).

We were asked to choose a testing location (our hotel had advised that Méribel’s Parc Olympic was directly across from where we’d be staying) and chose our allocated date and time. Both antigen (lateral flow) and PCR tests could be booked via the system – both are compatible with the pass sanitaire. By this stage of our trip we’d become accustomed to entering, then re-entering, our personal contact and passport details (as is the new normal for travellers) – however, doing it all on a mobile phone proved largely more frustrating than on a laptop, especially when asked to upload any documentation. More frustratingly, we’d spent an evening of our holiday glued to our devices indoors booking the tests.

On the day of the test, as well as the evening before, we were sent reminders to take our confirmation email and passport with us to our appointment (neither ended up being checked). We arrived promptly (the test centre was still closed), but were soon ushered out of the snow up to a make-shift testing room. The waiting area outside had just three seats – an optimistic choice considering how many British teenagers might need to use this service in the coming weeks.

The testing practitioner spoke good English and before I knew it there I was, in full ski gear, with a nasal swab up my nose. It costs €22 (£19) each for lateral flow test, which we paid for after the process was complete; PCRs are double, at a price of €44 (£37) with a longer wait time for the results. A quick check of email addresses and phone numbers (crucial to make sure you get your tests results through) and it was bonne journée, enjoy la neige!

Straight to the slopes and within minutes of boarding the Saulire gondola out of Méribel centre, the snow still falling thick and fast outside, we both received a text message and email – in French – with our results. In total it had taken 30 minutes from the time we’d taken our test. Luckily the word ‘negative’ is easy to translate and our instructor read the rest (no doubt breathing a sigh of relief that he wasn’t sitting in an enclosed cabin with two infected Britons).

meribel france ski holiday testing covid omicron 2022 - Getty
meribel france ski holiday testing covid omicron 2022 - Getty

A link was provided in order for us to download our negative test certificate, we could then add this to the pass sanitaire (Tout Anti Covid) app and save to our phones. If we’d wanted extra assurance the hotel also offered a printing service.

Besides the inevitable anxiety, our experience of testing in a ski resort was smooth. But questions still remain as the ski season snowballs into full force.

Only 140 people are able to be tested at the Méribel Parc Olympique each day, a fraction of the total number of Britons who will visit the resort in peak season. As back up there’s another centre up the road in Mottaret and pharmacies in resorts can also carry out the same number of tests.

Whether they’ll be able to cope with demand, only time will tell – earlier this season it was reported that popular French resorts Alpe d’Huez and Val d’Isere had run out of PCR tests – since, action has been taken to increase capacity but concerns remain if demand for testing surges. What this means for pricing is unclear, but while costs were reasonable in Méribel, some skiers on social media have reported price hikes in other resorts.

Directors at Les 3 Vallées resorts are aware they’ll need to adapt. As Olivier Desaulty, director of Les 3 Vallées, told me: “We understand we must be ready.” He explained laboratories will be drafted in during peak times – one has already been constructed in Les Menuires since we left. Pharmacies in resorts also carry out tests and skiers can do self-administered tests in these locations, as long as they’re supervised. Resorts are working hard to keep their websites up to date with the latest travel rules and advice.

I’ll admit, while testing in a ski resort was an added level of admin – nothing is worth missing that fresh morning powder for, definitely not a Covid test. That said, I didn't have to deal with the aftermath that comes with a positive test result, and knowing that pre-departure tests have been scrapped is a great weight off my mind for future trips.

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