Is the age of travel over?
One of the greatest challenges of lockdown is that it cuts us off from everything we hold near and dear. We are born explorers. Our passion for exploration runs deep and not being able to connect with nature is truly stifling.
The more time we spend climbing the walls, the more we want to explore wide-open spaces. After months of peering out at the world from behind a mask, what could be better than filling your lungs with fresh mountain air?
As always, our drive for adventure will push us to explore the farthest corners of the earth. The path might look a bit different but nothing will stop us from finding a way to make it happen.
The new world
When it comes to the future of ski travel, I believe where there’s a will, there’s a way. While I may be seeing the world through rose-coloured ski goggles, I think the 2020-2021 ski season could actually be better than ever before. With a focus on off-the-beaten-track ski experiences and connecting with nature, we could be entering into a golden age for the luxury ski industry.
That said, we need to change our expectations for COVID ski breaks. Travelling in 2020, and likely for many years to come, will be a world away from anything any of us have ever known. We will be travelling to new destinations and experiencing holidays in a new way.
Relocating from Singapore to Canada in the midst of the pandemic, I experienced firsthand the new world of COVID travel — and it was a surprisingly smooth process. All of those automated things that we used to complain about actually made contact-free travel simple. And, of course, with far fewer travellers, the queues are gone and having a row of seats to yourself is the new norm.
When will we be able to travel again?
It’s the question on everyone’s mind. While a lucky few might be able to plan adventures between select locations, planning a summer or early autumn holiday to most destinations is complicated and often impossible.
With airlines operating flights for essential travel only and countries putting quarantine restrictions in place to manage the situation, it appears much of the world is not quite ready for international tourism.
There is, however, a glimmer of hope in our dark cloud: travel corridors. As a range of countries develop improved COVID testing options, travel between neighbouring countries is becoming easier.
Is it safe to book a ski holiday for next winter?
While summer destinations are taking an unprecedented hit, ski resorts have a bit more time to plan for COVID ski holidays. They are learning from the mistakes of summer destinations and making sure they’ve got all their ducks in a row to create a safe but not sterile experience. At the moment, local skiers and snowboarders are already exploring the glaciers of Val d’Isere, Tignes, and Zermatt, and New Zealanders are getting outdoors and falling in love with their native space once again.
We’re adjusting to the new norm, and it’s actually pretty straightforward. We’re wearing masks on public transport and it’ll be just the same on mountain transport. As skiers and snowboarders, we are already used to covering our faces to stay warm so it’s a fairly minor adjustment. Meanwhile, the year-round ski resorts that already have national travellers mountain biking and hiking are in the process of finding ways to make it work.
As destinations around the globe put in place health and safety solutions, travellers are left wondering about the practicalities of booking a trip. People are worried about losing their deposit and are moving away from the DIY holiday planning. They are finding that working with a travel company builds in a layer of protection.
And it’s certainly true that having a travel company on your side makes planning easier. They have that insider knowledge that tells them when and where to book. They have those relationships (and in-depth knowledge of the fine print of bookings) that make refunds straightforward if surprises do happen. They’ll let you know the risk level and the good ones will give quick, no-nonsense answers.
The changing face of COVID ski travel
Through the darkness of crisis, there has been a silver lining. We’ve come to appreciate the true privilege of travel and the value of our communities.
Before all of this, with dirt-cheap travel prices, the best destinations around the world were becoming congested with tourists. Even Mount Everest had a queue. Local culture was disappearing as faceless corporations shuffled tourists from one generic “hotspot” to the next. There was never a chance to scratch the surface and it became a bit like travelling through the fake snow of a cheap snow globe.
Ski holidays from the UK often meant flying into Geneva then being shuttled around to cookie-cutter ski resorts in France or Italy. One country blurred into the next and prices rose while experiences became shallower.
Before most of us had ever even uttered the word “coronavirus” for the first time, package holidays were on the decline. Many guests didn’t want to eat the same meals prepared by a fresh-out-of-uni chalet host every night. They wanted to explore the local restaurants and get to know the hidden gems. They were craving authentic experiences rather than just photo ops at tourist traps.
COVID & boutique ski resorts
COVID is creating seismic change and we’re all starting to think a bit smaller. We’re beginning to realise that if we don’t support our local community, it’ll disappear. Whether it’s a family bakery that’s been running for five generations or a boutique bed and breakfast just trying to get started, small businesses are fragile.
During these COVID times, boutique ski resorts are more appealing than ever. Supporting those small operations who have put their blood, sweat, and tears into survival feels even more imperative. And, on top of that, who wants to stay in a packed resort the size of a city now?
The fewer, the merrier
Since embracing smaller resorts and cracking beneath the surface of each destination, I think I would struggle to go back to a generic package ski holiday. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some amazing catered chalet holidays in Val d’Isere, St Anton and the like, but there’s just something about escaping the crowds and experiencing ski towns like a local that feels more meaningful and memorable.
The time spent off of the mountains can make or break your ski holiday. Meeting locals and having an authentic experience away from tourists is a world away from the all-inclusive ski holidays they push at your nearby travel agency. Toasting a glass or sharing sushi with someone who grew up on the slopes adds meaning and value to travel. Even as someone who was strapping on skis as soon as I could walk, it’s these unforgettable moments off the slopes that are truly some of my best memories.
COVID ski holidays: finding the right destination
Beyond just supporting the local community and having a more authentic experience, it is crucial to look at the practical side of choosing a COVID ski holiday destination.
Small boutique hotels make social distancing far easier than a global hotel, and if you opt for a private lodge or chalet, you will have another layer of protection as social distancing is suddenly effortless.
The long queues of major resorts have become more unappealing than ever. Selecting a smaller resort with non-existent lift lines, uncrowded dining options, and fewer people on the slopes is a safer and simply more enjoyable way to go.
Of course, the best small ski resorts offer so much more than just easy social distancing. These hidden gems will bring you on one-of-a-kind adventures outside of the resort too. Cat skiing by the ocean, sky diving into wineries, skiing through ice caves on remote glaciers, sake tasting with locals, taking helicopter flights over towering peaks, and stargazing from the comfort of a king-size bed are only a few experiences from a long list of offers. More than just a quaint escape, we’re talking about ski breaks on a whole new level.
While many of these unsung resorts are a prime option, you’ve got to work hard to find the one that best suits your ability, your own interests and your travel preferences. Spending hours trawling through different resort websites reading biased marketing pitches isn’t everyone’s cup of tea — and that’s where specialists come in. Working with someone who has experienced these resorts first-hand and knows the industry intimately simplifies the process and eliminates surprises.
Skiing & social distancing: exploring the backcountry options
Exploring outside of resorts on backcountry skiing and split-boarding excursions is certain to surge in popularity for COVID ski holidays.
We recently hosted a ski challenge in Japan, far from the tourists, where we ski toured four volcanoes in four days. Outside of chatting with the locals during a Japanese whisky tasting, warming up over hot soup curry and relaxing in an authentic mountainside onsen (Japanese hot spring), it was nothing but us and an endless blanket of snow. As if that sort of (wo)man vs raw nature wasn’t enough to bring out the adventurer in anyone, the ease of social distancing is another cherry on top.
Getting off ‘the beaten track’ is at the heart of Mabey Ski. Long before entering our newly social distanced world, we wanted to get away from it all just because we could.
Breaking out of the mould, we look at the globe with a fresh eye. A place like New Zealand, which is better known for adventure than skiing, is amongst our favourites. With the majority of their mountain ranges only accessible by helicopter, you’ll find some of the most scenic skiing on the planet here. For the ultimate isolated ski experience, you can even camp on the mountain and ski as the sunsets.
Recognised by powder hounds worldwide, Japan offers so much more than just waist-deep powder. It has more than 500 resorts and few international tourists. It’s a place that lets you break free from the masses and have a truly authentic experience while stepping back in time. Even the more popular resort of Niseko rarely sees lift queues (except for its one-seater “pizza box” chairlift on a powder day).
Staying safe during the COVID ski season
Though a lot of people used to be happy to jump into a cramped budget airline seat, these days it’s looking more appealing to explore closer to home than go on a cheap trip. That’s just one of a few reasons why luxury travel will lead the road to recovery. Now isn’t the time to cut corners nor costs. It’s a time for curated and carefully planned excursions.
While it’s not clear what budget COVID ski holidays and travel, in general, will look like, we’re already seeing luxury travel ramping up. Those unaffected by redundancies have been stuck at home and saving up. They are luxury travellers and frequent flyers who are less anxious about getting back out there again.
Luxury ski travel creating a path forward
Luxury ski holidays aren’t what they used to be. A decade ago, luxury travel was all about staying in opulent hotels with Michelin-starred restaurants and white-glove service. Today it’s about unique experiences. Sure, you can still have a butler named Jeeves following you around, but you can also ask him to book a wine tasting on a remote snow-capped mountain then get lost.
We’ve been crying out for authentic experiences that are made for us. We don’t want to stand in a queue to have our pictures taken at the same old spots. We want insiders to show us places we’ve never heard of, or even dreamt of.
These days, luxury travel is all about exclusivity. It’s about pulling you away from the crowd and crafting a bespoke experience. Of course, these personalised experiences have transitioned from a lovely idea to a truly crucial offering during the COVID crisis.
Escaping the crowds: COVID ski holidays with Mabey Ski
If you’re happy following well-worn ski tracks, dining at hotel buffets, and bumping into your next-door neighbour in the après ski bar, then Mabey Ski probably isn’t for you.
We need something fresh. We’ve been on the slopes for over a century now and we’re insatiable. We’re forever craving new and exciting ski experiences. We want to pioneer destinations and experience places we’ve never dreamt of.
We live off of connecting with nature and getting off the beaten track. We work with small local businesses to craft one-of-a-kind moments. We push away from the masses to find authentic experiences. We dive deep and specialise in specific areas that we have come to know (and love) inside and out.
Exclusively focusing on the destinations that offer far more than just slopes and a lift pass, we create meaningful and unforgettable experiences that will make you want to do it all over again.