If you’re lucky enough to be able to afford a winter holiday, some good news: ski fields are reopening across the country as coronavirus restrictions continue to ease.
This makes the slopes perhaps more attractive than they’ve ever been. Indeed, the website of one of New South Wales’ most popular venues, Thredbo, crashed last week as 25,000 customers tried to buy a lift pass at once – the largest volume the resort had ever experienced on its online store.
What’s more, skiing is great exercise and also good for both the tourism industry and the economy. And it’s an outdoor activity (which makes it safer than indoor activities as far as COVID-19 risk is concerned).
But there are still risks. So how do you stay safe on the slopes?
Read more: How to stay safe in restaurants and cafes
When do they open?
Many of these holiday spots have COVID-19 advice on their websites, which is worth reading closely before you book.
The risk of contracting COVID-19 in the community is much reduced thanks to all our efforts over the previous few months. But we still need to still be cautious and sensible as we navigate the next phase with our newly granted freedoms.
There is no doubt things will be different this year on the slopes, as ski companies do what they can to make sure you’re safe.
Some extra planning and care can reduce the coronavirus risks to you, your loved ones and the community.
Planning your holiday
The first and most important rule: stay home if you are sick. This should go without saying but if you have any symptoms, such as a sore throat or fever, get tested. Consider cancelling your holiday until you know you’re COVID-19-free.
You could also consider downloading the COVIDSafe app before you set off and make sure you know how to use it.
Remember, all ski slopes in Australia will limit numbers to ensure people can maintain social distancing.
Demand for ski holidays will be great, with overseas getaway options limited. But many ski resorts will operate at about 50% capacity to ensure social distancing, which means some people may miss out on accommodation and lift passes.
Furthermore, all resorts are asking people to book resort entry and lift passes well ahead of time, to help with planning. Same-day lift ticket sales will not be available at many resorts.
Besides the usual warm clothing, pack hand sanitiser and perhaps even a few face masks for times you’re not able to physically distance.
What will the new normal look like?
Ski resorts face a range of challenges in dealing with the pandemic, and you should expect things to feel very different.
Aside from limiting numbers to ensure patrons can physically distance, resorts will have to institute rigorous cleaning protocols.
And the usual international ski workers will not be available due to travel restrictions.
Resorts are placing limits on classes. Although some are running lessons for adults, others are not running group lessons at all. Thredbo and Mount Buller are offering private lessons only. Make sure to check your destination’s rules before leaving.
There will be strict enforcement of social distancing in queues and limitations in the numbers on ski lifts. Mt Hotham is restricting ski lifts to two people per quad chair and asks that you only ride with those you’re sharing accommodation with on the mountain. Like many resorts, it is also banning cash.
Indoor seating at cafes and restaurants will be strictly limited and some resorts advise you to pack your own snacks and lunch.
Tobogganing and snow play is prohibited throughout Perisher this year, to reduce COVID-19 risk.
There will also be hand sanitiser stations and increased cleaning protocols, particularly of frequently touched surfaces such as lift guardrails.
What about when you’re not skiing or snowboarding?
What will be most obvious is the absence of events that bring large groups of people together at ski resorts. Restaurants and cafes will operate in line with their respective state guidelines, involving limits to the numbers of people allowed indoors.
And just like the rest of Australia currently, there will be no nightclubbing.
As with all our activities, it’s your own responsibility to stay safe by making sure you maintain hand hygiene and physical distancing wherever possible.
However, resorts will be adapting to the current situation to keep you safe. With a bit of planning and flexibility, it can be a great holiday for you and your family that also supports Australia’s tourism industry.
This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.