Snow Far Not Snow Good: Where Could You Go?

As COVID cases hit record daily levels in Australia, vaccination levels are touted as the pathway to impending “freedom”.

That includes the freedom to leave the country without requiring government permission from November.

Since March 2020 Australians wishing to leave had to apply for approval, with a valid reason. Going skiing apparently was not good enough, unless you were an athlete off to compete.

But a bikie gang member wanted by police for major drug and other crimes investigations? No problems, off you go sir! Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up and we didn’t, read the story here.

Looking forward, we will soon all enjoy the same freedoms as bikie gang members.

On return a new Digital Passenger Declaration (DPD) will replace the old Incoming Passenger Card. This will include your vaccination status up to 72 hours before boarding, and provide the digital authority for vaccinated Australians to travel.

So let’s assume it’s all hunky dory come November and we are allowed to leave the country.

That would be awesome. Just in time for snow season up north.

Socially distanced at Big White © Big White

So if you can leave, next question: where should you go?

That will depend on several main factors, more or less in order of importance here.

  1. Entry Requirements for your target country
  2. Availability and affordability of flights
  3. Return requirements
  4. Restrictions in the country/resorts you want to visit
  5. Covid control / infection levels
  6. Travel insurance costs with covid coverage

Canada looks the best bet

Canada is the only major snow destination that already allows us in, even though we can’t leave yet.

Since September 7 Canada has implemented quarantine free entry to those fully vaccinated with any of their 4 approved vaccines (the first 3 being the main ones used in Australia, so that’s all good):

  • Pfizer-BioNTech (Comirnaty, tozinameran, BNT162b2)
  • Moderna (mRNA-1273)
  • AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD (ChAdOx1-S, Vaxzevria, AZD1222)
  • Janssen/Johnson & Johnson (Ad26.COV2.S)

If you’re flying to Canada, you also must take a molecular test within 72 hours of the scheduled departure time of your flight to Canada. Airlines will refuse boarding to travellers who are unable to provide a valid molecular test result.

If you qualify for the fully vaccinated traveller exemption and have a negative test result you are exempt from:

  • Quarantine
  • Day-8 testing requirement

You can check their full requirements on the link here.

For number 2, flights, Canada should be reasonably OK too. Air Canada are offering direct flights to Vancouver from Sydney, with connections from other cities. We did a test Sydney / Vancouver return out 7 Jan, back 21 Jan showing $CAD 1913.

Qantas have put Canada on their priority return to international list.

Within Canada you should be able to visit resorts complying with local restrictions.

With high vaccination rates – already around 70% fully vaccinated – and general acceptance of restrictions and vaccination, the chances of outbreaks, or infection, are relatively low.

Fresh lines at Sun Peaks © Dave Windsor

For Japan arrival is still complicated

Travel remains effectively banned to Japan. Requirements include temporary visa applications, tests and declarations – that can be checked on the Japan embassy link here.

Most important, they retain a quarantine on arrival requirement. Until these restrictions are eased you can’t book a short snow holiday trip.

Vaccination is proceeding steadily – up to 50% fully vaccinated.

By the time ski season rolls around they should have things as under control as anywhere. Overall their total case load remains lower than Canada per head, and way lower than the USA.

Once the government allows quarantine free inbound travel to restart it should be fine.

Love to be back on Annupuri’s backside © Owain Price

USA anti-vax sentiment a barrier to travel

America did a great job with rapid vaccination earlier in 2021, but have hit an anti-vaxxer wall.

The states with the most anti-vax governments are, not surprisingly, racking up their worst covid case numbers of the whole pandemic. Like Florida and Texas. Their governors have imposed bans on mask wearing and other restrictions. The results tell the story.

Of course you can’t ski in either state, but with unrestricted mobility in America you are going to be at more risk of contracting covid, vaccinated or not. Our governments will have to factor that in for return travel restrictions.

As you will for personal risk – good luck getting affordable travel insurance too.

Vail’s Blue Sky Basin © Owain Price / snowaction

Return requirements to Australia remain in too hard/undefined basket.

Despite all the loud announcements about impending freedom to travel, we don’t know yet whether home quarantine, no quarantine, or hotel quarantine will still be required or not.

We had a brief “travel bubble” with no quarantine required to New Zealand. Presumably that is the best model to look forward too, perhaps with some home quarantine requirements.

Of course the federal government may allow you in and out, but state governments will still be able to impose their own restrictions. Odds are those will vary.

If you still had to hotel quarantine that rules out a normal short snow holiday for most of us.

Whatever arrival does look like, it will make sense to visit countries with the least covid in the community, Japan and Canada in that order at the moment.

Rainy wait to leave Narita last time .. you know it’s snowing as you’re going © snowaction.com.au

ACCC blocks proposed Qantas / JAL alliance.

Assuming things do re-open to Japan, the availability of flights won’t be helped by the ACCC’s rejection today of the proposed Qantas/JAL alliance to share revenue and schedules – which would have (even the ACCC admit) delivered more flights more quickly when travel restarts.

 “We accepted that there was likely to be some short-term benefits from the alliance being able to jointly reinstate services more quickly when borders are reopened, which may initially stimulate tourism. However, the longer-term benefits of competition between airlines are cheaper flights and better services for consumers, which is vital to the recovery of tourism over the coming years,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said. 

We beg to differ: more, easier to book flights and routes would benefit travellers to Japan. If other airlines want to enter the route competitively they will need frequency and convenience, apart from competitive fares, to make much impact.

ANA have the capacity to ramp up their flights, and could easily make an arrangement with Virgin to simplify connections and codeshare etc. as Qantas intended to do with JAL.

After 2 years of pandemic, a 3 year agreeement as proposed looks short term to us. The airline industry has taken a massive hit during the pandemic. The sooner international travel bounces back the more seats will be available at better rates.

Still you can expect Qantas to come out with some attractive flight deals. CEO Alan Joyce has promised as much throughout the pandemic as he has constantly sought to get their international sector working again.

Our Verdict: Canada your best bet

United and Delta continue to fly from the USA to Australia, and Qantas will fire up as soon as travel restarts. The problem there is the state of vaccination and controls.

So on balance, Canada is looking the safest bet, ahead of Japan, with USA third out of our most popular summer snow destinations.

“Safest country out there when you compare it to Japan and USA. Double jab and a clear test means no quarantine on arrival” said one desperate-to-ski-again traveller we talked to. “Must be vaxxed to use resorts, restaurants and pubs.”

His group are already organising their leave and making plans for a Banff and Panorama trip next February.

Good luck..

Whistler is calling © Eric Berger / Whistler Blackcomb