Verbier Verdict: would you do a runner too?

When Switzerland introduced new COVID-19 quarantine requirements for UK and South African arrivals on December 20, cancelling flights from both countries, the Verbier verdict was ‘do a runner’ for most British guests.

The quarantine was retrospective, requiring those arriving from the 14th onwards to self-isolate for 10 days. So far (December 28) 3 people have tested positive to the new UK and South African strains.

Switzerland was the only major country in the Alps to keep ski resorts and accommodation open through November and December, making it the only choice left for Brits looking to ski over Xmas / New Year.

Verbier normally stays busy through to spring © Snow Action

Even the local Scottish option was unavailable due to internal travel restrictions in the UK.

In fact, Brits from most of the UK, including London, should not have been traveling at all, anywhere, if they were following their government’s advice. But that was advice, not bans. As things go from bad to worse there, travel should definitely be off people’s agendas.

Unlike Australia and New Zealand, who used their isolation to enforce almost complete travel bans that remain in place, Europe maintained a more relaxed approach to travel with limited bans. Infection, hospitalisation and death rates have been much higher all along across Europe.

Thousands of British skiers ignored their government’s advice and went to Swiss resorts.

Verbier is the most popular Swiss resort for British skiers, who account for over 20% of the clientele in a normal winter. Many own chalets and or businesses, so most went there.

After several ‘super spreader’ events in the Alps last year, authorities have been doing their best to prevent a repeat, while still managing to operate.

In Verbier local tourism operators are upset the British exodus and resultant publicity gives a false impression Verbier is now a COVID hotspot. They also worry the British affected by the sudden quarantine edict may not wish to return in future.

“Many Swiss people then cancelled their holidays. Normally Verbier has 50,000 guests that week” Jean-Marc Sandoz, spokesman for the municipality of Bagnes, to which Verbier belongs, told Reuters. “Now the hotels only have an occupancy rate of 30-40%.”

“Guests from Britain were understandably furious, accosting hoteliers and complaining to the tourism board,” he said. “We don’t know if they’ll ever return.”

Given Verbier’s slopes and all round facilities that is unlikely in our view, after all there are only a few resorts that you can seriously describe as the World’s best, but there is undoubtedly an immediate impact for the resort.

Backflips and mixed messaging on policy have been common, from Boris Johnson’s original flirtation with “herd immunity” to the German view they had essentially beaten the virus, only to be forced into action as cases surged over the past few months.

In Switzerland there are federal government COVID restrictions than can be over-ridden on a local cantonal level.

The latest round of these included closing restaurants, bars, sports centres as well as cultural and leisure facilities. But these vary according to canton – the latest updated lists are available on the MySwiss website here.

Across Switzerland the snow season has been varied. In the awesome Jungfrau region 206km of 206km of pistes are open, and all lifts including the amazing new V-Cableway from Grindelwald to the Eiger Gletshcer station. In Verbier – Wallis 244 of 412km of pistes are open and 55 of 82 lifts.

More reason not to want to leave in a hurry, or be stuck for 10 days in your hotel room unable to ski.

It’s easy enough to put the boot into entitled/wealthy skiers ignoring restrictions, and many have on social media.

But this is not the same as the Toorak couple (it’s Melbourne’s ritziest suburb for those unfamiliar with Australia) who, after testiing positive for COVID-19 in Aspen in March and being told to self-isolate by local authorities, instead flew home with no thought for fellow passengers/staff etc along the way. Or people back home – they continued to socialise on arrival until word leaked out.

Thankfully vaccinations are under way across Europe, so roll on 2021-22 when hopefully we can all ski again without restrictions.

Anyway, here’s this week’s snow question.

On balance given how far it is from Australia, and how great Verbier’s terrain is, personally I would have likely opted for #3..

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So much terrain at Verbier we think most Brits will return; us too! © Owain Price / Snow Action