The Covid-19 abruptly interrupted the last 2019-2020 ski season on March 13, when the declaration of alarm status forced to close all ski resorts. Outside the Pyrenees and Sierra Nevada (Granada) the balance was quite discreet, given a late opening, and with less snow than desirable in many cases. Now, with the virus equal to or more present than then, a new opportunity to practice this sport is approaching. Possibly the most uncertain season in decades, not only because of the health situation but for the consequent economic crisis that saps the economy of many skiers. Can they save the next winter season? Two powerful reasons for a certain optimism: the high visits to these facilities in summer, seeking the pure mountain air, and the very characteristics of the skiing activity.
As explained by the president of the sector’s employers’ association Atudem (Tourist Association of Ski and Mountain Stations) and general director of the Sierra Nevada Ski Resort (Granada) Jesús Ibañez skiing takes place «in a natural environment, which allows the practice of the sport better, without contact, with a certain distance obvious ». In this sense, it adds that it is an “essentially individual” activity. In this regard, he talks about “Moderate optimism” ahead of the next season, which will begin next December. “Seeing how the season has gone in the southern winter or in some Nordic season, it did not go bad,” he points out cautiously.
2020, «a bridge year»
In the opinion of the commercial director of Baqueira Beret (Lérida, Valle de Arán) Xavi Ubeira we are “in a long weekend, in which we want it to be as less dramatic as possible to try to keep the maximum open tracks, as long as the demand is sufficient to keep the station running.
In this regard, Ibañez (Atudem) values the work of the ski resorts during the summer. «The stations never close: when the ski season ends (in a normal year in May) there are mandatory revisions, modifications in the hotels, restaurants and the rest of the facilities ”, points out the general director of Sierra Nevada who adds that this year the Spanish resorts They have invested in security measures, new snow cannons or in the renovation of chairlifts. Some places that also have a lot of influx in summer for hiking, cycling or other sports activities. “People feel safe with clean air without pollution,” he sums up.
For example, Ubeira (Baqueira Beret) comments that like every summer «we have a ski lift open in Beret, the Blanhiblar chairlift, and we have one of the best seasons of the last 10 years ».
Uncertainty over the health crisis
However, this season comes with the added difficulty of the volatility of the health situation due to a virus that rebounds and loosens in a capricious way. For the managing director of the Valdezcaray ski resort (La Rioja), Jorge Lladó, “Every day the measurements change” although he emphasizes that they have everything prepared for when the moment of the opening arrives: the Covid report and its own protocol. “We are waiting for the one from the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Tourism that was going to draw up a protocol for the ski resorts,” he adds.
In any case, the Atudem sector employers’ association published its own document on October 13 entitled “Good practice guide for ski resorts for the prevention of Covid-19”. In it, for example, measures such as the mandatory use of a mask are established and it recommends wearing other individual protection devices such as glasses, helmets, buff or a brief. In addition to maintaining “The greatest possible interpersonal distance” in the surroundings near the ski lifts, among other provisions.
Sierra Nevada: «The world of snow moves a lot of intensive employment»
In the case of Sierra Nevada Ski Resort, its general director and president of Atudem Jesús Ibañez, assures that during these months prior to the winter season they have implemented the protocol agreed by the sector’s employers’ association together with the Royal Spanish Federation of Winter Sports (RFEDI). Publicly owned, the Granada station maintains the same budget as the previous year-nine million euros– invested in actions such as the renovation of the station’s 100 snow cannons. «We have also renovated all access to the track and the parking, to enter the ski lifts through the mobile phone “, says the head of the station.
Sierra Nevada will maintain the same rates of the previous season, as well as the job offer (the workforce exceeds 180 people, many of them permanent discontinuous and reaches 750 workersif the hotel plus the rest of the hospitality is added). It will also launch promotions for the renewal of ski passes for more than eight million potential Spanish customers (Malaga, Seville, Madrid …) and foreigners (United Kingdom, Morocco, Poland …). In total the station bills in a normal year 40 million euros and it has a prominent weight in the GDP of the province of Granada. “The world of snow moves a lot of intensive employment, it is also found in rural environments such as mountain valleys,” summarizes Ibañez.
Valdezcaray (La Rioja): «To become centers of mountain sports»
The ski resort of Valdezcaray (La Rioja), also publicly owned, is immersed in a transformation whose purpose is in the words of the managing director Jorge Lladó “De-seasonalize Valdezcaray”. That is to say, following the model of the French and Pyrenean or Andorran stations “which are turning the stations into something else and have spent years investing in zip lines, in becoming centers for mountain sports, and it is working for them.” Valdezcaray reaches the 2020/2021 winter season in the first year of the Sustainable Tourism Plan of 2.7 million euros that until 2023 wants to change the face of this station.
Specifically, in the face of the fight against Covid, they will open a ticket office in the town of Valdezcaray to buy the ski pass for the next day and go directly to the station. Lladó comments that they are already working on its management through mobile, although this season does not materialize. The mask is also made mandatory, as well as “the restrictions that the Law marks in hospitality or other services at all times.”
The Rioja resort opens a new chairlift installed in summer, which will be able to carry 1,500 skiers per hour. In a similar line with other stations, it is committed to keep the usual template of 5 permanent employees and 24 discontinuous permanent employees, together with the hiring of 15 temporary employees. They hope this season will improve the just 19 business days for skiing last season and, if possible, return to the 70,660 users in 2018, the last “normal” year (Last year they barely exceeded 6,000 visitors). Most of them from the Basque Country (Biscay), La Rioja and Madrid.
Baqueira Beret (Lérida): «We have made improvements to make the experience as anticovid as possible»
“We have to be positive and think that the season pulls forward: we have done everything we have to do at the level of queue structure, signaling, … “, says the commercial director of Baqueira Beret Xavi Ubiera facing a challenge that will begin the next December 4th when the station located in the Aran Valley opens its doors. A facility that employs about 700 people, between the station itself, the Montarto Hotel and the travel agency. Of which, about 120 are fixed and there are between 550 and 600 discontinuous fixed. A true economic lung for the area.
Ubiera recognizes that the abrupt end of the previous ski season due to the state of alarm, has made them stop part of the investment plan planned before the Covid and, finally, reorient it. “We will have spent about 10 million euros, about three or four million,” says the station’s spokesperson, who highlights that these investments have turned in another direction: technological improvements such as ski pass recharges from the internet, QR codes for the restaurant areas or a nominal card to recharge from home and save going to the ticket offices. “We have made a number of improvements so that lcustomer experience be as anticovid as possible, “he explains.
In Baqueira Beret they have also launched offers and promotions. One of them, addressed to the season pass for which this type of customer is guarantee 15 days of skiing: “The days that you have not been able to ski, we pay you at the price of ski pass / day”, points out the commercial director of the station who believes that this type of promotions can help the public feel more secure and supported. A customer that comes from mainly from Madrid -up to 30% -, Catalonia and the Basque Country, although it has also received international visitors, mainly from the south of France (Toulouse, Saint-Jean-de-Luz, Bordeaux …) and, lately, from the United Kingdom. Ubiera acknowledges that with the current crisis it is “difficult” for this type of user to come.