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Will Scotland become the new ski destination?

The Scottish mountains may be an unlikely beneficiary of the Covid-19 pandemic. With British skiers nervous about committing to a package holiday with a tour operator in one of the main European destinations, travel specialists are predicting the rise of the DIY ski trip, which could be good news for the Cairngorms.

“There’s clearly still an enormous amount of uncertainty about what will happen across the winter season,” said Rob Stewart, founder of Ski Press PR, who represents clients in the ski industry. “The general view is that December – and I’m talking about for UK skiers – will be a write-off in regards to skiing. This is mainly due to uncertainties on when resorts will really start to open up and, of course, the quarantine and Foreign Office advice against all but essential travel.”

Stewart said that many tour operators had pulled out of the market for December while others had decided to mothball “pretty much” the entire season. “So anyone travelling out during December will need to do a DIY version.” This could see more people choosing to drive to the French Alps rather than fly. A recent survey suggested that 27% of skiers intended to drive to Europe this winter via Eurotunnel compared with the normal figure of 7%.

Scottish ski resorts graphic

Another alternative is to head to the north of Britain. “The talk is that skiers are interested in heading up to Scotland,” Stewart said. “But while I love Scotland and skiing there, we need to be honest about what a ski holiday in Scotland is. And it’s not the Alps, not even close, not comparable at all. It’s a harsh environment, the weather is unpredictable and the snow even more so.”

Angus Maciver, general manager of the Ski Club of Great Britain, also believes that more people will head to Scotland. The SCGB has now started offering adventure snow holidays in Scottish resorts. “We think there will be more ski-touring in Scotland and if people are willing to wait until the conditions are right they could have a great experience in Scotland,” he said. “We also think this is a big opportunity to ski at artificial and indoor slopes in the UK.”

Maciver said he believed that there would still be “a season of sorts” in the Alps but people would notice a difference. “Some resorts will limit uphill lift capacity, all will have limited spaces in restaurants, which may make things difficult in busy periods, and there will be a much reduced après-ski scene.” The arrival of a vaccine could have an effect towards the end of the season, Maciver said. But this prospect has left many people playing a waiting game, and three-quarters of Britons say they will not book a skiing holiday until four weeks before they intend to travel.

If British winter sports fans fail to hit the major European ski destinations this season, it could have a severe adverse effect on the industry, Maciver said.

“There will be many organisations which may not be able to survive a season without revenue, especially given the refunds or vouchers paid out last season,” he added.

“It will be difficult for us all in the UK ski industry, as we kept staff on to run holidays when the travel corridors opened up, and we still have rent and rates to pay – and could have no holiday income if the current rules stay in place.”

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