First of all, let me tell you that I am what the Canadians would call a ski bum. The sheer idea of being on top of a mountain, breathing in the fresh mountain air and racing down a perfect slope (not too steep, not too flat) really does it for me. I have been skiing (and snowboarding) all my life, from when I was two or three years old. Back in 2017, I have even built my own pair of ski and offered my husband to do the same for his birthday. The only two reasons I have missed ski seasons in the past are my pregnancy, as well as living or travelling abroad. I have, however, even skied in New Zealand while living there for a year and a half – in August, of course!
In a nutshell: I just LOVE mountains during wintertime!
So when I heard that the Lower Austrian ski resorts would open on December 24, 2020 despite the corona virus lockdown period, I have done everything I could to look for news and regulations on the subject: What does the weather forecast say? Will the grandparents have time to look after Liam? Which ticket options would best fit our needs? And what about the restrictions in place due to the pandemic?
Check out my answers to the most obvious questions when skiing in times of Corona (based on our day at Hochkar ski resort, of course. I cannot speak for other ski resorts in Lower Austria, nor for ski resorts further afield, naturally).
How do you get your ticket for the ski resort?
At the moment, it is absolutely necessary to make an ADVANCE booking reservation for your ticket, i.e. in our case to use the online booking service of the Hochkar ski resort. There are several, large warning signs along the main road reminding us of this fact prior to accessing the resort; and it does of course make perfect sense to control tickets and access in times of a pandemic. The website of the Lower Austrian government, www.sicher-skifahren.at, offers a wealth of information and a step-by-step booking service for the almost 30 smaller and larger ski resorts in Lower Austria. From there, you can directly access the online shops of the respective ski resorts to make a ticket reservation.
After successful booking, we have been sent a PDF file with booking confirmation and a QR code, which you have to scan at a vending machine at the entrance to the ski resort in order to get your tickets. My husband Georg and I each chose a half-day ticket valid from 12.00 noon to 4.00 p.m.: Since all other infrastructure and services remain closed, four hours of skiing seemed to us to be quite sufficient for the day.
(Who) Can I ask something at the resort?
Yes. There is a (minimal) service on site and also staff that you can ask something. The parking lot attendant points us to the nearest bathroom (more on that in a moment). The staff at the entrance to the ski resort kindly tell us to proceed to the ticket office. The lady at the ticket office explains to us in the same friendly manner that the paper tickets issued at the drive-in gate already represent the ski passes for the day, so we don’t need to mind anything else. The few local faces at the take-away food and drink outlets on the slopes also smile kindly at us (more on that in a moment, too).
There is some sort of interaction, then, although looking at our familiar local ski resort with its equally familiar but closed infrastructure (ski huts, bars, ski rental services all remain closed) does appear a little strange.
If everything is closed (hotels, ski huts, ski rental services, etc.) where can I go and use the bathroom?
A very valid question, I must say, and one that certainly was on our minds prior to heading out for the day! After all, travelling to Hochkar mountain resort takes over two hours from where we live in Vienna, then four hours skiing and back again … surely, there has to be a bathroom open on site, right?!
The answer is: Yes, there are plenty of bathrooms to use despite all other facilities remaining closed. The resort offers a mix of mobile bathrooms right by the parking lot, as well public bathrooms at the ski huts (whose other facilities remain closed). Phew!
Are there any food and drinks offered at the mountain?
We can also answer this question in the affirmative: At Hochkar ski resort, all ski huts located right along the slopes have set up a take-away food and drinks service, offering a basic selection of popular items. It is asked “not to eat or drink within 50 meters of the point of sale”, and you do have to remain standing, as there is nowhere to sit. Of course, this is anything but comfortable, but the hot chocolate as well as the opportunity to use clean toilets is something we have nevertheless used gladly. Since we were not sure about the type and range of food and drinks offered, we packed a few snacks and drinks just in case anyway: It cannot hurt to be prepared.
What is the situation like when queuing for the lifts (and on the slopes)?
On the day of our visit (January 7, 2021), there were very few visitors to the resort: Instead of the maximum capacity of 2,000 guests per day, there were probably only about 300 present, as a parking lot attendant told me. This of course meant limitless ski fun: No queuing, not even close, half-empty slopes, great conditions for endless carving and racing down the mountains. In addition, all winter sports enthusiasts we saw behaved very well with regards to the current safety measures, such as mandatory face masks when queuing at the lifts, mandatory face masks when buying food and drinks and when going to the bathroom. We simply felt that everyone behaved in a very exemplary manner on that day.
Is skiing under the circumstances advisable for families with children, too?
Being parents ourselves, we have discussed this question with two young parent couples who, like us, stopped briefly to eat and drink. “With children, a day without refreshments or the possibility to go indoors for a while simply does not work,” one of them said, but agreed with me that a half-day ticket might work: Four hours of skiing, with short breaks for eating, drinking and going to the loo might work, they also thought. In fact, we did see quite a few children with their families that day. But it certainly depends on the age of the children, the skiing experience of the family, and countless other factors that cannot be answered here in a general way and that ultimately each family must answer for themselves.
Generally speaking, is it really worthwhile considering value for money, risk of exposure, etc.?
Dear readers, you have read my introduction and explanations here and will probably not be surprised if I tell you that YES, skiing right now is worth your while. Although the effort to prepare, to get from A to B and to finally make the most of your day is quite something. To give you an example: The driving distance from where we live to the Hochkar ski resort is well over 200 kilometers, that is, a good two hours’ drive. The half-day ticket costs € 32, -. Drinks and food on site are anything but cheap (although we did get free hot juices at the Joschi food truck: Thanks for that!). But. I daresay, there are currently few other opportunities that are near as fun as this form of exercise in the fresh mountain air. And Covid-19 safety measures are thoroughly practiced, at least at the Hochkar ski resort. In any case, we can say that we’ve felt very safe throughout the day and have by no means felt that our risk of contracting the virus was any higher just because we went skiing.
Finally, do let me know what you think. Would you want to go skiing during this pandemic, and if so, why / why not?