The future of Scottish ski resorts hangs in the balance as they confront two starkly different scenarios for the winter to come. On the one hand, they might see record visitor numbers as British skiers head north as an alternative to the Alps; on the other, continued local restrictions could leave them facing prolonged closure and financial struggles.
This week the French, Italian and German authorities announced they would not open their ski resorts until January at the earliest, and called for other European Alpine nations to make the same commitment. Scotland’s five resorts could be beneficiaries of this but travel restrictions currently forbid residents of England, Wales and Northern Ireland from travelling north of the border. And those in Scottish areas categorised as “protection level” – which includes Edinburgh and Glasgow – are not allowed to leave their local area for tourism, so would not be able to visit the Highland resorts. Scottish operators hope the restrictions will be lifted soon, but Nevis Range has already announced it will remain closed until at least February.
“There is certainly a big demand for skiing and snowboarding at the moment,” said Andy Meldrum, majority owner of Glencoe, Scotland’s oldest and steepest resort, “and it is likely to be even bigger than normal this year due to the staycation effect.”
The Cairngorms National Park Authority board convener Xander McDade said: “Skiers coming to the park to enjoy winter sports and spend money locally will be welcomed with open arms,” adding that it would bring a much-needed boost to the local economy. Although the summer season was busier than usual this year, lockdowns meant it was much shorter, and insufficient to counterbalance the negative financial impact of the pandemic.
All Scottish ski resorts are introducing new health and safety measures in case they are swamped by skiers missing their usual foreign trip. There will be limits on the number of people allowed on the slopes each day, and social distancing on lifts, in queues and on the mountain.
Cairngorm Mountain’s interim chief executive Susan Smith said the resort was doing everything possible to remain Covid-secure and would be more cautious than in previous years with the numbers of skiers and snowboarders allowed on-site each day. “This is difficult to predict and depends on snow conditions, number of lifts operating,