Last-minute alternatives to ski holidays in the French Alps

It was a bitter blow last week when France, unexpectedly, and some might argue unnecessarily, slapped a ban on all British holidaymakers, just as the nation’s ski resorts were enjoying incredibly inviting snow conditions. It had promised to be one of the best starts to the season in recent history, until Macron dashed the hopes of many. Worryingly, it looks like Austria could soon follow suit.

While devastating, the news has prompted many skiers to look beyond the well-trodden slopes of the Alps. It’s the perfect opportunity for resorts elsewhere to open their arms widely to eager British skiers and snowboarders. Now’s the time to swap-ski, forget France and move on.

Here we look at some of the options skiers, who have been left broken-hearted by Macron, have to play with. For a full guide to the rules and restrictions in ski resorts around the world, head here.

Original plan: Partying in Val d’Isére at New Year 

Swap to: Open bars in Verbier, Switzerland

While France tightened its restrictions on Britons, neighbouring Switzerland eased theirs. Arrivals from the UK no longer need to test after their arrival, and in order to enter the country a lateral flow test (not older than 24 hours) will suffice. Those who may have been looking forward to ringing in the New Year in popular French hotspot Val d’Isere, where nightclubs such as the world-famous Dick’s Tea Bar have been forced to close due to curbs on drinking and dancing, should now look to the likes of Verbier, where bars remain open and the festive spirit is very much still alive and well. 

Flights to the Swiss hub of Geneva (a two-hour drive from Verbier) are frequent and there are plenty of operators, many British-run, in the resort. If chic Verbier isn’t your flavour, look elsewhere to the likes of Zermatt, Saas-Fee or Andermatt – all are open and offer superb early-season snow conditions.





Missing Val d’Isere? Ring in the New Year in Verbier instead


Credit: Getty

Be warned though, while rules on entry to Switzerland have been eased the nation has adopted a ‘2G’ scheme. Similar to rules in neighbouring Austria, this means only people who have been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid will be able to go inside restaurants. In bars and nightclubs the rules are even tighter – admission is limited to vaccinated or recovered guests, who also must present a negative test result. All that said, if you’re eager to start 2022 in some of the most beautiful mountainscapes on the planet, it’s hard to beat Switzerland.

How to do it: Ski Solutions offers stays at Chalet Katarina from £2,100 (skisolutions.com).

Original plan: Glamorous break in Courchevel

Swap to: Chic skiing Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy

Italy’s chicest mountain town gives Courchevel, the French oligarch of ski resorts, a good run for its five-star money. Set amidst the stunning scenery of the Dolomites, the upmarket resort attracts many wealthy residents of Venice and Milan, who arrive at weekends to stay in their second homes. Much like in its French counterpart, chic shops and galleries line the cobbled streets and there’s a plethora of grand hotels to choose from. 

Ski holidays aren’t (as can be expected) restriction-less in Italy though. You must have proof of vaccination and a negative test to cross the border and once in resort a ‘Super Green Pass’ rules is required to get you into places. Proof of vaccination or recovery is required for anyone over the age of 12 to buy lift tickets, with passes scanned at the base of the gondola, as well as to access restaurants and bars – but, all establishments in Cortina are open and keen to see Britons to return to strolling along the car-free Corsa Italia this winter.

How to do it: Scott Dunn offers Hotel Ciasa Salares from £1,500 (scottdunn.com).

Original plan: Bargain break in Bride les Bains

Swap to: Budget-friendly Bansko, Bulgaria

Skiers looking for a budget-friendly ski holiday away from the tightening restrictions in the Alps will find it in Eastern Europe, in Bulgaria. 

Bansko has long been a favourite with thrifty skiers – the original town sits below the more recently constructed resort village and features old stone buildings and cobbled streets. Popular with both families and party goers alike, prices here are a fraction of those in central Europe, and what’s more, Covid restrictions are much more relaxed – Britons require proof of vaccination, or recovery or a negative test to enter. In the resort this winter, unlike in the Alps, there are no health pass requirements to hit the slopes or enter restaurants and bars – masks are mandatory and social distancing is still in force. 

How to do it: Balkan Holidays offers the Kempinski Grand Hotel Arena from £563 (balkanholidays.co.uk).





Bansko has long been a favourite with thrifty skiers


Credit: Getty

Original plan: Escape the crowds in the Pyrenees

Swap to: Hassle-free skiing in Sälen, Sweden

The Pyrenees might still be accessible from across the Spanish border, but given that it’s only open to vaccinated arrivals why not look north instead? In Scandinavia, Sweden has lifted its travel bans on vaccinated Britons in time for the ski season. There are no forms to fill out, no tests to take on or before arrival, and under-18s, in the company of a double-jabbed adult, are exempt from any restrictions. 

Sälen is also arguably the most convenient ski resort in Europe, with an airport on its doorstep, and direct routes available from Heathrow. It’s a hassle-free experience in the family-friendly resort too, where accommodation is largely directly accessed from the pistes. Arrivals will be encouraged to avoid queue by prebooking lift passes and to keep on top of their own personal hygiene and hand washing – but there won’t be any masks, reduced capacity or closures. 

Be aware that Sweden is set to restrict bars and restaurants to seated-only service and enact tighter social distancing rules in a bid to curb the spread of the omicron variant – but it’s a million miles away from an outright travel ban.

How to do it: Ski Star offers the SkiStar Lodge Experium from €1,606 (£1,365), excluding travel (skistar.com). Flights from Heathrow to Scandinavian Mountains Airport with SAS cost from £155 (flysas.com).

Original plan: Take the kids to the slopes for the first time in Flaine

Swap to: Avoiding Covid passes in Hemsedal, Norway

France is, and has long been, the most popular destination for families keen to learn to ski, thanks to its variety of resorts, easy access (by plane, rail or road) and quality ski instruction. If you’d been planning a trip to the likes of family-favourite Flaine, the largest of five French resorts in the Grand Massif ski area, all hope isn’t lost.

Ski resorts in Norway are designed with families in mind, with ski-to-the-door hotels and off-the-slope activities to entertain all ages. What’s more parents won’t need to worry about their teens’ vaccination status or regular testing in order to access the slopes this winter, since neither is required of children aged 16 and under.





To avoid the rigmarole of testing and vaccination restrictions, head to Hemsedal


Credit: Getty

In Hemsedal, there are very few, if any, Covid restrictions in force – it’s each individual’s responsibility to keep themselves and others safe by testing and monitoring any symptoms. There aren’t any masks, capacity cuts or closures, but skiers are asked to prebook as much of their trip, such as passes and lessons, as possible. Norway has tightened restrictions at its border recently, but nowhere near as strictly as its Alpine cousins. All travellers arriving in Norway must get tested on arrival, regardless of vaccination status and complete an online registration form, within 72 hours prior to arrival – rules are relaxed for under-18s.

How to do it: British Airways Holidays offers the Skarsnuten Hotel from £519 (britishairways.com)

*All prices are per person based on a week’s holiday, including flights and transfers, unless stated otherwise.

For further advice on whether you should cancel your ski holiday, read our full expert guide here.