Lockdown life, skiing in Kaprun…

25th February 2021, by Josh Willans

Empty slopes and bluebird days in Kaprun — but there are rumours some Austrian resorts could close this month

Empty slopes and bluebird days in Kaprun — but there are rumours some Austrian resorts could close this month

Skiing anywhere in the world for the 2020/21 season is a weird and challenging time at the moment — and in the glacial village of Kaprun, locals are saying that they have never seen the slopes so empty within the last few decades.

I started working here as a ski and snowboard instructor in the winter and raft guide in the summer back in 2016. At the start of this season (10 October), despite the pandemic, things looked bright with the local Kitzsteinhorn mountain open and tourists travelling from all over Europe as usual to enjoy the early snow. But as we know, coronavirus numbers rose and we went back into lockdown on 3 November.

After a few weeks, numbers started to decrease across Austria and since 24 December while ski resorts have been open, there are no hotels or restaurants open, which means there are no tourists to be seen.

The rules on the mountain are simple and are being adhered to by most. You have to wear a FFP2 mask while waiting or riding any ski lifts; you must keep at least 1m away from anyone else at all times and the number of people on each lift/gondola is limited (differs on each lift). Some tourists are still pushing the lockdown limits and finding accommodation through friends or previous work connections but most people are sticking to the rules.

A major drawback of the rules at the moment is that all restaurants on the mountains are closed, so you must either take a packed lunch to eat (not inside, hard on a chilly day) or ski as much as you can before heading home for food.

Due to “Corona”, as we refer to Covid-19 in Austria, and the lack of tourist income, lift companies are restricting the number of lifts and days they are open.

Of course, locals would normally get on the slopes at weekends during tourist changeover days in the main season, to make the most of the quieter pistes. But now we have them almost to ourselves and unemployed ski instructors, like myself, and other key winter season workers are trying to make the best of the situation.

Ski instructor Josh Willans enjoying empty corduroy conditions in Kaprun

The conditions, I’m sorry to say, have been great. The season started in October with the usual adequate amount of snow then during the second lockdown there were a few more flurries of snow, with a dump of 50cm in the village. All of this, paired with some cold temperatures of -14 to -17 degrees (even on bluebird days), has meant the pistes have until recently been in top condition — though of course the risk of avalanches off-piste have been a different story. Right now, it’s very warm for the time of year (5-10c) so the snow is melting quite quickly.

At the moment the future of the season looks like very slow progress for everyone involved. The next review is in early March when restaurants and hotels might be allowed to reopen slowly. Some ski schools have already cut their losses and announced they will remain closed until Easter, but are already prepared for the fact that guests might be sparse as hotels and apartments might remain closed as it is just not feasible with the amount of staff needed in comparison to guests coming.

Sadly, there are rumours that some resorts will close at the end of this month due to finance reasons with no tourist income.

Winter workers who can afford to stay without income are enjoying the extra free time to spend on empty slopes, but we are all conscious that we must take a second and think about the future, work together to make it through this hard time to then possibly all be able to enjoy the mountains once again, whether it’s in the Easter holidays or 2021/22 season.

While there are currently strict restrictions on entering Austria, things are looking positive towards the summer for rafting season where hopefully things might be on their way back to normal as we know it, rather than the “new normal”.

Find Josh Willans on instagram at @willans1805

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