Covid-19 Verbier – What to expect this winter?

We caught up with some of Verbier’s key stakeholders to get an idea of how the winter ahead looks for them, in as much as anyone can without a crystal ball to assist with predictions.

Covid-19 has bent time. That way where it feels like the virus has been around forever but in the same thought you can hardly believe that over six months have passed since it completely rearranged our world. I don’t think many of us imagined at the outset that we’d be facing the winter season of 20/21 with Covid-19 hanging over us like some stagnant cloud. Yet, here we are with winter creeping down the mountainside and the virus still creating far more unknowns than knowns.

The first major positive point is Téléverbier’s announcement last week that current plans are for lifts to open as soon as there’s enough snow in resort (which may not be too far off given the snow dump over the weekend!). Mask wearing will be obligatory however there should be no limitation on numbers. This is great news that at least everyone can agree on.

Another big positive is that the summer in Verbier was better than expected for most businesses, despite all events being cancelled. According to Marcus Bratter, CEO of KV Hotels which own a number of Verbier’s hotels, restaurants and bars, there was a sharp rise in the number of Swiss (both German and French) visiting the resort. With long-haul travel suffering a near complete collapse, the tourist market has shifted but so far, not shrunk. KV Hotels, such as the Cordée des Alps, are looking forward to welcoming a predominantly European clientèle this winter, employing more German-speaking staff and adding menus in German. Marcus tells us that summer bookings were very much last-minute and he expects more of the same for winter. “I think we’ll be okay… Verbier is an activity-driven destination and people still want to ski” he told us, adding that the biggest game-changer will be the government decisions around quarantine rules.

Guy Ordway, owner of Element ski school, echoes this sentiment adding that he feels very hopeful that the current situation (of self-quarantine upon entry for people entering from certain countries) will be improved by instead implementing a system of Covid-19 testing upon entry to Switzerland. He feels that pressure from business as well as the Swiss governments’ thus-far pragmatic approach to protecting the economy will power this change. Element are anticipating skiing itself will be nearly normal, made possible because ski instruction is a naturally ‘social-distancing’ activity. “We are only just going into what is typically a high booking phase so it’s hard to tell if and how business will be affected” he says. “However one interesting spin-off is that our instructor-training program in Verbier is ahead of any previous ski season”. Guy puts this down to an increased desire among young people to escape confinement and enjoy Switzerland’s relatively safe and secure environment.

Verbier is as much a ski destination as a party capital. For many visitors, one aspect is just as important as the other. With new guidelines for Valais expected to be issued in mid-October, it remains to be seen how bars and night clubs will do their business. Alan Small, who runs the Pub Mont Fort, is looking forward to more clarity and hopefully more logical rules which will relate to the number of people per square metre rather than per establishment which currently mean that a small bar can have as many patrons at one time as a large venue. “Under the current circumstances, we can survive the winter, but that’s only if people come to Verbier” he says, referring to the current two-way quarantine in place with the UK and some other countries. However, more severe restrictions than those already in place could make it impossible for bars to survive the winter.

What does the season ahead hold for the chalet companies? Natasha Robertson, co-founder of Bramble Ski, says their company is hoping for the best but planning for the worst. “We’re seeing unprecedented levels of innovation and adaptation now being built into all businesses, this is especially true of travel. For us, innovation has been about really fine-tuning our business model and we have adapted to the situation by re-working our terms and conditions to provide the reassurance our guests demand when booking a holiday”. Bramble Ski anticipates a spike in the growing trend of last-minute bookings as well as a higher demand for self-catered holidays.

Adjusting targets and being agile seems to be the most common and sensible approach for a quickly approaching winter season that is likely to be more about surviving than thriving for most stakeholders in Verbier.

March 20

It’s only been a week since the lifts ran for the last time and Verbier ‘closed’ for the season –  our mountain playground is in a state of emergency. Spring skiing, rosé on balconies, BBQ’s, end of season flings are on hold. Right now, the priority is to stay at home and do our best to help stop COVID-19. Verbier Life continues to make its internet site and social media pages available to anyone wishing to disseminate useful or important information within the Verbier Community at this time.

Not everyone is on Facebook, so we are sharing some useful posts from to share here.  Local doctor at the heart of the battle against COVID-19, Corinne Peimer Cohen,  posted a clear message,  people need to take this situation seriously and to stay at home!  

Update from your doc at Sembrancher :
1) PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE stay home. We are noticing that there is clearly a cell of infection in Verbier. The only way to stop its spread is for everyone to stay away from each other as much as possible, and for everyone to stay home as much as possible. Young, old, EVERYONE. PLEASE. As the doc who’s gonna take care of you, I’m begging you to respect this! I know it’s hard. Please do it.
2) The OFSP guidelines for how to do self-isolation and self-quarantine have been updated as of today. (1) If you feel sick, (2) if you have confirmed COVID, or (3) if you live with someone who feels sick or has COVID, you need to stay home for 10 days AND at least 48h after symptoms have resolved. “Feels sick” means any flu, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath symptoms! You do not need a fever AND cough to have COVID. I have personally tested several in the past few days who have come back positive with minor symptoms (for example, a little bit of cough but no fever).
3) Once you have read #2, it will bring you back to #1 and you will realize that YOU and YOUR HOUSEHOLD NEED TO STAY HOME
4) We are still only testing those at high risk for falling ill, those who are severely ill, and those who are in health care
5) If you’re wondering if you should call your doctor, get tested, etc, please go to coronacheck.ch and a personalized survey will guide you through based on the latest guidelines. https://coronavirus.unisante.ch/en 

March 14
By now you will all be aware that the Federal Council and the Valais State Council have introduced a series of strict measures in response to the Covid-19 virus outbreak. These measures have unfortunately led to the closure of most of the tourist services, the ski lift system, bars restaurants and shops, except the pharmacies and supermarkets.

The priority has to be applying and maintaining the new regulations, respecting recommendations on distances and hygiene to protect our more vulnerable fellow community members. But this is going to be an extremely challenging time for all of our local businesses. Verbier Life will try to continue online with articles to offer some information and articles with ideas of activities, recipe’s to help and entertain us during this challenging time.

Let’s get creative as a community and see how we can work together to get through this as best we can. Please send us your stories on how this is affecting you directly, or any ideas you have for helping the community at this time.

Please email verbierlife@verbier.ch


INFO NOTICEBOARD

UPDATE March 20 

Due to the health situation, Verbier authorities recommend that you stay at home and NOT to come to the Verbier.

People in Verbier are asked to to take part in any activities that involve risk and might lead to injury.

The Swiss government has announced a countrywide ban on gatherings of more than five people in public spaces to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Interior Minister Alain Berset said the ban would come into force at midnight Friday until April 19. People found violating the ban face a fine of CHF100.

The practice of activities that may involve risks is also to be avoided.

www.policevalais.ch

www.swissinfo.ch

Food

Most restaurants are now closing to adhere to the new governmental guidelines.

Shops

All shops with the exception of the pharmacies and supermarkets are now closed.