2020 is over, but the coronavirus is still around. The white winter wonderland beckons despite the situation the world is in. So if you are missing the vast expanse of snow that you head to every year on your favourite mountain, a visit to a fondue hut, or have plans to learn skiing for the first time ….. here is more on what is still permissible this winter season. Enjoy the Swiss winter, while keeping within the guidelines and staying responsible.

Winter in Switzerland is glorious! And within the limits of regulations owing to the current pandemic, it can still be enjoyed.

On December 18, 2020 and then again on January 18, 2021, the Swiss Federal government announced rules that effectively closed restaurants (keeping takeaways open), museums, zoos, and many other indoor attractions. With the changing rules and regulations, it can be a confusing time for many who like to indulge in sport or winter experiences and are not sure what is permitted and what remains open.

My family and I had several questions before venturing on a staycation over the Christmas break – what were the risks of venturing on a staycation? What was open, and what, not? What measures would the property be taken to try to ensure the safety of its guests and staff?

Whether you are planning an overnight break or a day trip to your favourite ski area, or simply want to take in the sights through the windows of a panoramic train, here are some guidelines to keep in mind for early 2021:
(Please note that as the situation evolves, and the BAG and Federal Government adapts to the changing need of the moment, these rules would likely be amended by late February 2021 )

How can I plan a staycation this winter?

Most hotels and guest accommodations are open, although there are strict rules about what guests can or cannot do in the hotel or resort premises. Stick to protocol, follow the rules laid out by the Federal Government and individual cantons and stay safe. Check with the hotel you’re staying at regarding services that may be unavailable and the ones with limitations or entry restrictions.

Here are some key points that you will have to keep in mind:

  • All hotels and accommodation will ask you to refrain from staying with them if you have experienced symptoms of illness in the last few days that are indicative of respiratory disease.
  • Distancing guidelines and limitations to entry to pools, libraries, lounges, wellness areas will be specified by the hotel. For example, some hotels will require that you register in advance to avail of the facilities.
  • Most people are unaware that restaurants at resorts or hotels remain open for hotel guests – despite stand-alone restaurants being closed in most parts of the country. However, external guests at hotel restaurants are not permitted.
  • Wellness and Spas – Hotels are allowed to keep their spas and wellness centres open to hotel guests, with strict guidelines for protection.

Can I still travel around Switzerland?

Travel is not restricted, and public transport services operate according to the normal timetable. It is mandatory to wear masks above the age of 12, in public transport and in all public spaces where it is not possible to keep a distance – including in train stations, platforms, waiting areas, etc.

How about Panoramic train journeys?

Some of these train journeys are closed until January 21 or have limited services. For example, the Bernina Express will only be running to and from Campocologno, instead of all the way to Lugano. Others, like the Glacier Express, have completely ceased operations until January 21, 2021.

Some are operational, such as The GoldenPass Panoramic train; however, the on-board catering service has been stopped.

Photo of a train compartment in Switzerland

Source: SBB


What about ski areas, mountain railways, ski schools?

Ski areas (e.g. transport installations with ski slopes) may only be opened if authorised by the canton. The criteria for a canton to grant authorisation include, in particular, the availability of the necessary capacity in healthcare facilities and an epidemiological situation that permits the opening of the ski areas. Operators of ski areas must implement stringent precautionary measures, including the mandatory wearing of masks in both the transport installations and the waiting areas for these installations. The closure of restaurant businesses also applies in ski areas.

Some cantons – such as Lucerne, Schwyz, St Gallen, Zurich among others – have opted to stay closed. However, sports such as winter hiking, cross-country skiing, sledding are still permitted in these cantons. Make sure you reserve your activities in advance!

Ski areas have strict hygiene and safety measures, as do the mountain railways. Masks (above the age of 12) are compulsory not only in the closed cable car cabins but also on open-air lifts (chair lifts, drag lifts) and in all queuing areas. As with everything else, entry to the ski areas with Covid-19 symptoms is not allowed. In case of a Covid-19 -induced-lockdown, many ski resorts offer a pro-rated refund on ski passes.

Contactless is the way to go for this season! Tickets are recommended to be purchased online wherever possible. Contactless payments are urged if you are paying on-site. You can also pay for parking using the Sepp App, which allows you to pay parking fees in several cities and ski areas in Switzerland.

All closed cabins and gondolas are operating at a maximum of 2/3rd capacity. This applies to seating and standing room. If you are planning a trip to the ski areas, take a look at this report by Switzerland Tourism on what remains open. Ski schools have restrictions to the number of adults or children permitted in group lessons, and you are advised to check with the ski schools regarding restrictions for the season.

In summary, you can still head to the Swiss Alps for fresh air, feel the crunch of snow and marvel at the white vistas, as long as you follow the rules of the Federal government, respective cantons, ski area, hotel/resort – and be socially responsible.
Have safe and happy months of winter in early-2021!

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed belong solely to the writer. Rules, regulations and offerings are subject to change with time. Namaste Switzerland does not undertake any financial/reputational/legal/misrepresentational or other obligation or liability. Please note: systems and laws change.