Report: The 20/21 Ski Season in Europe (Ep.166)

Blacksheep Sports' Sebastian Steinbach goes on the Blister Podcast to discuss the 20/21 ski / snowboard season in Europe, how it went, and his predictions for the 21/22 season.
photo by Sebastian Steinbach


We’ve talked quite a bit on Blister about the ski season in North America, but I wanted to get a clearer sense of how the season went down in Europe, where for a whole bunch of reasons, things were far more complex.

So I spoke with Sebastian Steinbach, the owner of Blacksheep Sports in Munich, Germany. Not only is Sebastian a European ski shop owner, he spent a good bit of time traveling back and forth between Munich and Kitzbühel, Austria.

So in this conversation we get a recap of the European ski season, we revisit some of the predictions that Sebastian had made prior to this ski season, and we get his early predictions for what he thinks this next ski season will look like in Europe.

TOPICS & TIMES:

  • Lockdowns in Europe at the start of the season (3:14)
  • Backcountry skiing during Covid (10:18)
  • Avoiding outbreaks moving forward (25:51)
  • The financial state of ski resorts & ski shops (35:55)
  • Predictions for next season (42:41)

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3 comments on “Report: The 20/21 Ski Season in Europe (Ep.166)”

  1. It’s interesting to hear Sebastien’s perspective on European skiing and Covid. Switzerland came up a few times in the conversation, and while it wasn’t exactly a grey area it does have a different context. Skiing is BIG here, but tourism is less significant (2.9% of GDP compared to 6.5% in Austria and 8% in France). Switzerland is widely perceived as more expensive so its skiers tend to live here. Rather than cultivating “après culture” we just go home for supper. Lifts stopped running at some of the more tourist-oriented resorts over xmas holidays, but that was it for closures.

    My anecdotal experience is that of a weekday skier so 3 people on a 6-person chair is plenty even when there’s no pandemic. This year did seem quieter though. I heard that more people were out skinning one Saturday. I suspect that some quietness also had to do with a general inertia. With so much else being closed and people being told to not travel or gather gratuitously they just found other stuff to do. Skiing in Switzerland has a much greater social component than in Canada (BC) where I am from. With the highest percentage of skiers in Europe (I suppose that means in the world) it makes sense that there are different levels of gung-ho.

  2. Jonathan
    Our season here in Europe normally starts with high glaciers in mid-October such as in France (Tigne), Austria (Solden), Italy (Passo Tonale), Switzerland (Diavolezza) where the fervent, fanatics come for that early season fix and many national teams for pre-season training. This 20-21 European season was actually quite good, but only with lift serviced skiing for us in Switzerland (primarily Engadine Valley at 1850m base to 3300m and Splugen Pass) this season due to Covid19 and short 1h30m proximity to our base in the Italian pre-alps). Fortunately, with a prevalence of southern storms in early Nov2020 to late April2021, we were blessed in the Engadine with very good snow quality, abundant powder days and many of them bluebird; and no real dry spells this year. Add the Covid19 distancing protocols, less travelers and voila – conditions like inbounds lift-serviced heliskiing. I remember being only two or three of us on black and blue pistes with 30cm underfoot, virtually no visibility except the tips of neon piste markers to guide us like bright connecting dots as the sky puked powder and covered our tracks the whole day. Imagine hekiskiing with no visibility down lines marked by neon lights to guide your way – very unique and special sensation. On some days, the clouds would break from time to time and the sun would light up the valley and mountain so gloriously…wow! But you must trust the line and mountain management that the pistes are clear ie no cords, cables, debris; Swiss and Austrian piste preparation is very disciplined and tops and I wouldn’t do this in France or Italy.

    All Italian resorts were closed except for opening weekend at Cervinia after which on Monday the government closed down all lift services countrywide. Early season we did a fair amount of randonee day tours in Passo Tonale which had a 6m base. considered going to but never made it this season to two of my freeride favorites – Engelberg and Andermatt (both with 4m+ bases and probably two of the most consistently snow-sure ski domains in the world as they accumulate snow from all systems because of their altitudes, geographic location in central Swiss Alps and their special topographical orientations.

    Peace, Love & Powder

  3. Always good to hear from Sebastian. Living in Switzerland has definitely been something to be grateful for this ski season. Like PLP1 above I have had a great season. Started in October at Glacier3000 (or July in Saas Fee depending upon how you define ‘season’) and managed a normal number of days despite not skiing in Dec and Jan and not having the usual ski test weekends or trips with friends. Some great snow and some not so good but no complaints. Have been lucky enough to ski mostly during the week and have deliberately avoided weekends where possible. Late season snow has been great and had a brilliant few days in Lenk in mid-March during a storm. Saw maybe 25 people all day (not just cos of the low viz!) and had a ball on and off piste as the piste bashers could not keep up with grooming overnight and the pistes had 20cms+ of powder on them. Skied mostly Adelboden/Lenk, Meiringen and Glacier 3000. I would say that 80%+ of my time in gondolas and on chairs has been alone, so much so that anytime anyone shares one with me it feels like a bit of an affront! Quite a bit of snow in the last few days and so Glacier3000 has just extended their season to 9th May so will be getting in on some of that. After that the top of Engelberg (Titlis) is open to end of May – it will be an odd season where I don’t go to Engelberg until May! The one downside to this season is that my daughter is studying in another country so have not skied a day with her and most of my ski buddies are also in other countries so every day has been on my own. I recognise that this is a first world problem and am definitely not complaining.

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