Learn to Ski Here: Top tips and the best resorts for newbies
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Last winter a friend of mine was invited to go skiing with a group of people that included a man she was very interested in. She immediately conjured up scenes of drinking whisky-spiked cocoa with him in front of an open-fire. Unfortunately she'd never been skiing before. And while everyone insisted that there was a great ski school in their resort, it turned out that this was not one of the best places in the world to learn to ski, and she was too stiff to enjoy the romantic après ski she was dreaming of.
To help other lovelorn non-skiers and those who have yet to learn, as well as parents wanting their progeny to develop 'snow legs' while they're young, my friend shared some tips with me about what hindsight, and her ski instructor, told her about learning to ski.
It's teamed here with a list of the best ski resorts to learn in.
1. Choose a destination that has runs suitable for all members of your group – nothing is more off putting for beginners than having to travel miles to the slopes or trying to master a mountain that's just too steep.
2. Get a few lessons before you go if you can – even if it only means you know how to tie up your own boots, it's still better than nothing, especially if you're an adult learner.
3. Get a package that includes gear hire and lift passes. There's nothing worse than trying to hire gear when you're not even really sure what you need. Most ski schools will be able to help you out, though without buying an all inclusive deal you could end up having to pay more if you need to hire at the slopes. Some resorts have lift passes that just access the beginner slopes – why pay for more if you're not going to use it.
4. Green means beginner run. Blue means intermediate. Black - forget it!
5. Practice, and practice falling – sideways is best, and if you're about to crash into something, or someone, fall rather than swerve.
Best places to learn to ski in Europe
Zürs is closer to the nursery slopes, but there's an assortment of gentle pistes out of Lech as well, so this is a good resort to improve in, too. The mix of run challenges makes this a good place of groups of mixed ability. Lech also benefits from a lot of charm, both natural and man made, the village is pretty and the surrounds could make it onto the lid of a chocolate box.
English speaking instructors are advertised by most ski schools, and there are all sorts of all inclusive packages for both kids and older learners.
Cortina is great for beginners because as well as having extensive nursery slopes and long, gently cruising beginner runs, they're also the closest runs to the town, so while more advanced skiers may have their days fragmented by bus and lift trips, beginners suffer less interruption. The best beginner runs are around Socrapes and the schools based round there have a good reputation.
The real reasons to choose this resort, for skiers of all levels, is the backdrop – the best-described-by-photograph Dolomites, and the glamorous visitors. Milan's finest ski here so the resort's facilities are not just top notch, they're also elegant.
Beginners can ski right around the resort, but there are more beginner runs and two nursery areas a short bus ride up from the village round El Tarter, which is also where all the best ski schools are. Most of the other runs are at intermediate level, so there are lots of progression opportunities.
The weather is also reliably good, which always helps.
This is one of the largest ski fields in France, with plenty of choice for beginners and intermediates. The nursery slopes are just above the main resort village and the beginner's lift is free – and short. Most of the accommodation in Les Arcs you can ski right up to the door of. The high altitude means reliable snow cover and even better it's a pretty nice looking resort – in case you find you're not enjoying skiing as much as you thought you would. As well as choices for intermediates, including some really long runs to try, there's also piste and off piste options for your more advanced skiers, so they're not going to come watch you and put you off.
If you haven't heard of Bansko here are the basics: it's pretty, the surrounding area is World Heritage listed, it's recently been given an overhaul and has a new modern lift system, and free buses to the main lift station, yet it's still inexpensive.
The ski school has a good reputation and offers all inclusive learn to ski packages. The choice of nursery slopes has easy lift links and if you master the basics there's a 16km intermediate run from the top of the mountain to the bottom that confident beginners are encouraged to try as a rite of passage.
The beautiful Carpathian Mountains are the backdrop for two nursery areas, now linked together by a new lift system. But even before that Poiana Brasov was often recommended as a good place to learn to ski – because the schools have good reputations and the resort is cheap. There's also a lot to do nearby, this is Dracula country, after all - for when you're off the slopes. This stuff, and the low prices, are what help win Poiana Brasov the title of 'family-friendly' resort.
Tignes is a high altitude resort so gets the snow cover, even on the nursery slopes which are quite close to the resort village. There's more nursery options a short bus or lift ride away. Tignes is big on other wintersports as well, and is also known for its lively aprés ski, so there's plenty to keep busy.
This resort is in a spectacular spot right beneath the Eiger, with views of the Jungfrau and the Mönsch Mountains. The ski school has a good reputation and Switzerland is known for its friendly, multi-lingual schools, but there are also lots of other wintersports facilities in Wengen to have a go at while you're trying new things: skating? Dog sledding? Bobsleigh?
Châtel's schools have a good reputation, and the resort has a large swathe of potential beginner slopes for learners to explore. It also has a reputation for looking after families: i.e. providing plenty of alternative entertainment, inexpensive accommodation and good facilities for the less lesson-worthy wintersports. Kids as young as three can start learning at Les Marmottons where they have a ski kindergarten.
Châtel is part of the Portes du Soleil, the world's largest ski region, so there's plenty of scope for varied talents and experience. It also gets some of the most consistent snow coverage in the Alps. And it has a glacier. And a pretty village.
The gentle slopes of the Gschwandtkopf is the main area for beginners, where there's a very highly regarded ski school, but after conquering the beginner slopes there's another 1000 feet of vertical slopes to cover – don't worry, there's a quad chair to spirit you up to the top and get you started.
Saas Fee is very well suited to beginners, who can enjoy a selection of gentle blue runs, having practised on the quiet nursery slopes, which are just on the edge of the pretty village. A Beginner's Pass gives learners access to the short lifts in this area without paying for access to the rest of the resort, and when novices are ready to go higher they can still get up to the gentle blue runs on Felskinn or Längfluh. Taking the Alpin Express gondola home.
There's plenty for non-skiers to do, including tobogganing, trail walking, or paragliding for the more adventurous - which can translate to being good for families, or groups with varied abilities.
Stateside: Learn to ski in North America
Buttermilk sounds friendly doesn't it?– almost as if you fall it won't hurt. It's supposed to, it's been designed with beginners in mind – so the trails are wide and the slopes gentle, the opposite to most of Aspen – though they probably couldn't do anything about hurting when you fall over. Panda Peak sticks with the friendly sounding names, and is probably the best place to get started, a short double chairlift away from the main slopes and the lodges, it's got a nice, gentle, well covered slope. West Buttermilk has tree trails designed for beginners and kids, and picnic tables.
Buttermilk is also set up with snowboarders in mind – it's got one of the world's longest terrain parks with a full two miles worth of rails, pipes, a superpipe and more, including a good swathe dedicated to beginner boarders. There's a beginner pipe at Panda Peak.
Killington's ski school has an especially good reputation when it comes to teaching older beginners – the +16 age group that is. Some of the programmes there have been running for more than 40 years, which is encouraging. There's plenty of nursery slopes to take your lessons on – once you've mastered not falling over you can enjoy varied views of this resort's seven peaks – and some scenic, and wide, intermediate runs.
Hunter Mountain is easy to reach from New York and New Jersey – about two and a half hours drive - it has 55 runs over 240 acres of skiable terrain, accessed by 11 lifts.
Hunter Mountain's school encourages people who are older – even into their 70s and 80s – to learn to ski, making the point that apart from the falling over bit, this sport is good for all ages. The lifts are supposed to have been made especially user friendly for this group, which bodes well for families also, and with 30% of all the runs here most suited to beginners, there's quite a bit of space for these different age groups to learn without running into each other.
This resort boasts the highest skiable peak in the Catskill Mountains, and with that comes the reliable snow cover and the promise of long downhill trails, but it's not yet as popular as some of the other Catskills resorts. It doesn't quite have the off slopes action of the other resorts, but it's not really lacking anything that lessens the quality of the skiing.
Belleayre's proximity to New York is one of the reasons it has a reputation as being a good place to learn to ski. The lack of crowds help, as do the long, smooth runs, especially those at the bottom of the mountains between the Lower and Upper Lodges, and there are some good blue standard runs ideal for graduating beginners.
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