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October 17, 2017
Swishing down snowy slopes against a magnificent mountain backdrop, with the wind in your hair, and the sun on your face…
Let’s be honest. If you’re skiing or snowboarding for the first time, you’re more likely to be on your bum after falling over again – particularly on the first day, writes Jessica Bown.
You’ll still have that incredible view though, as well as soft, fluffy snow to cushion your falls. And who knows? With lessons and plenty of practice, you could be whizzing around like an expert by the end of the week.
Improve your chances of success by checking out our pick of the best European resorts for beginners, and following our top tips for an unforgettable first ski holiday.
The ideal resort for a first-time ski or snowboard trip should have fabulous nursery slopes, excellent ski schools and lots of wide, gentle pistes for you to progress on to when you are ready. The pretty, traditional Austrian village of Obergurgl has all that and more.
Nestled in the Otzal Valley, this charming, family-friendly resort is one of the highest and most snow-sure ski villages in Europe. It has more than its fair share of English-speaking instructors, who will be happy to share their passion for winter sports with you. And once you feel confident enough to leave the nursery slopes behind, you can explore the ski area’s numerous blue runs – perfect for taking in the amazing views.
Off the slopes, Obergurgl also has lots of lovely hotels to choose from, while activities on offer include sledging and night skiing.
Relaxed and friendly, Arinsal in northwest Andorra is a wonderful place to learn to ski. Its ski school has a great reputation and was one of the first European schools to be approved by the British Association of Snowsport Instructors (BASI). The resort’s gently sloping pistes are perfect for beginners – especially if you stick to the designated families and new skiers area at first.
Further afield, the Vallnord ski area, which also covers the linked resort of Pal and the nearby Arcalis, offers a variety of runs suitable for skiers of all levels.
You won’t be bored after a day’s skiing in this lively, yet family-oriented town.
The restaurant scene is very varied for a ski resort: choose from tapas, Mexican, Italian or even Argentinian. And there are plenty of buzzing bars to enjoy a bit of duty-free Andorran après-ski.
You’ll be in good company if you choose Courchevel for your first ski holiday.
This French resort is where Prince William and his wife Kate took their little ones last year. You don’t have to be loaded to take advantage of the resort’s perfectly groomed beginner slopes, though.
While the rich and famous head to Courchevel 1850, the highest level of the resort, the best place for beginners is actually just below in Courchevel Moriond (1650).
Popular with families and groups of friends, it has a festive feel and offers direct access to two nursery slopes, a kids’ garden for the tots, and a large ski area – some 60% of which is suitable for beginners.
It’s a great choice if you are travelling with more experienced skiers, who can easily zip off to explore the rest of the Three Valleys – an immense and varied ski area that also includes the resorts of Meribel and Val Thorens.
Other activities include bowling, horse-drawn sleigh rides and swimming at the new Aquamotion complex, complete with spa, water slides and an indoor climbing wall.
The setting for several scenes from the James Bond classic “For Your Eyes Only”, Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Dolomites has one of the best ski areas for beginners in all of Italy. Easy slopes, breath-taking views and Italian hospitality… There’s everything you need – whether you are travelling with family or friends. It’s pretty chic as ski resorts go; past visitors include George Clooney and Naomi Campbell.
But the vibe is laidback, and very international – you’ll hear Russian, Japanese and Swedish, as well as English and Italian, during your stay.
The resort is also blessed with a fantastic ski school: the first to open in Italy, it offers excellent ski and boarding lessons for all ages. After hours, you can try ice-skating, snowshoeing, or simply relax in the resort’s many cafes and bars.
Ski holiday essentials include a warm, waterproof jacket and trousers, waterproof gloves, goggles and a wooly hat. All that kit is expensive, though, so why not see if you can borrow it from friends and family? If not, you can keep costs down by buying from discount clothes stores such as TK Maxx and Primark.
Booking your ski equipment in advance is usually cheaper than visiting a hire shop on arrival, so save time and money by shopping around online.
The weather can change very quickly in the mountains. It’s also a lot colder on exposed chairlifts than on sunny lunchtime terraces. So take a rucksack for extra clothes – or layers you no longer need. You can also use it to carry a picnic and avoid the sky-high prices in mountain restaurants.
Lift passes are not cheap. In many resorts, the cost for a week is several hundred pounds. But nursery-slope draglifts are often free, meaning beginners can get by without a ski pass at all – at least for the first few days. Some ski areas also offer mini passes that cover just the green and blue runs. So check before you buy.
All those experts whizzing past you can be scary when you’re learning, while swerving around other beginners can also be a challenge at first! Avoid the crowds by hitting the pistes between midday and 2pm, when most people take a break for lunch.
Most people want to ski in the morning, so ski schools offer discounts to those who take their lessons after 2pm. You can often save up to 20% on a two-hour private lesson – ideal for honing your newfound skills.
A standard travel insurance policy will not cover you for skiing and snowboarding.
So you need winter sports cover, which can be added to both single-trip and annual policies for an extra charge. You should also make sure you have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which allows you access to state-provided healthcare in all European Economic Area (EEA) countries and Switzerland.