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So you've heard people go on and on about how much they love skiing, and you've decided it's time to join in the fun...
But how on earth do you get started? The path from civvy street to the side of a snowy Alp is not an obvious one - so here are our top tips for beginners' ski holidays and beginners' snowboard holidays.
As a beginner, don't try to organise a ski holiday yourself - you won't have a clue what kind of accommodation to book. It's much better to put yourself into the hands of a specialist tour operator, and buy a travel and accommodation package. The tour operators also have reps on hand in the resort to help you through the confusion of the first two or three days.
Stay in a catered chalet if you can. Catered chalets are mountain houses or apartments offering guest bedrooms and communal dining, laid on by the tour operator's staff. The atmosphere is usually bright and sociable, and you can pick up lots of advice from the staff and your fellow guests.
Always, always get professional ski tuition if you are a beginner. Never let your friends teach you. Before long they'll get bored and drag you down something terrifying.
When thinking about beginners' skiing tuition, do an internet search to see if there is a British or English speaking ski school in your resort (of course, not necessary in North America). Book it separately from the rest of your holiday if you find one.
Buy as little as you can for your first ski trip. These days you can even rent your ski clothing.
Safety on the slopes
Provided you book your tuition with a recognised ski school, skiing beginners don't have much to worry about. They won't be travelling fast enough to really hurt themselves. The trouble comes when they are dragged around the mountain by their over-enthusiastic friends once the class is over. It's best to stick to the nursery slopes and practise your skiing there.
Snowboarders need to be a bit more careful. If they make a mistake, they're far more likely to fall heavily on their tail bone, wrists or head. It's best to buy the protective gear suggested below before you leave the UK.
With the European season lasting from December to early April, when is the best time for your beginners' ski holiday?
Very roughly, the ski season in the northern hemisphere runs from the end of November until the end of April. The busiest and most expensive times are over New Year, during February half term and over Easter. Avoid them if at all possible (if you must go during the school holidays, Christmas is cheaper).
All things considered, January is the best time for skiing beginners as it's cheap and the slopes are quiet (as everyone recovers from the expense of the holidays). It's cold too, which means the snow should be in good shape.
If you are going to get the most out of your trip, then you really must get some lessons. You'll learn the skills to start you off in style...
First thing is to get fit. As a skiing beginner, you won't be going fast enough to give yourself a proper workout, but you'll still progress much more quickly if you're in good shape. Concentrate on your cardio-vascular fitness, your legs and your core strength. Running and cycling are good ways to prepare, so too are sit-ups and squats.
It's also worth sneaking in some early skiing lessons. There are five real-snow indoor ski slopes in the UK, and many more outdoor 'dry' slopes (many of which actually use water to improve the skiing surface). A programme of lessons in any one of them will give you a head start on your fellow classmates in the mountains.
There's no need to buy an extensive complete set of brand new equipment for your first holiday. This is what we recommend...
You'll be able to hire boots and skis, or a snowboard, in the resort. You can also rent ski clothing in the UK or borrow a jacket and trousers from friends. If you need to buy it, then check out online auction sites or high street discount stores for discounted gear. Other items you'll need are:
• Goggles. Otherwise you won't see a thing if it snows.
• Gloves. Or you'll never keep warm.
• A woolly hat or a helmet. At this early stage a helmet is far more important for a snowboarder than a skier.
• Snowboarders also need wrist guards or at least a pair of gloves with built-in wrist protectors. And they will be really thankful for some kind of bum protection too - either a piece of camping mat cut to fit down their trousers, or a special pair of padded shorts.
• Swimwear. This is something most people forget, but there are great pools at most resorts and a Jacuzzi is a great way to rest those tired muscles after a hard day on the slopes.
Also remember to take plenty of pairs of socks (ski and snowboard boots are very smelly), as well as fleeces, and some old jumpers with which to layer up if it gets cold.