Fear of making an idiot of yourself is the single biggest turn-off for beginner skiers, so here are ten things to do before your first ski holiday.
Here is our fully updated guide:
1. Don’t Buy: Borrow
You want to look good, right? You want a knock-out suit that might possibly distract from your less-than-pretty ski technique? Perhaps you’ve got your eye on a Prada all-in-one?
Well, put your credit card away this instant. The golden rule of ski wear for beginners is this. Don’t buy: borrow. This goes for men, too. Even if it means wearing your neighbour’s fading all-in-one from way back when. After a few days on the slopes you may decide, as some people do (though we can’t understand why), that skiing is not for you. And you will be stuck with an outfit you’ll never wear again and a hefty bill.
So borrow as much as you can – gloves, hat, fleece, goggles, sunglasses, ski helmet. Do buy your own thermals though, and ski socks (who likes to borrow socks?). Stores like Ellis Brigham and Snow+Rock have a good selection of base layers and socks.
2. Book a Chalet, Not a Self-Catering Apartment
Ski holidays can be dirt cheap – especially if you book a self-catering apartment. But I wouldn’t suggest a self-catering holiday for beginners. A ski resort is a pretty baffling place if you’ve never been to one before, and the way to learn the ropes is to book yourself into a catered ski chalet (or chalet-hotel) run by a British company. In a catered chalet you get not just breakfast, tea, unlimited wine, and six out of seven dinners laid on.
You also get the services of the resort manager to guide you to the ski hire centre and the nursery slopes; as well as the advice of chalet staff and other guests about the best bars and mountain restaurants.
For the first trip, it’s also a good idea to book a chalet company that offers chartered flights and transfers too. That way, you won’t have to worry about driving up to the ski resort yourself.
Bear in mind before you book a trip that the price of a week can vary dramatically. Avoid school holidays if you can (especially the Three Valleys at half-term), and instead target the last three weeks of January or early March. You’ll save yourself a small fortune in the process.
You can make further savings if you shop around for early or late-booking discounts. But don’t be guided entirely by price – you need to make sure your resort is beginner-friendly by cross-referencing with our resort reports.
By the way, if there are no chalet holidays available in your chosen resort, then pick a hotel as close to the ski school meeting point as you can afford – and book it through a tour operator with a good reputation for the quality of its resort staff, such as Inghams.
3. Tell your Friends and Family They Won’t Be Teaching You
A lot of adults learn on holidays organised by friends and/or family who can already ski. If you are one of them, then don’t, don’t, DON’T let them be your ski instructors. Pretty soon, they’ll get bored of teaching you the basics and drag you to the top of a vertiginous slope with the dread words, “you’ll be fine”. If you don’t actually hurt yourself, you’ll be so freaked out by the experience you probably won’t want to leave the chalet again until the transfer bus comes to take you back to the airport.
The only way to learn is to book yourself into ski school. The luxury option is to have private classes. Some people will find the unremitting focus on them (and their mistakes) claustrophobic. But most thrive on this kind of attention and make rapid progress.
The cost of private lessons can, however, be astronomical (especially in the A-list French resorts, although private tuition in Italian resorts is notably cheaper). The cheaper option is to join a five- or six-day course of group lessons, with classes in the morning and free time after lunch to practise what you have learnt. You should enrol for the course at the same time as you book your holiday, but don’t just blindly book the ski school offered by your tour operator.
4. Get Fit
The last thing you want is to spend hundreds of pounds on a ski holiday, only to find you are too tired to get out of bed on the third morning of the trip. Taken in isolation, the snowplough – the classic beginner’s manoeuvre – is not demanding. But it is if you practise it over and over again for six hours a day, at altitude, for an entire week. The only way to make sure you have the energy – both physical and mental – to enjoy the experience is get in shape long before you hit the slopes.
Non gym-bunnies, don’t panic. There are lots of ways to get your heart rate up and strengthen those leg muscles in your every day routine: take the stairs instead of lifts or escalators; cycle or power walk to work instead of driving; when eating your morning porridge, swap the breakfast table for a spot against your living room wall – press your back flat against the wall, and holding the position with your legs bent at 90 degrees (“bend ze knees!”), see how long you can stay there. (If it’s less than 10 seconds, well, you need to climb more stairs.)
If you are serious about building your ski fitness, we’ve got a great fitness plan for that. I recommend that you start working out 12 weeks before the beginning of your holiday.
5. Practice on an Indoor Ski Slope
The sooner you can get from wobbly snowplough to linked, parallel(ish) turns, the more fun you will have on holiday. One of the best ways to speed up the process is to visit one of Britain’s indoor real snow centres before you go.
Essentially, these are giant fridges which make their own snow – and they provide a pretty authentic surface on which to make your first turns. Admittedly, the slopes can be very short. But on your first two days in a ski resort you won’t be let loose on anything bigger – and all you need is a bit of space to get used to skis and ski boots, and master the snowplough.
The more time you can get on the snow, the better – so book a day-long course or a programme of lessons if you can. A taster session will usually include tuition and equipment.
Britain’s indoor snow centres are The Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead, SnowDome in Tamworth , Chill Factore in Manchester , The SNO!zone centres in Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire, Castleford in West Yorkshire and Braehead in Glasgow.
6. Watch Videos
There is nothing better to get you in the mood for your trip than by watching videos of skiers having buckets of fun, as they float through powder, weave through trees, and glide down rolling open pistes.
Okay, so you’re not going to get anywhere near that kind of skiing by the end of the week – but you have to know what your ultimate destination is, don’t you?
Make sure you pick videos where the weather is perfect (cloudless sky, big sun), and ones where the skier makes it look effortlessly easy. Most resort websites have videos on their homepage, or simply search powder skiing or piste skiing on YouTube, sit back and enjoy.
My husband believes that there is one video that every skier – from beginners to pros – should watch: The Blizzard of Aahhh’s. It’s a 1988 movie created by legendary filmmaker Greg Stump, which paved the way for modern extreme ski films. It embodies the spirit of skiing – how it’s about good, old-fashioned fun.
Oh yes, and try not to watch too many videos of ski crashes.
7. Avoid Contact With Anti-Skiers
There are generally two kinds of naysayers. The first group comprises largely of snowboarders, some of whom still insist that their sport is cooler than skiing. To get them to shut up, remind them that most young guns in the Alps switched back from snowboarding to skiing about 15 years ago – and that anyone who thinks otherwise must be seriously out of touch.
The second group is predominantly made up of people (cowards) who have never tried skiing, but have deemed it too cold, too overpriced, and too dangerous.
Firstly, yes it is cold (La Brevine, nicknamed the Siberia of Switzerland, holds the record for the lowest temperature ever recorded in Switzerland, a bone-chilling -41.8°C). But if it wasn’t cold there wouldn’t be any snow, would there? Besides, you don’t spend a ski holiday lying about naked in the snow – you take lots of exercise, protected by multiple layers of clothing. Getting too hot is usually far more of a problem than freezing.
Secondly, skiing needn’t be expensive. The next time someone bleats on about skiing only being for the super rich, tell them about the deals you can get to little-known resorts like La Norma or St Jean d’Arves with tour operators like Erna Low.
And finally – remember, skiing is only as dangerous as you want to make it. You can drop big cliffs, ski in avalanche-prone areas, and weave in and out of trees at speed if you want to. But you can also cruise gentle groomed pistes, wearing a helmet and following all the rules of the road.
That’s the beauty of skiing – you can move at your own pace and ultimately, you decide where you want to go.
8. Take a Backpack
The weather changes in the mountains, all the time. To familiarise yourself with its many moods, keep an eye on our snow report and weather forecast, as well as checking out webcams in your chosen resort from time to time.
That way, you’ll avoid the usual mistake of dressing for the weather you wake up to, and nothing else. Yes, it may be a pleasant +3C in the sunshine when you leave the chalet, but if the cloud comes down and the wind picks up it could be -13C in an instant. It works the other way too: you dress for a blizzard, the sun come out, and you sweat out what feels like half your body weight.
The only way to cope with the changes, is to carry a backpack. Always pack spare clothing (unless you are wearing it all), as well as something to drink. You can of course carry your lunch too – and save yourself a fortune in the mountain restaurants.
If you don’t already have a good backpack, Snow+Rock and Ellis Brigham have all the top brands, from Camelbak to Black Diamond. When you buy, make sure your pack has a waistband, and strap at chest height that connects the two shoulder straps. You’ll need these to stop the pack from flapping about when you get more active.
9. Learn Some Newschool Lingo
If you want to blend in with the cool kids, you are going to need to learn the lingo. This is dependent on where you go. For example, Canadian skier dialect is an entirely different language to that of English skiers in the Alps.
If you are heading to Whistler, try and incorporate some of these words into your chair-lift chit-chat: “gnarly” (intense); “haggard” (ugly/difficult); “it’s pukin’ down” (snowing hard); “tabernak” (*&£@$!).
However, if you are heading to say, Les Deux Alpes, here are some of the generic terms you’ll need: “sick” (great); “stoked” (psyched); “stomped” (landed a jump well); “pow” (deep snow) “freshies” (skiing virgin snow); “dude” (ol’ chap). Try combinations, for example: “Sick, dude, you totally stomped that. Now let’s go find some freshies.” Impressive, hey?
If you find yourself near a snow park and want to comment on a skier’s multi-spin trick, but haven’t the foggiest how many times they spun, here is a useful tip: as long as you pick a number which is divisible by 180, you’ll be fine. For example 180, 360, 540, 720, and so on. So, you could say, “Woah, sick 540!” – in all honesty the skiers themselves lose count after the first spin, so any number will do.
10. Marry Someone Rich
If a French apartment just doesn’t cut the mustard, and you want an uber-luxury chalet, all bells and whistles, and instead of budget coach transfers you want to be whisked to the mountains by private jet, then there’s only one thing for it: marry someone rich.
Then you could splash out on week’s stay at the super-luxurious Marco Polo, which sleeps ten adults and four children, has an indoor pool covered in gold leaf designed by Christain Lacroix, hot tub, steam room and massage room, gym, an interactive racing car game for eight adults, and its own telecabine featuring as a ski boot room. Or, if he, or she, has a few hundred million knocking around you could even buy your own pad, in somewhere like Aspen or Jackson Hole.
If possible, try and find someone with money, who is also a qualified ski instructor too – it’s a surefire way to improve your skiing, as they’ll constantly be giving you tips on your technique in a bid to get to look as good as they do.
Try and find someone who is really hot, too. Someone, for example, like Toni ‘the Body’ Betschart. Switzerland’s Sexiest Ski Instructor. We can’t vouch for Toni’s finances, but with a body like his, who cares?
Over To You
Of course, there are plenty of other little tricks for beginner skiers that can make all the difference. If you’ve recently been on your first trip, or if you’re an experienced ski bum, I’d love to hear about the advice you’d give a novice. Tell us in the comments box below, on our Facebook page or @welove2ski on Twitter.