Choosing the best ski resorts for beginners depends a lot on your holiday priorities. Austria, Switzerland, and Norway have Christmas card-style villages with plenty of atmosphere. France has the convenience of ski-in, ski-out accommodation, but many of the ski resorts in the French Alps are short on ambience. Andorra, rather than Eastern Europe, is the most attractive budget option. North America is more expensive, but the standard of tuition is extremely high and the fact that it is in your own language is a real bonus. Wherever you go, chalets are more convenient than apartments (unless you’re happy to cook or eat out every evening), or if you prefer to stay in a hotel, pick one as close to the ski school meeting point as you can afford.
1. Mayrhofen, Austria – Gentle Runs
You have to ride a lift to reach the slopes in Mayrhofen: but that’s the only drawback in a town that will suit young, nightlife-loving beginners perfectly. On one side of the valley are the nursery slopes – on the mountain called Penken. They’re set apart from the other pistes, so you’ll make your early turns without having to worry about experts bombing past you at Mach2. On the other side of the valley is the Ahorn, a small area of gentle runs which is blissfully under-used and is the exactly the kind of easy-going area you need to practice your first parallel turns. Plus, it’s home to two cracking bars: an igloo-with-deckchairs called the White Lounge, and the Freiraum – a sleek concrete box set right on the edge of the mountain. You won’t have to go far to relax when your muscles are burning.
2. Telluride, Colorado – Easy Slopes and Excellent Instructors
From a British perspective, it’s a pain in the a**e to get to. But it’s well worth the effort, and the expense. Telluride is the world’s cutest ski resort – an old mining town, (where Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank), wedged into a deep and spectacular canyon, and blessed with an unhurried, end-of-the-road atmosphere. From a beginner’s perspective, the skiing is superb. There are several easy beginner ski slopes – including one long one, winding gently through the trees, through 1800 vertical feet – and the ski school is staffed with highly-motivated, painstaking instructors. Tuition is cheap, too, considering lift ticket and equipment hire is included in the price.
3. Courchevel 1650, France – Quiet Slopes and Good Grooming
The pistes in parts of Courchevel can get unpleasantly over-crowded – but not over at Courchevel 1650, the remotest of the resort’s constituent villages. Here there’s plenty of room, and little in the way of skiing traffic. Even better, it’s the stronghold of British ski school New Generation which started life here.
4. Breckenridge, Colorado – North America Made Easy
In general, Colorado is a great place to learn – thanks to high standards in the ski schools, the go-for-it attitude, and slopes which tend to be gentler than their Alpine counterparts. If you are British, Breckenridge is the most accessible of all the resorts here – a couple of hours from Denver airport, which is served by direct flights from the UK. The long, gentle trails here are the perfect place to practise your linked turns.
5. Sainte Foy, France – Small, Cute and Charming
Sainte Foy is the little resort with the big reptutation – for empty slopes, high-quality accommodation and a laid-back atmosphere. By modern standards the ski area is tiny, but that won’t matter if you are a beginner. What is important is that the nursery slopes are unthreatening, and there’s a long and gentle beginner slope higher up for you to practise on. One caveat – if you want to sample some nightlife, as well as the slopes, then don’t come here. Small and cute also means quiet.
6. Soldeu, Andorra – Unpretentious, with a Highly-Rated Ski School
Soldeu has good hotels (as spacious as the ones you’ll find in North America), and a big ski area of mostly gentle slopes. But the jewel in its crown is the ski school – run by an Englishman, Gordon Standeven – which is extremely adept at coaxing Brits through their first turns: it’s the most highly-rated of all the schools in Neilson’s Learn to Turn programme. The resort is a little lacking in high-mountain atmosphere – it’s built along both sides of the road into France – but it’s comfortable and welcoming, with lots of lively bars and some great restaurants in which to celebrate each day’s achievements.
7. Aspen, Colorado – Beginners Get Their Own Private Mountain
It’s called Buttermilk, and it’s one of four separate ski areas in the Aspen-Snowmass resort. While technically it isn’t beginner-only, this is where everyone comes to learn, thanks to the lack of traffic, and long, easy trail that runs from the top of the hill to the bottom. Instruction is excellent, the classes small, and the buzz you get from being in one of the most famous (and glamorous) resorts in the world gives most beginners plenty of extra zip.
8. Alpe d’Huez, France – Excellent Beginner Slopes
Alpe d’Huez is no beauty – it’s one of those purpose-built, high-altitude ski resorts, developed in the ’60s and ’70s with scant regard for aesthetics or proportion. But it is ringed with one of skiing’s most impressive arrays of beginner slopes. What’s more, there’s a British ski school here to nurse you through your first turns British Masterclass, and plenty of low-cost accommodation, too.
9. Saas Fee – Secluded Beginner’s Area and a Cute, Car-Free Town
Saas Fee is a stunner. Set beneath mighty 4000m peaks, and a big glacier, it’s a car-free town which has kept a little of its old charm. The pace is unhurried, the people welcoming, and the nightlife well-developed (but not world-beating). It’s a great introduction to the Alps. The beginner slopes are set to one side of the main skiing area, and there are easy intermediate pistes to progress to higher up – although you won’t be skiing from the top of the mountain to the bottom.
10. Cervinia, Italy – Ultra-Cheap Private Tuition and Easy Slopes
The town of Cervinia is ugly and strangely muted at night, but it’s convenient and, in places, car-free too – and for the beginner there’s the added attraction of bargain-basement private tuition. We are not saying you should eschew group lessons altogether: after all, it’s nice to learn alongside people who are equally as confused as you are. But towards the end of the week, you can really consolidate your progress with an hour or two of closely-focused personal attention – and here it costs a fraction of what it does in the A-list French resorts.