Saturday 10 December 2016

Top 10 ski tips for beginners: Am I too old? What are the best resorts?

Travel tips and advice

Nicola Brady

Published 16/10/2016 | 02:30

Child’s play: The younger kids start skiing, the quicker they pick it up
Child’s play: The younger kids start skiing, the quicker they pick it up
The second and third weeks of January are among the cheapest for skiing holidays
Prodollano in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Photo: Deposit
Just strap in and give skiing a go
Up, up away: Ski lifts are not so terrifying once you've mastered them
Highlife chalet in Val d'Isere
Chalet Artemis in St Anton
Grand Hotel, Zell am See

Ski holiday brochures are bulging once again, and it's never too late to try for the first time, says Nicola Brady.

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Never been skiing? Psh. With the right tuition, a bit of blind courage and a willingness to spend a lot of time on your arse, you’ll likely have a ball.

Here are our tips for first-timers…

1. Am I too old to ski?

It’s natural to be anxious about skiing. Watching others zip down the slopes when you can barely walk in the boots is enough to make anyone nervous. But the truth is, if you can walk, you can probably ski. The reason kids take to it so naturally is because they lack the fear. Accept the fact that you’re going to fall over, strap in and give it a go. And who knows? You could have been harbouring an unearthed talent for years.

2. Where are the best resorts for beginners?

Just strap in and give skiing a go
Just strap in and give skiing a go

There are a few things to look for in a good “starter” resort — friendliness, excellent ski schools and gentle slopes that will inspire confidence, not fear. If you’re booking with a tour operator, it’s always best to mention that you’re a beginner. They’ll have a good feel for the resorts they sell, and which slopes will suit a first-timer. It also makes sense to pick a place that’s reasonably compact, so you’re not trudging for miles, weighed down with hefty gear. Certain ski schools cater particularly well to beginners, too. Topflight recommends Westendorf and Söll in Austria. Söll is also rated by Crystal Ski, as is Pas de la Casa in Andorra and Sauze D’Oulx in Italy.

3. What do I need to wear and bring?

It’s best to pack layers — think fleece tops, leggings/long johns, good thermal base layers (Merino is perfect), long woolly socks, snow boots and thick gloves. In terms of proper gear, you’ll need a pair of ski pants and a good ski jacket. But don’t rush out and spend a fortune — ask around and borrow stuff from friends, or keep an eye on Lidl and Aldi, which stock gear periodically. You can rent skis, poles and boots in the resorts, although some tour operators include these in the price. If you’re a really cold creature, pick up some disposable footwarmers. You shake a sachet to heat and tuck it into your boots (Mountain Warehouse have them for €1.99).

4. What about budgets — isn’t skiing expensive?

If you’re looking for a budget holiday, you’re going to struggle with ski. Between the package itself, lift passes, equipment hire and a hefty amount of fondue, you’re probably going to spend a pretty penny (allow around €300 for the extras). That said, if you go off-season (mid-late January and school-term time in February and March are good bets), you’ll save a chunk of money. And while chalet catered meals are a dream, self-catering is a solid option for pinching the pennies — just check the amenities in your resort before booking.

5. Should I go DIY or with a package?

Highlife chalet in Val d'Isere
Highlife chalet in Val d'Isere

While booking everything independently is entirely possible (and sometimes cheaper), for first-time skiers a package makes life a lot easier. Everything can be taken care of in advance, you don’t have to pay airline ski carriage fees if you’re renting, and reps are usually on site to deal with any potential issues. Simply put, there are far more moving parts at play with ski than a ‘regular’ holiday — you don’t want to spend your first day trundling between equipment shops and trying to figure out lift passes.

6. Do I have to ski every single day?

Absolutely not. And, in my experience, your thighs will be screaming for a break after day one. If you’re unsure how the skiing will go, pick a resort with lots of activities and make the most of them. Think steaming cups of hot chocolate by the fire, walks through snowy villages and, if you play your cards right, a long soak in an outdoor hot tub. You can also choose resorts near cities, where you can mooch between shops or bars, and there are some amazing spas in the mountains — try Le Grand Bellevue in Gstaad (see panel), for example, or the Austrian resorts within a short transfer of Salzburg.

7. How do lessons and ski schools work?

Finding a good ski school is crucial for beginners. It’s best to organise this when you book your trip, and again, this is where tour operators come up trumps. “In general, people book into a group lesson for the week,” says Michelle Anderson of Topflight. “The instructors are great; if they feel you are in a class that is holding you back, they’ll move you up to a higher standard to ensure that you get the best from your lessons.” Classes generally run in the mornings, leaving your afternoons free, though this can vary. And the cost? As an example, a Topflight price for classes in Val Thorens is €173 for six days. You can book private lessons, too.

8. What about the lifts — they look scary?

There’s no escaping it — ski lifts strike terror into the hearts of newbies (this one included). It’s not so much the height, but the fear of jumping on and off. But as soon as you’ve mastered it, you’ll be fine (and you’ll get some killer views along the way). Remember to let the lift come to you, hold both poles in one hand, and move with relative haste and confidence. You’ll likely travel with an instructor the first time, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. You’ll need a lift pass for the duration of your trip - remember to keep it with you whenever you’re on the slopes. “Local area lift passes are great, as they are not as expensive and the ski area is perfectly adequate for beginners,” says Michelle. You can book in advance through your operator, too.

Up, up away: Ski lifts are not so terrifying once you've mastered them
Up, up away: Ski lifts are not so terrifying once you've mastered them

9. When should kids start to ski?

Make no mistake: little toddlers on skis are freaking adorable. But how young is too young to get started? Emma Carrick-Anderson is a former Olympic skier and Race Director at Snoworks (snoworks.co.uk). “The younger you take it up, the quicker you’re going to develop, because the fear factor isn’t going to be there. I think a good age is three or four. Three is fine, but at four they’re strong enough and can really start to enjoy it.” For younger kids, Emma recommends choosing warmer months, like March and April. “A little three-year-old out in -10°C is not going to have fun… whereas a three-year-old in 0°C is going to love it.”

10. Should I practise before I go?

There’s no doubt about it — skiing is far more physical than a week on the beach. “Skiing and snowboarding can be demanding,” says Alan Moynihan, CEO of Highlife Ski & Snowboard (highlife.ie). “So the fitter you are, the better you will do and the lower your risk of injury.” This needn’t mean extensive preparation, but a few days of squats, lunges and stretches will (quite literally) save your ass. If you’re nervous about starting from scratch, learn the basics on a dry slope. A lesson at The Ski Club (skiclub.ie) in Kilternan costs €45 for adults.

PS. Do I need extra insurance?

Almost certainly. Most travel insurance policies require additional cover for winter sports, which will cover you for medical emergencies, ski rentals and avalanche cover, for example. Make 100pc sure this is organised before you leave for the airport.

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