A first-timer's guide to skiing

Richard Mellor

From where to stay and what to buy to lift passes and lessons, there’s lots to know for slope virgins 

What to look up:

Where to go? 

The ideal scenario on a debut ski trip involves lots of nursery slopes plus a few nice blue runs—the gentlest; next come red, then black, then orange—at least one decent, English-speaking ski school, and a beginner’s ski pass. 

Courchevel in the French Alps fit the bill, as does Cortina in the Italian Dolomites. If money’s tight, go to Bulgaria’s medium-size and well-run Bansko resort. 

 

Which accommodation? 

Typically your choices will between a self-catered apartment or chalet, a catered version—including packed lunches—or a hotel. Self-catering is more cost-effective, but bring as much food with you as possible: most in-resort supermarkets are outrageously expensive. 

Catering can seem like a godsend after exhausting days on the slopes – and you will be exhausted. Typically, regional wine is included and one lunch and dinner is left vacant so you can sample local restaurants. Your hosts might also provide precious resort tips. 

 

Pre-purchases

Do you need a lift pass at your chosen resort? It’s often cheaper to pay for those, plus for lessons and equipment, online beforehand. 

 

What kit to get:

Good boots = happy you 

Among the extensive kit list for skiers, nothing matters more than having right-fitting boots. Having sore or cold feet is agony. 

Your boots should allow you to wiggle your toes, even if a little effort is required, but not to turn your foot side-to-side unless you really force the issue. Try as many pairs as it takes to find the right ones. 

 

Consider hiring 

Boots can usually be hired at a resort – though you run the risk of not finding a good fit, especially if you have unusual-shaped feet. 

It’s definitely prudent, however, to hire – or borrow from friends – poles, skis and helmets (which are a must). At this stage, when you’re unsure if skiing is for you, splurging on new versions of those items carries unnecessary risk. 

Beginner rental skis are also specially designed to be lightweight and easy to manouevre.  

 

Other sundries 

Good cold-weather gear is needed. Thermal base layers and Merino wool come in handy, with Uniqlo and TK Maxx catering to various budgets.  

You’ll also require a waterproof jacket and trousers, warm socks, leather gloves or mittens, a hat, a scarf, goggles and a lightweight rucksack. 

If the sun’s out, it’ll be strong, so bring high-factor sunscreen and sun-protection lip balm too.  

 

Getting tuition

Are lessons vital? 

Friends sometimes say they can teach you skiing, but this rarely ends well. 

Far better to splash out on a lesson, be it private or group ones. These obviously come at yet another cost, but you are guaranteed to learn how to ski properly  

 

Group or private? 

Group lessons cost less, and have another benefit: you might become pals with those at the same beginner level. 

Lessons can be booked for one day, but six are usually advised to get up to speed. Hire a pricier private instructor and you’ll learn far quicker – and at your own pace. 

 

Preparation

Fitness focus 

Skiing is gruelling, and works lots of different muscles. It helps to do a medium regimen of running, walking or cycling beforehand, allied with regular squats, lunges and crunches.  

If possible, ask veteran friends for a ‘dry skiing’ lesson at home, focusing on some key manoeuvres. As well as proving handy, this will give you some idea of your body parts likely to be working hardest on the slopes!  

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