When booking a ski holiday there's a lot to consider, from equipment hire to childcare and most importantly choosing the perfect resort. With so much to remember it's easy for the planning process to become overwhelming for novice skiers and snowboarders. So, if you've never booked a trip to the slopes before here's everything you need to know to make your first experience of the mountains a success.
Which resort should I choose?
This depends on many things – how much money you have to spend, the time of year you plan to go and your level of skiing or snowboarding.
If you’re a beginner it really isn’t worth going to a big name resort with a large ski area as you’ll end up paying a premium for something that you won’t fully use. Resorts that are good for first-timers generally have novice slopes near the resort, for example Alpbach in Austria and Passo Tonale in Italy with its dedicated nursery area.
Also think about whether you would you like to experience other activities in addition to skiing and snowboarding, such as ice skating, snowshoeing and visiting a spa, particularly if you’d prefer not to be on the hill all day. Resorts to consider include Avoriaz with its large tropical indoor water park, the medieval town of Ellmau in Austria and Norway's ski resorts, where sleigh rides, sledding with huskies and snowmobiling are often on offer to create the perfect multi-activity holiday.
Also assess the members of your holiday group, whether it’s just you and your partner or a larger group. If you’re taking children with you, look for resorts that are good for families, which generally have great nursery slopes and comprehensive childcare options. Consider going with a specialist family tour operator, such as Ski Famille, Esprit Ski or Ski Total, which will have a range of childcare on offer. If you’re going with a group who have different ability levels, find a resort good for mixed-ability groups and bear in mind that not all ski-in/ski-out properties will be suitable for beginners.
Other preferences to consider include whether the scenery is important to you. Some purpose-built resorts – mostly found in France – aren’t that pretty but are often high and snow-sure, providing easy access to slopes from your accommodation. Many Austrian resorts started as valley villages so have plenty of charm but can be lower in altitude (so less snow-sure) and it can take longer to reach the slopes above than in purpose-built resorts. Resorts to consider for charm are Kitzbühel in Austria, St Martin de Belleville in France and Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy.
If après is important to you then look at party resorts, such as Ischgl in Austria, Méribel in France and Sauze d’Oulx in Italy. Conversely, if you’d like to avoid drunken revellers consider smaller resorts, which will tend to be quieter.
How do I book?
There are myriad ways of getting to the mountains. The easiest is to book a package with a tour operator – these generally include flights and shared coach transfers from the airport to the resort in addition to accommodation. This is the best option for first-timers as it’s the most straightforward and offers good value for money – they often have deals on lift passes and equipment hire for further savings.
Alternatively, there's the option of booking each aspect independently, including your transport (either flights, train or ferry if you plan to drive from the UK), accommodation and private transfer or car hire to get to the resort from the airport or train station. Car hire is helpful if you’re planning to travel around and visit a few resorts in one area but don’t forget to hire snow chains or winter tyres.
Many tour operators – such as Crystal, Inghams and Neilson – offer first-timers’ or learn-to-ski packages, which include equipment hire, lessons, lift passes and sometimes insurance. The operators are able to offer these packages at beginner-friendly resorts and include everything else you might need – flights, accommodation and transfers – offering overall savings when booked together.
What accommodation option is best?
Hotels offer either b&b or half-board accommodation and are a good choice for couples, whereas catered chalets are great for families or groups of friends. They offer chalet board, which includes breakfast, afternoon tea (a homemade cake and sometimes soup) and a three- or four-course dinner, sometimes with unlimited wine, in the evening. The chalet staff typically have one night off a week when you can try one of the resort’s restaurants.
A self-catering apartment is just that – you’ll need to stock up on breakfast items and cook for yourself in the evenings, or consider using a food delivery service like Huski – although it does give you a good opportunity to sample the local food in resort.
Club Med have a number of all inclusive resorts across the Alps and while these packages can prove to be more expensive than others they do include everything you need (all meals, drinks, childcare, lessons, lift pass, evening entertainment, flights and transfers) expect equipment. The formula is becoming increasingly popular and has seen the operator branch out into chalets ahead of next winter.
What ski kit and clothing do I need?
Check out our ultimate guide to ski kit and clothing for ski-specific items and bear in mind that apart from these you’ll need to take clothes to wear in the evenings – but far fewer of these items than you would usually take for a week’s holiday.
If it’s your first ski trip, you might be able to borrow kit from friends or family (goggles, gloves, waterproof jacket and salopettes or ski pants) and hire equipment (skis, poles, boots, snowboard, helmet). Take thin, warm base layers in merino wool or manmade fibres and a couple of fleece or down mid-layers and a neck warmer. Buy a few pairs of ski socks, and don’t forget to take a hat and normal gloves for the evenings.
Should I book lessons?
Private lessons are expensive but you will progress more quickly and can determine how long you learn for each day. Group lessons – which can either take place for half or a full day – are cheaper and it can be fun to learn with other beginners, but you may spend a lot of time in a follow-the-leader formation with few targeted pointers from the instructor. Ensure whichever ski school you select has English-speaking instructors, such as British-run New Generation Ski and Snowboard School, which operates out of 20 resorts in France, Austria and Switzerland.
Don’t let your more experienced partner, friends or family teach you – they aren’t qualified and can get bored easily. And remember, an easy slope for them will not necessarily be an easy slope for you.
Try to take a lesson or two at a good local dry slope or snow centre before you go – it will help you to find your ski legs and feel more confident once you reach resort.
What lift pass should I buy?
Lift passes are a key consideration when choosing a resort, as they can be expensive. Pass prices vary from country to country (less in Eastern Europe, for example) and cost less in smaller/less-well-known resorts.
Beginner lifts are often free and provide enough terrain for at least the first day when learning. First-timers can progress to local area passes for the remainder of the trip – if heading to a resort that’s linked to a wider area you are unlikely to get full use of the area pass during your first week, but it’s worth checking with your instructor.
Do I need insurance?
Yes, you will need specialist winter-sports cover because normal travel insurance, (which generally covers you when you lose your baggage or it’s stolen and for delayed or cancelled flights) will probably not cover you if you are involved in an accident while taking part in winter sports. A winter-sports policy can also cover you for stolen or damaged equipment (included hired equipment) and other winter activities you may want to try while in the mountains, such as snowmobiling or tobogganing.
Remember to read the small print to make sure it covers what you need – even then it may not cover you for all eventualities, for example going off piste, although you’re unlikely to be doing that during your first week’s skiing. Make sure you understand the common pitfalls of winter-sports insurance.
Do I need to exercise before my ski trip?
Get fit before you go – the last thing you want to do is spend a lot of money on a ski holiday only to find that you can’t get out of bed on the third morning as you and your legs are too tired. Remember to do targeted training for cardio fitness and to strengthen your core and legs with exercises such as cycling, step-ups, lunges and squats. You’re still likely to be tired mid-week, especially if you’re a beginner, due to the mental strain of learning a new skill and doing far more exercise than your body’s most probably used to in a week.
What other costs are there to consider?
Doing all that exercise works up an appetite, so don’t forget to budget for lunch on the mountain or in resort depending on where your lesson finishes/breaks. Also allow for some hot chocolate or coffee stops and après drinks at the end of the day. If you’re staying in a chalet, you’ll be eating dinner out one night and may well want to tip the chalet staff for a job well done.