Lesson one: how to get started on the ski slopes

Never skied or snowboarded before? Organising your first trip can be intimidating. Tania Alexander gives a step-by-step guide to getting started

Choosing a resort

is probably the most time-consuming thing for any new skier. There are hundreds of resorts in Europe alone. One of the first things to consider is what sort of ambience do you want - a chocolate- box alpine village or a purpose built resort where you can ski straight out of your hotel onto the slopes? Don't get carried away by choosing a resort just because of its prestige. Many of the famous resorts such as Zermatt in Switzerland and St Anton may be a waste of time and money for the novice and even the early intermediate skier. There are plenty of smaller resorts with ample skiing for those still learning to ski - the ambience in them is usually friendlier and they are cheaper. Intermediates will want to practice their skills on lots of cruising runs - unless you are very fit and determined, however, you may not need to splash out on one of the giant ski circuits such as Les Trois Vallees or Portes du Soleil in France.

Further reading:

Where to Ski and Snowboard edited by Chris Gill and Dave Watts (pounds l4.99 Thomas Cook)

The Good Skiing Guide by Peter Hardy and Felice Eyston (pounds 15.99 Which?). Both give no-nonsense guides to choosing a resort.

When to go

December last season was a blissful time to ski, as there was plenty of snow and no-one on the slopes. Usually, however, this month can be dicey as snow can be thin on the ground. As the resorts will be getting decked out for Christmas, the atmosphere can be festive and, if you choose one of the bigger resorts or alpine towns, they can be a good place to do some last-minute Christmas shopping. Christmas packages are actually quite reasonable - New Year is the busy, expensive week. January is traditionally cheap (once all the kids have gone back to school) and the snow is often exceptionally good. January is also notorious for being a cold. February is a wonderful month to ski as you usually get the snow and the sun - prices, however, are high and the slopes crowded. Avoid the last three weeks in February next year as the French have school holidays then. March offers longer skiing days and usually stays uncrowded until Easter. April is a good month to get an early summer tan but the snow tends to get mushy in the afternoon.

How to get there

Car: Ski-drive holidays are economical (if there are four or more of you in one vehicle) and let you explore different resorts, see more of the country. By leaving the UK on the Friday and driving overnight you can also get an extra day on the slopes.

Train: New this season is a direct Eurostar service for UK skiers from Waterloo to Bourg-St-Maurice (an amazingly convenient 7-minute funicular ride to Les Arcs) or to Moutiers (with easy access to Les Trois Vallees). The downside is that this service is only available on Saturdays so you won't actually reach the resort until Saturday night. The Snow Train from Dover to the French Alps leaves on a Friday and doesn't return until the following Saturday night, which gives you two extra day's skiing.

Plane: Still usually the quickest way to reach most resorts. Saturday is usually mayhem at Geneva airport as this is the busiest day for charter flights. Many more package companies are using scheduled flights which means more civilised check in times rather than the awful 5am Gatwick check in for most chartered ski flights and alternative travel days such as Sunday.

Further information:

Ingbams: (0181 780 4444) have a huge ski programme with all different travel options.

Erna Low (0171 584 7820) offer a variety of travel options for their ski holidays in France including Eurostar and self-drive.

Motours (01892 51855) Ski-drive to French and Italian resorts.

Are you properly insured?

Don't skimp this one. Most ski companies sell policies but check the small print. If you're planning to ski off-piste, or are taking expensive camera equipment with you, it's worth booking with a specialist. Check what level of cover you have for ski equipment and whether you are also covered for hiring skis.

Further information:

Snowcard (01327 262805).

Douglas Cox Tyrie (0181 534 9595).

Are you fit?

It's certainly a waste of money if you're not fit enough to enjoy your holiday properly. A few weeks spent exercising before you go will give you more time on the slopes (and less of that third day, "I can't get out of bed" syndrome) and also reduce your chance of injury. The main area to strengthen is the legs so make sure you incorporate lots of squats and lunges into your routines. You also need strong stomach and back muscles for trunk support and strong arms for poling and hoisting yourself up again when you fall. Check out your local sports centre or gym - many of them now offer special ski fitness classes or speak to a fitness instructor for some further tips.

Further information:

"Ski legs" by Tessa Coker (pounds 2.50 including p & p. Send a cheque made out to Ski Club of Great Britain, 57-63 Church Rd, London SW19 5SB).

Pre-booking

Pre-booking lessons and passes is convenient and takes away some of the hassle of things to do when you first arrive. As the exchange rate was so favourable in July and August, if the price is calculated from this period you can expect to get a good deal. If you're travelling in a large group you probably would be better off trying to negotiate a deal yourself in the resort

If you like to know beforehand exactly what the whole holiday will cost it may be worth considering an all-inclusive holiday which includes lift passes, child care, tuition, equipment, food and accommodation.

Further information:

Neilson (0990 99 44 44) Pre-bookable lift passes and tuition also all inclusive ski holidays in Austria. A wide choice of self-catering, chalet or hotel accommodation.

Club Med: (0171 581 1161) All inclusive holidays. Mark Warner (0171 393 3168) Chalets of all sizes, good for families.

Simply Ski: (O181 742 2541) A comprehensive choice of chalets.

Erna Low: (0171 584 7820) self-catering in France.

Byrne: (0181 871 3300) A small well-run company offering a good standard of hotels in selected resorts.

Practice before you go

Skiing on a dry slope is a good way to prepare for your holiday and can potentially save time and money on tuition in the resort. The downside is that your chances of injury are actually higher on a dry slope as the surface is much less forgiving so do wear well-padded clothes and always ski with gloves (thumb injuries are particularly prevalent). If you want to experience the real thing before leaving the UK, go to the Snowdome at Tamworth, Staffordshire - Europe's first real snow indoor ski slope with a 150m x 30m slope open 364 days of the year.

Further information: For a list of dry slopes send a large SAE, to Ski Club of Britain, 57-63 Church Rd, London SWI9 5SB).

Snowdome: (0990 00 00 11)

How long should I go for?

A week is often not quite long enough to really improve your skiing (it takes about three days before you get back to the standard you were before on your previous ski holiday) and two weeks can be a bit too intensive for many people. Some operators will tailor-make holidays of any length - 9-10 days seems ideal for intermediates who are looking to improve. Weekend skiing is also surprisingly satisfying (albeit expensive). By using scheduled flights and resorts that are close to the airport means you can leave work at 5pm on a Friday and get a full day's skiing on Saturday and Sunday before flying back first thing on Monday morning for work.

Further information:

White Roc (O171 792 1188) - weekend and tailor-made ski holidays.

Powder Byrne (0181 871 3300) - flexible travel arrangements.

Buying your own stuff

It's not advisable buying any equipment until you've actually tried the sport. After one or two season's skiing it's certainly worth buying boots as it's so important that these fit really well and are comfortable. The next thing to purchase is a pair of skis but bear in mind that most tour operators charge pounds 20 ski carriage.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone