Have you ever wondered what keeps ski- and snowboard-toting holidaymakers returning to the mountains, winter after winter? To the unseasoned, a skiing holiday can feel like a big investment, particularly if you decide it isn’t for you – the cost of a holiday is quickly amplified by lift passes, equipment hire and lessons.
However, if you haven’t learnt to ski in the prime of your youth, it’s not too late to try, particularly if you’ve long considered taking the plunge. There is a wide range of trips available that are suitable for all tastes, abilities and budgets.
Choosing when to go will inform the cost of a holiday: New Year and February half term are the most expensive periods in the ski calendar. Depending on how late Easter falls, it can be a great time to consider a trip. The slopes are quieter, the days long and sunny – choose a high-altitude resort to increase the likelihood of decent snow coverage.
Either once you have booked a trip or even prior to booking, it could be worth taking a beginner’s lesson at an indoor or dry slope in the UK. You may not gain much technique, but a familiarity with the equipment will be invaluable when you arrive and should help avoid too many return trips to the rental shop. There are several around the UK with taster sessions costing around £30.
Next to consider is destination. Scotland is nice and close but conditions unreliable, so the Alps are the obvious choice. Look at resorts with plenty of easy, blue and green runs. While the big name resorts – such as Courchevel in France or Austria’s St Anton – have much to offer the novice, they tend to come with a hefty price tag for everything from a hotel room to a coffee.
There are lesser- known resorts that offer a good range of skiing beyond the nursery slopes, and leave enough change to treat everyone to a hot chocolate. Les Deux Alpes, accessible from Chambery and Grenoble, has a wide range of accommodation, and plenty of easy terrain, even high up on the glacier. The nursery slopes are at the top of the mountain, with a blue (intermediate) piste taking you back down to the resort. The People Hostel () has private family rooms for three to six people starting at €119 (£107) per night.
It is wonderful to be waited on in a chalet with a private hot tub to wallow in, but self-catering can help keep costs down and many resorts have a public leisure centre where you can relax after a day on the slopes. Another cost saving is coming down the mountain at lunchtime; the views won’t be as good but the food and service will be cheaper and probably better. Even in a high-end resort, such as Val d’Isere, it is still possible to get a coffee for €1 by the lift station – you will pay at least €5 in some mountain restaurants.
Zell am See, in Austria, has something for everyone, including a pretty medieval town, good shopping and large and varied ski area, with views over Lake Zell. Crystal Ski Holidays (crystalski.co.uk) offers a week’s self-catering at the three-star Haus Edelweiss from £350 per person, including flights from Luton to Salzburg and transfers. Equipment hire, lift passes and lessons are extra.
While it’s possible to rent technical equipment (skis, boards, poles, helmets and so on) through a tour operator or in-resort, you will need warm clothes and a waterproof top layer – it can be miserable being cold and wet in freezing conditions. If you can’t borrow clothes, stores such as Decathlon and Aldi offer good value and it can be worth a trawl on sites such as eBay, especially for children’s kit.
There are companies that rent out clothes, but they tend to cater to the school trip market. Sites such as welove2ski.com offer practical advice on what you need.
Glacier for beginners
There is now such a variety of ways to get your mountain fix that it can be hard to choose. How about a quick three days in the Alps, (work will hardly notice you’ve gone), a week somewhere a little more off the beaten track, such as Scandinavia, or a once-in-a-lifetime powder adventure in Japan?
Crystal Ski Holidays has launched a range of short breaks all within 90 minutes of an airport to maximise time on the slopes. Flaine is part of France’s Grand Massif area, offering more than 260km of pistes. Three nights’ half-board at the three-star Hotel Le Flaine costs from £454pp (in Scandinavia has a slightly different atmosphere to the Alps, a little more relaxed with a wonderfully polite service.
Are, in Sweden, has world-class pistes, amazing backcountry and a bustling cosmopolitan town centre. You can follow in the tracks of Lyndsey Vonn’s retirement race last February in the morning, explore the off-piste in the company of reindeer in the afternoon, and relax in a cosy restaurant in the evening. EasyJet (easyjet.com/en) flies twice a week to Are Östersund Airport from £43. Skistar offers a wide range of accommodation ( ).
Japan is on many skiers’ bucket list, with reports of amazing, dry powder and wonderful Japanese hospitality. Inghams has launched new trips to Japan this season, and is offering a combined five-night trip to the resort of Hakuba and Tokyo from £1,803pp with flights from Heathrow and the possibility to extend (inghams.co.uk).