The best advice that I can give anyone before they head off on their first winter holiday is to get some ski lessons first.
The UK has an abundance of artificial ski slopes that are made from plastic materials. There are a few different surfaces but the bristle style (like an upturned toothbrush) is still the most common. It is essential to wear clothing that will protect you if you fall. Jeans are OK although I would recommend an old pair of ski trousers if you can get hold of some. Ski Gloves are mandatory as are long sleeves, and obviously you should dress for the weather as these centres are mostly outdoors.
During the mid 1980’s and into the 1990’s artificial ski slopes were very popular as skiing became one of the fastest growing sports in Europe. As the industry has consolidated the slopes have become a little less crowded which means you will get more space to learn.
In the last ten years there has been an increase in the amount of indoor ‘real snow’ ski centres. Snow is made by pumping water out of canons that freeze in the low temperatures in the enclosed arena. The snow that is created inside is basically the same as you would experience on a mountain ski slope, so it’s a great place to learn and practice before heading out to your resort.
The important thing to note is that if you are a beginner (defined by your ability to control your speed and direction) then you will have to take lessons from an instructor. Complete beginners are simply not allowed to take themselves onto any purpose built ski centre without a qualified instructor.
There are basically two types of ski lessons, group and private. Group lessons will cost less money per session, although if you have one to one instruction with a ski teacher you will naturally learn more in the same amount of time. Personally as a beginner I believe that group lessons are a great choice as you tend to learn together and you get a rest as your fellow skiers take their turn. You also get a good team atmosphere building as everyone encourages each other to improve. I would recommend at least three hours of tuition before heading off on your own and it’s much better if you can take five hours. Most ski centres offer ‘beginners packages’ that would include a course of lessons. Sometimes it is possible to go on an intensive one-day course where you cram the lessons together. Unless you are really pushed for time I would not recommend this route and it is much better to take a series of one or one and a half hour lessons over a period of weeks. This will normally take you to a stage where you have basic control of your speed and direction, pretty essential elements of descending any slope with a pair of skis on.
If you can afford one or two private lessons after a beginners course then it is worth doing. At this point the learning curve is fast and if a good instructor can build your confidence and improve your technique then this investment will pay dividends later on.
Once you get to your chosen resort the first day on skis will be a much more pleasant experience as your familiarity with the equipment, the terms and language used and the basic technique of skiing will seem like second nature. If you choose to take lessons in the resort, and I highly recommend that you do, then most ski schools understand the level of skiing that people have attained after a ski course on artificial slopes. Therefore you don’t have to be concerned with being lumped in with complete beginners, which would be a waste of time.
In fact, I have experienced on many an occasions, pupils saying to me that they have never skied before even though they clearly have. Often they have had lessons on an artificial slope or maybe haven’t skied for many many years. I can understand why people do this, as they want to ‘play it safe’ and not be put under any unnecessary pressure. That is absolutely fine if that’s what you want and most ski teachers will happily incorporate you into the class with the understanding that the pace of the class is built upon the weakest skier. But compared to a first time complete beginner you will appear to be a total expert, so don’t be afraid to give the ski teacher exact details of your previous experience and let them know you want to be in the beginners class. If you don’t do this then the ski teacher might think you are a complete natural and ignore you completely!
If you want more specific details of ski slopes in your area or advice on what to do, just make a comment on this post.
In my next blog post, I will discuss what ski equipment you need as a beginner skier.