Your first ever ski or snowboard holiday is an introduction to a sport that will keep you coming back for life. Wintersports holidays are fun, outdoor experiences which you can share with friends and family, you can meet new people, explore fabulous mountain landscapes and enjoy breathtaking scenery.
If you're tempted to go on a wintersports holiday - and you've never tried any of the sports before - then there are a few things to bear in mind. Similarly if you're an experienced skier and are hoping to take beginners with you the next time you visit the mountains, there could be a number of issues to consider which could either make or break the holiday.
A failed ski holiday - where the beginners in the party hate every minute and just don't get the whole skiing/snowboarding thing - can result in simmering resentment at best, divorce/relationship breakdown at worst!
So how do you make sure that a wintersports novice loves their first week and is desperate to come back for more? Just what makes a great Beginners' Week?
Preparation is key. If you are new to skiing and snowboarding then doing your homework can make your first steps a lot easier.
This homework doesn't just include looking at resorts and deciding which one to try, there is much more that can be done which will save you time in the long run. Here's a few tips and tricks:
1. Physical preparation: If you spend 50 weeks a year behind a desk at sea level, your body is going to get a big shock when it is suddenly required to be physical at altitude.
Yep it's obvious but true - working on your physical fitness is definitely going to help you get more out of your ski holiday. Unfortunately beginner skiers and snowboarders probably expend more energy than intermediates - the whole effort of standing up after a fall can be exhausting.
So if you do lead a fairly sedentary lifestyle take a look at increasing your exercise levels from around six weeks before you go.
Both aerobic and anaerobic fitness are required for skiing and snowboarding. You don't need to be able to run marathons but feeling confident that your body is not going to seize up with the slightest effort is going to be beneficial. Plus you will feel better for it!
For some great tips on getting fit for skiing see Graham Bell's excellent features on the BBC website.
2. Pre-Holiday Lessons: If you are not too far away from an artificial ski slope or an indoor snowdome then it's definitely worth investing in a few lessons before you go.
The whole business of putting on strange boots and then clipping them onto a plank, or two, is very unfamiliar. A few sessions at your local ski centre before your holiday will help you conquer this weirdness. Having a chance to move around with them and take a few pratice turns down a slope will help enormously when you get onto the snow for real. Getting used to the equipment before you get there will help to relieve the stress of the first few days.
The rate of improvement between beginners who've had pre-holiday lessons and those who haven't can be remarkable - quite often these are the ones who will shine when they get onto the snow.
3. Ski and Snowboard School: Just as lessons before you go will prepare you, the only way to learn properly when you're there is to take lessons - from a qualified professional. Don't be tempted when one of your party who has been a couple of times before, says that he/she will show you the ropes - you run the risk of ruining your holiday and theirs'.
Ski schools, especially French ski schools, have had bad press it has to be said. We're all aware of the archetypal French "follow me" ski instructor who has to be coaxed and flattered to impart his wisdom. Fortunately this is changing. Many ski schools now offer small group sizes and English speaking instructors. Maybe have a look at the resort website before you go and see how many ski schools are operating there - several ski schools in one resort will generally mean that there will be competition between them, so they have to be more proactive and customer focused.
It's also worth finding out what other options are available for beginners. Ski and snowboard school usually comprises 2-3h hour sessions at the same time each day over 4, 5 or 6 days. But there maybe more specialist or more tailored options. If you are group of beginners for example - maybe 4 or 5 of you all at the same level - it could be more fun to book private sessions for your group.
Whether you choose to ski or snowboard, look on lessons as an investment rather than an expense. As with all investments it's worth investigating and researching. Look at the school's website, email for information, even call them if you need. And make sure you book in advance so that you don't get disappointed when you arrive.
A word of warning though - as ski schools are usually seasonal businesses their offices may not be manned year round. So if you call in July and don't get an answer, emailing might be best.
4. Choosing a resort: This is a tricky one, especially if you are a beginner and you are organising the holiday. How on earth would you know what makes a good beginners resort? Most ski resorts will have beginners facilities - ie gentle nursery slopes with gentle lifts so that beginners can practice their first turns without fear.
So what should a beginner look for in particular? In reality, all ski resorts want to attract skiers and boarders from beginner to expert, so they will make sure that there are green slopes (the easiest and gentlest), right through to black ones (the steepest), with usually a preponderance of blues and reds in between.
The answer to what resort you should choose depends on what else you want out of your holiday. Let's not forget that a ski/snowboard holiday is a whole package, the apres-ski can be as important as the skiing itself! So make sure that you and your group know what you all want.
If you're looking for chocolate box chalets and horse-drawn sleighs then a purpose-built resort will not fit the bill. If you want lively bars and rocking clubs, make sure there is enough nightlife in your resort. If you want to be able to ski from the door then it's likely that a high altitude resort will be the best bet. If you want good shopping and plenty of other things to do then look at going to a large resort where there will be more facilities.
If you're still at a loss then ask someone else! Other skiers and boarders will always be happy to share their experience. Good online message boards where you can ask questions are the Snowheads Forums and of course our very own Solutions Room.
Skiing and snowboarding holidays are fun and rewarding experiences, so a little planning and preparation will go a long way!