What are the best ski resorts for beginners in Europe? Opinions are divided. Many people end up at one of the larger, well-known resorts but they’re often too big and too intimidating, which can be off-putting for the nervous first timer. Is might be better to choose a small, little known centre where you’re on first name terms with everyone in the village within 24 hours, the slopes are empty and everything costs less.
The truth is, as with so many things in skiing, that the best ski resorts for beginners in Europe depends on many factors. These include the weather, who you’re with, what your teachers are like and your attitude to it all, as much as anything. But you can hedge your bets by choosing according to your most likely taste. And there are a few things that anyone can do to improve their chances of a successful first trip to the mountains.
Firstly, try it out before you go. With half a dozen indoor snow centres across the UK and more than 60 dry slopes, it’s well worth going along if only just to try the gear on before you leave Blighty. If you live in England, a scheme called GoSkiGoBoard has been set up to give anyone a tailored (and hopefully affordable) introduction to snowsports with free taster sessions and discounted, all inclusive packages of first timer lessons. Similar schemes are offered by individual centres in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
You’ll save a lot of time and money when you arrive in resort if you know what you’re doing and have all the kit you need on arrival. But let’s get down to business. Here’s our run down of the 10 best ski resorts for beginners in Europe.
If you’re dubious about how much you want to be immersed in the ski world on your first trip, a good compromise could be a city ski break. Igls is a historic village above the Tirolean capital of Innsbruck and has uniquely hosted three Olympic downhill races – including one of the most famous in history, won by Franz Klammer. But most of this intimate little mountain area is suited to first timers so you’ll have great personal attention but with a big city and all the attractions of hundreds of shops, restaurants and other attractions lying below you.
If you do fancy getting straight in to big ski resort life, you’ll find many of the more forward thinking resorts have created large, state-of-the-art beginner areas. These are separated off from the main pistes so you can learn in peace while members of your party who are more experienced can explore the rest. Les Menuires is in the giant 3 Valleys ski area – the world’s biggest. It has a ‘beginners village’ – an enclosed area of around 5,000 square metres near the Preyerand area – especially reserved for new skiers and designed to suit their needs.
Scandinavia can be a good choice for first timers, with friendly, English-speaking tuition on wide gentle slopes next to the resort base and a good snow cover record. Hemsedal is one of the best and most organised, and lift passes are at the lower than in the Alps too.
If you want the wow factor on your first ski holiday, you can’t do much better than the Jungfrau in Switzerland. Happily this winter there’s the added bonus that the Kleine Scheidegg (above Wengen, at a snowsure 2,061 metres, with spectacular and arresting views of the Eiger north face, Mönch and Jungfraujoch) has been re-developed in to a state-of-the-art skiing and boarding learning centre. The gentle slopes are served by a covered magic carpet for easy beginner access.
If you want a small, intimate and un-intimidating resort try St Jean de Sixt. Only 3km from the larger centres of La Clusaz and Grand Bornand it is a welcoming village that offers warmth, freedom and affordability. Thanks to the inter-resort ski bus linking directly to the foot of the slopes, a wide range of activities are easily available. So, if there are more advanced skiers in the party they can pop to one of the bigger neighbours.
Andorra has a long-standing reputation not only for affordable accommodation, apres ski and sunny slopes but also first rate tuition from English-speaking instructors, many of them from Australia, New Zealand and the UK. It’s a fun and friendly place to learn.
Car-free Avoriaz decided to tackle the learn-to-ski conundrum head-on a few seasons ago with an attempt to create a seamless experience. The resort’s YouCanSki programme rolls up the issues of renting equipment, finding the slopes and starting to learn in an unintimidating manner – as well as paying for it all – in one package, at a ‘good price’. Instructors look after participants right through the process and are especially trained to make it all fun and relaxed.
Sometimes big ski towns contain little ski areas alongside more famous resorts. The Engadin pass that includes St Moritz is one example. Tiny Zuoz nearby has a lovely quiet ski area with gentle slopes, good comfy chairlifts, an excellent ski school and crowds don’t really exist there.
One option is to ski closer to home, to cut down on your travel costs and ensure you have good English speaking tuition. Scotland has five areas to choose from but the Lecht is probably the most beginner friendly and affordable. There’s a one-stop £1m base lodge where all facilities are located and nursery slopes just steps away. The only possible downside is that this is unpredictable British snow conditions so best to check how it’s looking before you head up there. But on its day, it’s easily one of the best ski resorts for beginners in Europe.
Skiing is expensive but a lot of the bigger resorts do operate free lifts for first timers. So, after splashing out on your gear and your lessons (not to mention the cost of getting there) you can at least save a bit on your lift tickets. La Rosière is a particularly family and beginner friendly area.
It has three free ski lifts and a dedicated area on green runs besides the Clarines and Lievre Blanc lifts. As the only resort in Savoie which offers an international skiing area thanks to the link by the ski lifts with La Thuile (in the Val d’Aosta Valley in Italy), you might even be able to ski across the border (it’s a pretty flat plateau) by the end of your first week.
So, there you have it ten of the best ski resorts for beginners in Europe. Now all that’s left to do is pick one and learn to ski.