As we continue with our Crystal Ski Awards, as voted for by our customers (check out the first in the series – “Best Ski Resorts for Families”), we now look at the best places for beginners and intermediate skiers and snowboarders. We’ll also be looking at the best ski school if you’re looking to improve your technique or are new to the world of skiing.
For those of you who don’t know a ski pole from a snowboard then we’ll quickly run through some technical bits and bobs. We’ll use the term “nursery slopes/area” to refer to the section where complete beginners start out, which always have very gentle runs and are cordoned off so you don’t have other people flying past. Run difficulty starts with green runs which are nice and easy, then you get blue runs and you start picking up speed, red runs can be pretty scary and are for the more accomplished skiers – we’ll avoid black runs altogether for now as they’ll only hurt. So time to hand over to our destination experts who can talk through each of our award winners.
Best ski resorts for beginners
Matt: Learning to ski is a bit like learning to drive a car… I’m hoping this analogy will work, but forgive me if it goes a little awry. If and when you learnt to drive, did you just jump into a Ferrari, speed off racing up through the gears and head out onto the motorway and drive across the country? Or, did you get into a nice little car with a small engine, head onto quiet side streets and stall it, several times? I presume your first experience was closer to the second scenario. I would imagine that it took you a couple of lessons before you really started to get your head around the world of driving. Unlike driving, there is no required test to get out on the slopes. Anyone can buy a lift pass, jump on a gondola, clip in and head off down a black run without a clue. It might surprise you how many do.
When you are taking your first tentative steps into the world of skiing then there are a few essentials to remember.
- You don’t need a massive ski area – you simply won’t make use of it
- You don’t need scarily steep runs – stick to the greens and blues
- Have lessons – they really help
1st – Pamporovo, Bulgaria
Mike: First things first. The Learn to Ski package here is £134 – and yes, that’s lift pass, lessons and rental skis for the week. On top of this, Pamporovo does more Learn to Ski packages than any other resort we feature and the ski school is entirely designed around learn to ski, and that’s what they do best.
The other great thing for beginners is that it’s a really easy mountain to get around. It’ so simple that you’ll never struggle to get back to the base and there are some nice long green runs to cruise. Plus, there’s some great blue runs if you’re advancing and even some speedy reds and blacks. It’s a fun village, everyone’s really friendly and there’s even some good après and nightlife. As you’re in Bulgaria drinks are only just over £1 too.
2nd – Val Cenis, France
Kev: This may be a lesser known resort in comparison to some of the other French giants, but Val Cenis is still a reasonable size town offering a great place for beginners to start.The ski area is also of a good size with 125km of piste, with lots of great runs for beginners and then a wide range for early intermediates. The resort itself will offer a much more traditional feel and is favoured by French tourists looking for something a little bit more intimate and quiet from their holiday.
3rd – Iso-Syote, Finland
Mike: Iso-Syote didn’t quite make the top 5 last year and it’s good to see each of the Finnish resorts as a top option for Crystal customers. If you’re after a picture-perfect village of cabins, then this is exactly what you’ll get here. Straight away, the charm of the resort will absolutely grab you. Add the instructors to that who are so incredibly friendly with perfect English. The slopes are ideal for beginners. It’s a small resort so even if you decide to head out on your own one afternoon, you can’t get lost.
With the Learn to Ski packages, we deliberately just have morning lessons, allowing you to go out and do activities in the afternoon if you don’t fancy more skiing. All-day lessons can take it out of you to begin with and this seems to be popular with our customers.
4th – Ruka, Finland
Mike: This got the number 1 spot last year and it’s great to see it again in the Crystal Awards. Probably not the first place you’d think of to learn to ski, but the great quality of snow and incredible grooming (which makes it perfectly flat so it’s nice and easy to learn on) is already a good start.
You can couple that with excellent instructors, many of which are from the UK. The Finnish also tend to speak fluent English. There’s a brand new beginners’ area with 3 magic carpet lifts (again, easy for first-timers) and dedicated beginner classes for Crystal customers, which means group sizes are never large and you’re learning with equals from the UK. On top of that, there’s a whole range of winter activities too, so if it turns out you don’t like skiing, there’s still lots to do.
5th – Kranjska Gora, Slovenia
Matt: Staying in the top five for the second year running, Kranjska Gora is perfect for beginners, whatever your age.
Some of the things you need for a great beginners resort is value for money (a beer in Kranjska Gora can be as cheap as €2), a great ski school (Kranjska Gora won best ski school for kids), gentle slopes (13 out of 17 runs in Kranjska Gora are blue easy runs) and a nice après bar at the bottom of the mountain with a warming drink waiting for you (take your pick in Kranjska Gora). Just remember to pop a lid on – there might be people who haven’t had a lesson behind you.
Best ski resorts for intermediates
You’ve mastered greens and blues and you’re starting to get confident at reds – where should you go? Here’s what Crystal customers think.
Vanessa: Set in the stunning Rendena valley in the Dolomites, the variety of the mountain surroundings and the constant updating of the resort’s lifts means that it is possible to ski over 150 km with a variety of slopes. With 38 intermediate runs and a great range of beginners and advanced runs, Madonna Di Campiglio is a great choice as number one for intermediates.
2nd – Folgarida, Italy
Vanessa: With Folgarida now linked to Madonna di Campiglio by the recently opened Pinzolo-Campiglio Express lift, the resort has grown and become a heavyweight. Surrounded by the trees of the Dolomites National Park Forest, Folgarida is beautiful, but the skiing is why people go back year after year. There’s loads of intermediate runs and some off piste to give a go when you fancy trying something different. An ultimately deserving new entry this year.
3rd – Gressoney, Italy
Vanessa: Gressoney is right in the middle of one of the most modern and vast ski areas in the world. It boasts over 180km of piste with most of those being intermediate runs. Gressoney also has up to date ski lifts, chair lifts and cable railways.
For those feeling a bit more confident, it’s the perfect place to try a bit of off piste skiing thanks to its many untouched slopes, extreme descents and breathtaking views.
4th – Schladming, Austria
Matt: Ok, you’ve had your first, second, maybe third skiing or snowboarding trip. You’ve tried the smaller resorts and realised that you need a little more variety of terrain and difficulty. That’s fine; we all need to push ourselves on the mountain. And this is where Schladming really excels. There’s plenty of blues for getting your ski legs back on after a year or so away from the pistes.
After your warm-up is complete, you then have loads of red runs to choose from. Because Schladming is spread over 4 linked peaks, you’ll also be actually exploring somewhere different almost every day. Schladming also happened to be host of the 2013 FIS World Cup – so there’s always room to really test your nerve on the World Cup runs. Down from second place last year, Schladming is the only intermediate resort to stay in the top 5.
5th – Sestriere, Italy
Vanessa: Sestriere sits at the heart of the Milky Way, one of the largest ski areas in Europe, with over 400km of piste and a great lift system that is constantly being updated. The resort benefited from the 2006 Winter Olympics making it a great place to ski, with extensive and quiet slopes throughout, which makes it perfect for if you are feeling a bit more adventurous and want to try out some more challenging slopes. The best thing is that as a confident intermediate, you can explore practically the whole of the Milky Way ski area.
Best ski resorts for adult ski school
Whether you’re starting out or looking to improve – these are what our customers said were the best ski schools last season.
1st – Pamporovo, Bulgaria
Mike: 1st place in the Crystal Awards for two years running – winning in 2011/12 for its exceptional ski school, entirely designed for first time skiers with two “nursery” areas, which is the unfortunate name to the area where complete beginners start. There are nursery slopes at the top and bottom of the mountain, meaning you’ll get a bit of variety of scenery while you pick up the very basics.
The instructors make learning fun whether you’re 13 or 31 and this great result for a second year running is an accolade to the absolute quality of this ski school.
2nd – Borovets, Bulgaria
Mike: Known as the party resort of Bulgaria, this is a great destination for adults who want to learn to ski for great value and have plenty of fun in the evening too. Let’s start with the important bit, the drinking, sorry – no, I meant the skiing. The ski school starts from right at the base of the slopes so if you’re based at the Rila Hotel and Studios or the Alpin, then you’re just yards from the ski school and rental shop.
There’s plenty of gentle slopes here and they even have another beginner area at the top of the gondola so you don’t get bored with the view. Once off the nursery slopes then there’s a really decent range of intermediate slopes to progress on to. Plus in the evening the street of bars will keep you entertained and most certainly won’t break the bank at little over £1 a pint.
3rd – Kirchdorf, Austria
Matt: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – if you really want to learn to ski, head to a smaller resort. The ski schools there are so in tune with learners that you can’t really go far wrong. Up from fifth place last year, Kirchdorf is the only resort to make it here from the “big three” (Austria, France & Italy) ski countries, and it deserves to be.
Beginners can get a first time package which includes lift pass, 20 hours of tuition and ski & boot hire from just £254. There might only be 4km of skiing on your doorstep, which might not sound like much, but that’s 20 times the size of a UK indoor ski centre and much prettier.
4th – Arinsal, Andorra
Helen: Arinsal is the one of the best beginner resorts in Europe, so no wonder adults rate it so highly for its ski school. The ski instructors are as fun and friendly as they come, with impeccable English and small group sizes. In addition to this, Arinsal offers beginners a perfect ski playground with uncrowded and wide open pistes to practice on.
5th – Soldeu, Andorra
Helen: We think the reason Soldeu has been voted into the top 5, is because Andorrans are renowned for a great approach and attitude about learning to ski. This, teamed up with great value first time ski packs means adults get a very affordable package.
Soldeu is also part of the brilliant Grandvalira ski area which offers 210km of lots of varied terrain, for when you get the hang of it.
To sum up…
So that’s our second installment of the Crystal awards for Winter 12/13. We’ll be back next week with our après and nightlife awards. We really appreciate all the feedback we receive so why not leave us a comment or talk to us on Facebook or Twitter.