Find your snow legs with former British alpine racer Konrad Bartelski's roundup of his best resorts in the world to learn
BEST FOR: MIXED ABILITY GROUPS FRANCE
The ideal place to learn to ski is somewhere with little traffic. However, when you’re travelling with a group of varying skill, it can be tricky to find a destination that suits all abilities. Sainte- Foy is the very best resort catering to the entire ability spectrum.
Perched on the side of the mountain in the Tarentaise Valley, it’s an absolute gem for those who are looking to learn. The short beginners’ slope is right in the centre of the resort and after just a few hours with a good teacher, the first chairlift will soon beckon you towards the easy runs without having to negotiate hordes of other skiers on the way down.
The scenery is fantastic and the mountain restaurants are both authentic and good value. The aim on day one is to make it up to Les Brevettes 00 33 6 8726 1011 at the top of the first lift for lunch (make sure you order the Beaufort cheese and mushroom ravioli). The Peak chalet http://thepeakchalet.co.uk is a great spot to stay: the beginners’ lift is right outside the front door. Use Evolution 2 ski school and ask to be taught by Matti or Julien Ottobon who deliver remarkable results. Being a small resort, the après-ski options depend on which bar has a live band. Check out what’s on at Le Yeti Boots Café 00 33 6 0910 1317.
A two-hour private lesson with Evolution 2 costs £88pp. A three-day group class (maximum six people) with 7.5 hours skiing costs £100pp. A one-day lift pass is £25pp or £140 for six days. http://evolution2.com
BEST FOR: DISCOVERING THE WORLD JAPAN
One of our favourite things about skiing is having the option to use the sport as a tool to explore. And there’s nowhere more fascinating than the resort of Hakuba on the south island of Japan. Experience the wonderfully diverse Japanese culture and cuisine from the vantage point of the slopes.
To get there, take a bullet train from Tokyo to the Winter Olympics city of Nagano, then it’s an hour’s drive up to the stunning Japanese Alps that sit at around 3,000m.
Stay at Hotel Goryukan http://goryukan.jp which is run by downhill ski racer Michihiko Nakamura and famed for its impressive onsen hot spring bathing house. Hakuba is a large resort surrounded by a number of different ski areas: HappoOne (the closest), Hakuba 47, Cortina, Iwatake, Norikura and Tsugaike. Norikura is quiet and has wide, open beginner slopes, while the restaurant at Heidi Hof chalet 00 81 261 725 010 is worth a visit for the local cuisine – a pure joy on a winter’s day.
The facilities aren’t overly modern but they all work and the experience of being in an inspiring country adds to the excitement. Be sure to take a tour to see the famous snow monkeys and don’t visit Hakuba without booking a table at sushi joint Kikuya 00 81 261 723 633; some say it’s worth the 12-hour flight alone.
Book into the Evergreen International Ski School, which provides the flexibility to take part in full-day programmes for up to seven consecutive days for the price of five.
A flexi-week programme with the Evergreen International Ski School costs £325pp. A midweek one-day lift pass at Hakuba Norikura costs £25pp; weekend passes are priced at £29pp. http://evergreen-hakuba.com
SILVERSTAR, BEST FOR: FAMILY SKIING CANADA
Of everywhere we have skied, the best destination for a family starting out is SilverStar Mountain Resort in the Western Rockies. It’s a compact, colourful village that makes an immediate impact, both visually and in terms of its excellent service.
The buildings look straight off the set of a Western with authentic American laid-back charm. Everything takes place within a few hundred metres of the main village, which is especially calm as all cars are parked to the side of the resort. It makes it safe for children, who inevitably want to run wild in the snow.
There is always an abundance of the white stuff here, thanks to SilverStar’s position on the mountain and its elevation (1,600m). The ski school instructors are all well-trained and patient and are fantastic at introducing new skiers to the slopes. The runs are well laid out and easy to navigate, with real opportunity to enjoy the peace and scale of the region.
Lunch is taken back in the village, so it’s a good time for the family to meet up after a few hours split into different groups. Restaurants here (all 18 of them) are of a solid standard, serving hearty takes on US cuisine. Try Den Bar and Bistro 00 250 558 6032, which is famed for its 28-30oz Memphis on the Mountain baby back ribs. SilverStar is just one hour from Kelowna International Airport and there are nine hotels and accommodation lodges on the mountain to choose from, plus there’s a yoga studio and free resort tours.
One-day packages for first-time skiers, including lift pass and equipment rental, cost £60pp or £530 for six days
(maximum eight people). A one-day lift pass costs £56pp or £292 for six days. http://skisilverstar.com
VAL GARDENA, BEST FOR: GUARANTEED SNOW ITALY
The Dolomites are a staggeringly beautiful mountain range in northern Italy where the valley of Val Gardena meets the charming villages of Ortisei, Santa Cristina and Selva.
It has the best snow-making system in the world, which means excellent conditions, even in poor winters. The incentive to improve your skiing is provided by the choice restaurants that cling to the slopes. They come in the form of mountain huts spread out between the Dolostone buttresses. The red dolomite stone enhances the colour of the setting sun, adding another dimension to an already extraordinary scene.
Lift systems are user-friendly and designed to reduce the amount of walking. After a few days learning, aim to make it up to the Sofie Hütte http://seceda.com at 2,500m for a fantastic mountain lunch. The butter spinach ravioli is delicious and should always be followed by the kaiserschmarrn (shredded sweet pancake) that will set anyone up for a fine afternoon’s skiing.
Ski and Snowboard School Selva offers a three-hour learn-to-ski session. The course is only available on Saturdays with a maximum of three pupils in each class and offers 20 per cent discount on ski rental.
La Stua http://la-stua.com in Selva is great for après-ski, especially on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday nights when a live band performs.
Stay in the four-star Hotel Laurin hotel-laurin.it, with its spa and excellent restaurant.
Three-hour class with Ski and Snowboard School Selva costs from £92pp. A six-day beginner course (20 hours) and ski rental, costs £280pp. Six-day lift passes cost £225pp. http://scuolasciselva.com
MALL OF THE EMIRATES, BEST FOR: TESTING THE SPORT DUBAI
The best place in the world to learn to ski is where you would least expect: the Middle East. Inside Dubai’s Mall of the Emirates, the indoor mountain has real snow 365 days a year. The slopes haven’t been carved by the chaos of geological evolution; they have been carefully designed by experts to provide progressive learning areas that enable rapid progression in a controlled environment. It is the one place where the quality of both the snow and the weather are monitored and controlled to ensure optimum ski conditions every day.
Book to stay at the Aspen Ski Chalet in the Kempinski Hotel http://kempinski.com and the ski slope is right outside the front door, which means you’ll consume little energy getting your skis on. Ski Dubai’s school has instructors from around the world who come with great experience and beginners’ packages include all clothing and ski equipment, so there is no immediate commitment to buy into the sport. A discovery lesson lasts for an hour. Why not follow it by swapping your ski jacket for a swimsuit and reflect on your first endeavours with a cocktail by the beach?
Its lift system was designed to suit the relevant levels of skier, so you can progress to the next gradient as your confidence develops. There is a real sense of space, which helps nervous skiers and you almost feel as though you’re in the mountains – without the stunning landscapes, of course. Après-ski is limited to the hot chocolate in the chalet at the mid-station but there are plenty of options for dining. Nathan Outlaw at Al Mahara in the Burj Al Arab http://jumeirah.com should be high on every list.
A one-hour discovery lesson costs £40pp, including refundable key deposit. Further lessons from £56pp. http://skidxb.com
KITZBUHEL, BEST FOR: EXCELLENT TUITION AUSTRIA
As a three-year-old, this writer was fortunate to have his first lessons with Kitzbühel’s Rote Teufel (Red Devil) Ski School on the gentle nursery slopes at the bottom of the Hannenkamm.
I’ve no doubt my first ski teacher would have been surprised to see me 16 years later, charging down the Streif World Cup race course at 90mph and the teaching here remains first-class.
Kitzbühel is a large town and getting to the pistes can be a trek, but if you stay in the comfortable Rasmushof Hotel http://rasmushof. at, the nursery slopes are just outside the entrance. It’s brilliantly designed for beginners: the terrain is easy to practise on and is set near the excellent Restaurant Red Bull 00 43 5356 62700.
Learners can use some of the lower Rasmusleiten and Mocking lifts free of charge while they find their ski legs, although with good instruction it won’t be long before you progress further up the mountain. By the end of your first trip, expect to be sitting on the terrace of the Berggasthof Sonnbühel http://sonnbuehel.at at 1,700m enjoying a truly superb lunch. The Mountain Restaurant is run by former downhill racer Ivan Marzola, who has brought his Italian flair to the local cuisine.
After a day on the piste, there is nothing like a cold beer to recharge and a short walk down from the slopes is the Londoner Pub http://londoner.at, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. It has hosted many a party as downhill skiers celebrate completing their hardest challenge of the season, one of the venues for the area’s World Cup race.
A one-day class with Rote Teufel Ski School costs £55pp. Six-day classes for a maximum of 12 people cost£217pp. A one-day lift pass is £45pp. en.rote-teufel.at
This article was published on 21st December 2016 so certain details may not be up to date.