A life-long desire to sit on a beach, lapping up the sun rather than hurtle down snow-topped mountains kept me away from ski holidays.
But as I reached, and passed 30, I decided skiing was a skill I’d like to master “just in case”.
Turns out, skiing is worth all the hype. Spending time marvelling at nature while enjoying the thrill of an extreme sport and then a spot of ‘après ski’ is delightful.
Naturally, however, I did fall victim to some pitfalls. Here’s what I learnt in case you fancy finally giving it a go.
1. BEG, BORROW AND STEAL – OR RENT – EQUIPMENT
“Skiing is very expensive,” was a familiar phrase uttered ahead of my trip to Austria. Not only are ski passes and accommodation pricey, there’s all the kit beyond the obvious skis, boots and poles. I borrowed most of my clothing – jackets, trousers, hats, gloves, goggles – so make sure you ask around and call on some well-travelled friends. You can also rent jackets and trousers in most ski resorts. Just don’t invest a load of money on your first rodeo.
Much like a new pair of shoes, rented ski boots will take some time to break in. Experts say it takes about four to five days for them to feel comfortable – which isn’t much good if you’re there for a short break. Two things helped me – the right socks and the right pressure. Go against your instinct and pick thin, high quality socks. You might think thick would be better – cold weather, big boots – but go thin, ideally made from merino wool or similar. Thick socks will bunch up and stop circulation. Numb feet or pins and needles will be your number one enemy on the slopes and knowing how tight to have your boots is essential. Have your boots looser at the start of the day, gradually adding as you go. That is, other than the third buckle which should be fairly tight throughout. And when you stop for a break, loosen your buckles but don’t undo them entirely. It will make it worse when you have to put them.
2. LEARN THE LINGO
Now you look the part, you have to sound the part. “That guy has great Steeze on the Pow.” Pardon? You mean that guy has a great style and ease on the snow? Oh ok… There’s a lot of slang on the slopes to contend with. Maybe you’ll meet a ‘park rat’ – someone who spends all their time in the freestyle sections of the resorts – or a ‘liftie’ – someone who operates the ski lifts. If you’re really good, you will master a switch – or riding backwards on your skis – or brave some ‘gnarly’ – extreme – conditions. But most likely, if you are a beginner, you’ll mostly be getting familiar with the ‘snowplough.’ This is how beginners learn to turn and essentially is a stance where the skis are closer together at the front than the back. To turn, you put pressure on the inside of the opposite foot to where you want to go. Turning left? Put pressure on the inside of the right. Sounds confusing? Give it a few hours on your skis and you’ll know what I mean.
Also, I watched a lot of YouTube videos ahead of our trip to get a general idea of what to expect. God bless the internet.
3. PICK THE RIGHT RESORT
If you are a first time skier, go to a resort with ample gentle green and blue (beginner) slopes and excellent teaching facilities. You don’t want to turn up to a sea of red, black and orange (advance) runs only to be put off for life.
We picked Sölden, at the heart of Ötztal, in the Western area of Tirol, Austria. It is high altitude – with ranges between 1350 and 3340 meters – and has two glaciers, meaning it has a long October to April season (this is also useful, fiscally). For beginners, there is over 144 km of freshly groomed slopes and an army of ski schools offering a range of courses from first timers, to kid’s classes, to perfecting sessions for experts. It is also the only ski area in Austria to have three peaks over 3,000 meters, meaning it is totally spectacular. The flight to Innsbruck is a little over two hours from Gatwick as well.
4. HAVE ONE-ON-ONE TUTORING
Lela, my instructor, was amazing from Ski School Sölden-Hochsölden. We had two one-on-one sessions, both lasting for three hours. If you can afford to go it alone, do. I recommend at least two sessions one-on-one before you graduate to group lessons or even – bravely – tackling the slopes solo. Without Lela’s expertise I would probably have left the resort never wanting to return to the slopes.
Learners shouldn’t be too ambitious. I went for four nights, skiing on two and that was enough for my first time. It’s hard work on your brain and your body (more on that later). So if you’re staying for a week, book a couple of days off at least.
Then there’s the fear factor. Many great things come with age, but heightened terror is not one of them when it comes to skiing. There will be groups of toddlers zipping past you on the slopes, fearlessly tackling inclines that look terrifying to you. Try to ignore them – they don’t understand how vulnerable the human body is and they’re using it to their advantage. Fair play. I just kept telling myself no ski instructor is going to take you on a slope you can’t cope with. They won’t put your life on the line and you will get down somehow, even if it’s mainly on your backside. Talking of bums – once you get your first fall out of the way, you realise it is a) not that painful and b) even the experts do it sometimes. It’s all part of the experience.
During your lessons, don’t be afraid to ask your instructor for regular breaks. You’re paying, it is your time and your prerogative. Skiing is demanding and it is new. If you’re getting frustrated or tired, just stop for a while and take a deep breath and a big glug of water, re-apply your sunscreen maybe have a snack and you’ll feel better. Think of it like this – if you were sat at work struggling with a task, you wouldn’t carry on regardless hoping you’ll eventually work it out. Equally, if you are coming to the end of your session and you have a good run or nail a new technique, stop there. Go out with a bang and walk away with your head held high.
5. PICK THE RIGHT HOTEL
By the end of a day on the slopes, your body will be in agony. You’ll be bruised, knackered, and probably a bit drunk too. Naturally, you’ll want some down time. And what better place to relax than in a wonderful, luxury hotel and spa?
We stayed at the 5-star Das Central, which has 125 rooms and suites plus a humongous 1,500 square meter spa, set over three storeys. The spa also has 16 treatment rooms – I had a life changing full body massage on my final night (72 Euros for 50 minutes) – and a 120 square meter fitness suite, should you be mad enough to want more. It is worth noting some areas of the spa are nude.
Gastronomically, the hotel has two restaurants – the award-winning fine dining Feinspitz, which serves classic Austrian cuisine with a high-end edge, and the more everyday but still deliciously la carte restaurant Ötztaler Stube. Wine lovers will also rejoice – as the hotel stocks over 30,000 bottles from some of the best wineries in the world. What a way to wash down a slap up supper after a day on the slopes.
Breakfast in the morning, served in Ötztaler Stube, is bountiful and varied and is the best way to prepare for a day on the slopes.
6. ENJOY IT
It’s an epic holiday, and you’re learning a new skill in the most stunning surroundings. Soak it all up before dashing back to the city.
Das Central Hotel, Sölden, Austria has double rooms available from €200 per person / per night, based on two people sharing on a half board basis. The hotel can help organise airport transfers. central-soelden.com/en/
easyJet flies to Innsbruck (about an hour from Sölden) from London Gatwick, Luton, Manchester and Bristol with prices starting from £30.96 per person (return, including taxes.) The current schedule runs until October 24, 2020. All flights can be booked at easyjet.com