Ski resorts are not all created equal. As a newbie skier or snowboarder, picking the right resort for you could lead to a lifetime passion for the sport. Picking the wrong resort on the other hand might leave you feeling wet, cold, and frustrated.
Excellent ski schools and plenty of gentle runs on which to build confidence are obligatory requirements for beginners. But it’s also important to consider what the resort has to offer in terms of apres-ski, restaurants, and other non-ski-related activities.
OnTheSnow has selected five of the best ski resorts for beginners.
Compact, reliable snow cover, friendly and providing good value for money, Arinsal in the Vallnord area is a sound choice for those who are just starting to slide. Andorra has suffered in the past with something of a downmarket reputation but those that have skied Pal-Arinsal know differently. More than €100m of investment has gone into the area’s infrastructure and these efforts have seen the increase of developments resembling the architecture in Verbier and Meribel.
The ski slopes are wide and generally quiet which means that beginners have space in which to practice those first turns. The runs are best suited to beginner and intermediate skiers: large beginner areas can be found in La Caubella 1950m (from La Massana) and in Comellemple 1950m (at the gondola lift from Arinsal). Once you progress, nearby Pal, linked by a gondola, has more challenging runs as well as scenic tree-lined runs.
We asked Steve Hull, the resort’s director, about what makes Arinsal one of the best ski resorts for beginners. He said: “Arinsal is a fantastic place for beginners as it’s such a friendly and welcoming village, ideally set up for those new to the mountains. On the slopes, the ski school was the first in Europe to be approved by BASI, and has an excellent reputation for the standard of instruction. Off the slopes, the village atmosphere is great, with lively bars and restaurants pretty much all family-friendly too.”
Nestled in Austria’s Oztal valley and known as the diamond of the Alps, Obergurgl provides excellent snow cover, a long ski season running from November to May, stunning scenery, and a family-friendly vibe.
This resort is one of the highest ski villages in Europe, with slopes between 1,795m-3,080m, and the skiing is all above the tree line. One of the main reasons Obergurgul is one of our “best ski resorts for beginners” is because its beginner runs are wide and flat, extremely well looked after and those around Gaisber, Bruggenboden and Mahdstuhllift are particularly good.
After a few lessons, beginners should head towards Festkogl peak and cruise down blue run 6 all the way back to base. One of the advantages of Obergurgl is that there are a number of blues that start at the highest point of the mountain meaning beginner skiers don’t miss out on quality powder and they get great views too.
Obergurgl is connected to Hochgurgl which has an abundance of red runs making the resort a haven for intermediate skiers too. Once in Hochgurgl, head to the Top Mountain Star glass-walled café which is perched on the summit – the food is highly recommended.
The village itself is small and traditional and set around an early 18th Century church. Little traffic passes through, which is always a bonus. Obergurgl is a charming resort and is easily one of the top resorts in Europe.
Snowboarding mecca Avoriaz is also rated by our team as one of the best places to learn to ski. The terrain (made up of about 140km of pistes in the Avoriaz area) is vast when you take into account the Portes du Soleil area (about 650km altogether) and varied.
Avoriaz is well-deserving of its place on our “best ski resorts for beginners” list for many reasons. Its nursery slopes are next to the traffic-free centre and there are wide flat runs which are easily accessible via the lifts. Much of the accommodation is ski-in/ski-out and there are plenty of non-skiing activities – we love the Igloo village where you can eat traditional Savoyard fondue or enjoy a chilled drink in the Ice Bar. Highly recommended is Aquariaz, which is swimming pool heaven, complete with vegetation from Cambodia, climbing walls, massage benches and an open-air spa heated to 34 degrees!
What’s really fantastic for children is The Village des Enfants, a ski and snowboard school, which offers lessons to little ones as young as three years old. The method of teaching is based on the use of games and the vibe is fun, relaxed and friendly. There are slides and bumps, mini tracks, small jumps as well as a moving carpet and a beginner’s teleski. The school is open from 9:00am to 5.30pm and lunch and tea is offered in the village restaurant. Ski lessons for adults are also planned according to the children’s timetables.
Extremely popular with the German contingent but relatively unknown elsewhere, Kronplatz is somewhat of a hidden gem. Located in the Dolomites, the resort is large, thoroughly modern, and was voted Italy’s best Ski Resort by Mountain Management in 2012. It also has what every beginner rider longs for – a sophisticated lift system with around 20 high-speed gondolas, which means no embarrassing falls off the drag lifts. The slopes are a dream for beginner and intermediate skiers, with plenty of impeccably groomed wide-open red and blue runs.
Beginners will enjoy the flat slopes at the top of the panettone-shaped mountain, here you’ll find good quality snow and excellent views of the surrounding Dolomites – head for the Plateau and Sonne slopes. St Vigilio, on the Miara mountainside, offers more confident beginners decent runs. La Thuile in the Aosta Valley offers a vast array of gentle reds and blues and is linked to La Rosière in France, where skiers can progress onto more challenging reds.
Equipment hire is top-notch, the ski schools and kindergarten facilities are very good and there are plenty of non-ski activities (sledging, snow tubing, weekly ski shows) to enjoy.
Nightlife is highly rated but is a little bit more sophisticated and much less wild than its European counterparts. Head to the Bus Stop bar if you fancy a party. Restaurants are plentiful and much of the food is wholesome and excellent.
Perfect snow, perfect location, perfect pitched slopes – Courchevel has all of the ingredients for a perfect beginner’s ski resort. On the downside, it gets really crowded and it’s expensive too.
The resort is made up of five different resort villages, each with different selling points. The best two for beginners are Courchevel Moriond, which has a festive feel and is popular with families, and Courchevel (formerly Courchevel 1850) known as a haven for the rich and famous.
The runs in both of these villages consist mainly of gentle blues and greens and the confidence you’ll gain from skiing on miles of perfectly groomed pistes is one of the reasons why Courchevel made our “best ski resorts for beginners” list. We recommend Moriond which is quieter and more low-key than 1850. It’s true that it’s not just a beginner’s resort – experienced skiers will find plenty to keep themselves occupied but it’s worth noting that a whopping 60% of the resort’s slopes are beginner-friendly.
All of the villages have an abundance of non-ski-related activities: ice-skating, hot air balloon flights, climbing, cinema, paragliding – it’s an adventurer’s heaven.
Our tip to get the most out of Courchevel? It’s such a good all-round resort that everyone wants to go so don’t go at the peak times of New Year and February half-term. If you escape the hoardes, you’ll likely have discovered one of your favourite skiing destinations.