Ski holidays for beginners: Alps or Rockies?

With dozens of excellent ski resorts no more than a two-hour flight away, the Alps look like the perfect place to learn to ski. However, the lure of the Rockies is great: a solid powder guarantee, friendly English-speaking instructors and no lift queues are compelling reasons to board that long flight.

Each side of the Atlantic has its benefits – here are the the pros and cons.

The Alps

Beginners needn’t travel far to find good slopes – there are heaps of places in the Alps with reliable snow, good tuition and plenty of apres-ski opportunities.

Alpine ski schools have improved considerably. Crystal Ski product and marketing director Gareth Crump said: “They realised they had to improve and modernise and now it’s not hard to find English-speaking instructors in the Europe.”

A big plus for the Alpine resorts is they offer more activities away from the slopes. Neilson head of product Andy Harmer said: “There are some lovely resorts in Austria, Switzerland and France that offer other attractions if beginners decide skiing is not for them.

”Determining which Alpine resorts are best for beginners varies according to what they want out of the holiday, said Crump. Austrian instructors are renowned for their emphasis on technique, while their Italian counterparts have a more relaxed approach.

If your group are beginners, head to one of the smaller resorts, he suggested. “There’s no point going to mega resorts where you’ll pay a high price for a lift pass and facilities you’ll barely touch,” he said. Cavalese in Italy and Rauris in Austria have fewer than a dozen runs and only a few lifts but prices are lower than for resorts such as Val d’Isere and Chamonix.

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Crystal has learn-to-ski weeks in Cavalese from £599 per person, which includes flights, half-board accommodation, lift pass, equipment hire and lessons from January 2008.

Neilson has seven nights’ half-board in Katschberg, Austria, from £495 per person. Beginners’ ski pack, including equipment, lift pass and six days’ tuition costs £255 from January 2008

The Rockies

Many resorts in the Rockies have plenty of wide, gentle slopes and are suitable for novicesWhen you’re learning to ski, it’s crucial you understand your instructor. In North America, this is seldom an issue.

Ski schools in the US and Canada have an excellent reputation; groups are usually kept to a maximum of eight and beginners get priority in lift queues, so you don’t waste time standing around and all offer excellent service standards and good-quality accommodation.

‘The slopes tend to be quite empty and you don’t get people racing down at 100 miles an hour, which is one of the most nerve-racking experiences for beginners,’ said Ski Dream marketing executive Michael Brabin, who suggested novices head to Whistler in British Columbia, or Breckenridge in Colorado.

‘They have gentle slopes and lots of nightlife. For families I’d suggest Big White in Colorado, which is more focused on children.’Learners may also find North America less intimidating as many resorts in the Rockies have designated slow skiing zones.

Travelling costs are higher than popping over to Europe but you’ll need less spending money thanks to the excellent exchange rate. ‘It’s a great place to learn to ski if you don’t mind the long flight,’ said Crystal’s Gareth Crump.

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Ski Dream has seven nights’ room-only at the three-star Great Divide Lodge in Breckenridge from £740 per person including flights and transfers. A three-day learn-to-ski package with lessons and lift pass costs about £122. A six-day lift pass costs about £250.

Frontier Ski has seven nights at The Brewster’s Mountain Lodge in Banff for £782 per person including flights and transfers from January 2008.

What’s the alternative

Scandinavia is a great choice for beginners, particularly those who don’t want to spend their entire holiday learning to ski, as it offers plenty of activities away from the slopes. Norway, Sweden and Finland have some good resorts where you can try dog-sledding, ice skating or learn how to lasso a reindeer.

“Scandinavian resorts offer an abundance of other activities in a really beautiful setting,” said Crystal Ski product and marketing director Gareth Crump.

Neilson head of product Andy Harmer suggested Norway for its uncrowded slopes and quality tuition. “It’s particularly good for families because of all the other activities available,” he said. “And by late February, these resorts have longer days than any Alpine resort.”

Alcohol is generally more expensive in Scandinavia than Europe, which makes it less attractive to groups, but Crump said Finland was affordable. “Half the fun of learning to ski is the apres-ski and, in Finland, drinking isn’t as expensive as in London,” he added.

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Neilson has seven nights’ self-catering in Geilo, Norway, from £139 per person based on four sharing. Beginners’ ski packs cost £255 including equipment, lift pass and tuition. From January 2008.

Crystal has seven nights’ half-board at the three-star Holy Suites in the Finnish Lapland resort Pyha, which offers downhill and cross-country skiing, from £361 per person including flights. A ski pack with tuition, equipment and lift pass costs £191. From January 2008.

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