While we might all like the idea of flying down the steepest slopes on Europe’s tallest mountains, the reality is we have to start somewhere. And we sure don’t want to start our skiing experience in a ski resort with no gentle slopes. We look at the best ski resorts in France for beginners (and some of the best resorts outside France)…
1. La Plagne
La Plagne is one of the best places for beginner skiers in Europe with its wide, easy slopes. There’s beginner areas throughout the whole resort – 62 percent of the mountain is suitable for beginners and intermediates, that’s a massive 132 ski runs. La Plagne is actually made up of 10 villages – it’s best if you stay higher in villages such as Belle Plagne and Plagne Centre because some of the best beginner slopes are up high – above the tree line. It’s a beginner and intermediate skier playground up here and if you pick it right, you’ll never wait for a chairlift. There’s also easy, wide slopes throughout the entire top of the mountain and plenty of ski schools offering multi-lingual instructors.
2. La Toussuire
Located within the gigantic Les Sybelles ski region, La Toussuire is ideal for beginner skiers with its flat plateau area for learners and high altitude (meaning the snow cover is always dependable). La Toussuire has its own chairlifts and separate ski passes if you wish to stay within its 53 kilometres of easy slopes. However, you can also access the larger Les Sybelles area (with 310 kilometres of ski runs) which can be accessed fairly easily for skiers with only basic skiing skills. Children from as young as three can be taught at some of France’s best multi-lingual ski schools for beginners. La Toussuire also has a compact village full of restaurants and bars with a pedestrianised main street so you won’t have to look out for cars walking in ski boots for the first time. There’s even a beginner snow park here if you’re game.
3. Les Deux Alpes
Perhaps the biggest thrill for beginners at Les Deux Alpes is that it turns normal ski resorts upside down – some of the best beginner ski runs can be found at the very top of the mountain. And at Les Deux Alpes that’s a long way up – 3,200 metres to be precise. In fact, beginners can ski down a glacier, on some of Europe’s deepest snow, and with views all the way into Switzerland and Italy. This is a novel concept – most of the time beginners must keep to the bottom reaches of ski mountains, missing most of the stunning views and good snow cover. There’s also plenty of beginner runs all within walking distance of the main village, many with Poma style lifts operating at a very slow speed. There’s 222 kilometres of ski runs at Les Deux Alpes – so when you develop your skills, there’s intermediate runs all across the mountain.
One of the best things about learning to ski at Meribel is that you can buy a much cheaper local ski pass which allows you to learn the ropes at Meribel’s beginner areas – and then when you’re confident enough to go further afield, you can ski one of the world’s largest linked ski areas – Trois Vallees. Meribel has lots of easy, flat slopes – some are so flat you’ll need to pole yourself along. And with its sheltered setting behind steep-sided mountains, weather for learning tends to be more favourable than other places in the Alps. There’s also plenty of restaurants and cafes right beside the main beginner slopes, and one of the first British ski schools to set up in the Alps is located here. Once you learn the basics of skiing at Meribel you can upgrade your pass to include the whole of the Trois Vallees region, giving you access to 600 kilometres of runs and 169 lifts.
5. Les Arcs
Les Arcs really caters for the beginner ski market – on some sections of the mountain you don’t need a ski pass, you can buy 1, 2, 3, 5 or 10 trips on the chairlift, meaning you don’t feel you have to ski all day to get your money’s worth.
There’s also some parts of the mountain where you can ski for free – meaning you won’t have to pay for a lift pass till you really want to make proper use of the mountain. But Les Arcs offers a lot of easy intermediate runs – so it’s not a big step-up from the beginner slopes – they’re very wide and not particularly steep compared to most of France. There’s also many short lifts just beside the village for beginners.
Valmorel has to be one of the most under-rated ski resorts in all of France – it’s so often overlooked by Brits on their way to better-known resorts, but Valmorel is easy to get to (it’s close to Geneva) and it’s much prettier than a lot of purpose-built French resorts. There’s no concrete eyesores here, and it’s ideal for beginners. There’s six areas here set across seven hectares just for beginners – and most of the instructors are English speakers. You also won’t have to catch buses to the slopes – accommodation is built close to the beginner slopes. Two thirds of Valmorel is classified beginner or intermediate terrain. And for those beginners looking for other pursuits to go with downhill skiing, there’s stunning vistas across the Alps on 43 kilometres of cross-country ski trails.
Vaujany is one of the best places to learn to ski in the Alps – largely because no-one seems to know about it at all. It was only built as a ski resort in the late ‘80s and it still feels like a secret ski village tucked away in the mountains. It has fantastic beginner slopes here hidden in a valley – but it’s not tiny by any means, there’s 18 lifts here to take you a little further afield once you get beyond the nursery slopes. It’s easy to journey into the much bigger ski area of Alpe d’Huez once you have the basics of skiing figured out.
Skiing Tips For Beginners
Hire skis and boots
You can rent skis and ski boots at ski resorts for much the same price as you’ll pay to rent them from home – saving you the trouble of transporting your skis and boots (and budget airlines in Europe charge an arm and a leg to carry skis). Often you can rent skis and boots as part of your overall ski package.
But don’t expect to rent anything but skis and ski boots, jackets and ski pants. Don’t think you’ll be able to rent goggles, beanies, fleeces or thermal underwear. If you arrive in France or Switzerland, particularly, needing to buy these items you’ll pay sky-high prices. Stock up at home first.
Choose goggles over sunglasses
A lot of people prefer sunglasses when it’s warmer, but for learners nothing is safer and better for your eyes (snowblindness is an issue) than a good pair of ski goggles.
Wear a helmet
It’s not even for what you’ll do to yourself, it’s more what others might do to you. Skiing is dangerous so why not give yourself a little more protection.
Learn the correct way from the very start. Even if it’s just a short introductory lesson it’s better to learn from the professionals than friends whose technique is often questionable.
Group lessons are much more affordable than private lessons – often as much as one tenth of the price.
Sleep close to the ski fields
Some resorts offer cheaper accommodation miles away from the slopes. But you’ll find walking in ski boots is hard – even seasoned veterans are known to slip on the ice – so ensure your accommodation is just a short distance away from the beginner slopes.
Be aware of where you are
Familiarise yourself with the piste map (ski resorts publish a map with all ski slopes labelled) first so you know where you’re going. Take a map with you. You wouldn’t believe how many skiers get completely lost on a ski mountain on their first day. Always look above before you start to ski. Although you MUST give way to all ski traffic below you, many skiers ignore the rules. You don’t want to start your introduction to skiing by being run into by an out-of-control skier. Stick to ski runs that suit your ability. Stay on the beginner slopes till you at least work out your turns. Once you’re on a long steep expert run it takes a long time to get down it if you’re unable to control your speed. But at the same time: don’t stay on the beginner slopes for your whole holiday. Ask around – find out which slopes are best for those ready to take the next step. Skiers are always happy to help – after all, they’ve all to learn themselves. Ski resorts tend to be a bit far from the airport and sometimes the hotels aren’t right on the mountain. Renting a car can make your ski holiday less stressful. Compare car hire deals to save money.