Ski and Skiing Advice

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How to Choose a Ski Resort

How on earth do you decide where to go for your winter sports holiday?  It’s a tough one. There are certainly plenty of resorts to choose from these days.  Skiing has become hugely popular with people of all ages and from all walks of life and most resorts now cater for all tastes. There was a time when skiing was a sport reserved for the wealthy and elite, locals lucky enough to live in or near a resort, or the so-called ‘ski bums’ working in resorts, but those days are long gone.


Choosing a ski destination in today’s world is becoming more and more of a lottery.  You have to take a chance on where the snow is going to fall!  While one winter season may not be good for a certain country or ski area, it doesn’t mean that it will be the same the next season.  Global warming is blamed for the change in climate and weather patterns, but the scientists can’t predict which countries or areas Mother Nature and the snow gods will bless.   


So… What if you have no choice but to book your winter sports holiday in advance? The general opinion of those-in-the-know seems to be that it’s safest to choose a high altitude resort, as you’ll have a better chance of skiing on real snow, and maybe even powder, rather than the man-made variety or risking no snow at all. Those able to take off at a moment’s notice can choose to fly where the snow is falling.


If you’re taking the family you’ll want to look for family-friendly resorts with bunny hills, ski school lessons and activities for the kids.  If you compare resorts you’ll see that some are more geared up for families than others.


The internet is a great place to start as you can find out just about anything by ‘Googling’ it.  Start by choosing the country of your choice, and then sift through the resorts until you find one that suits most of your needs. While you’re checking out our Ski Insurance section for a quote (Click here: ski insurance ) take the time to look through our Ski Guide pages where we have compiled some helpful information and links for ski resorts in Europe, USA, Canada and Worldwide


Choosing the Runs / Piste Suited to Your Abilities


If you are unfamiliar with a particular resort or ski mountain, pick up a Mountain Map (also known as Trail Guide, Trail Map or Piste Map) and study it before you set out.  The methods used to rate the runs (pistes) may vary from resort to resort and country to country, but as a general rule they will be marked with a colour and the name of the run so that you can easily identify it on your Trail Map and know whether or not you can handle it.  The difficulty of an Intermediate run, for instance, may vary.  Many resorts will  post a board near the ski school or lifts with names of the runs which have been groomed overnight so you can warm up on some nice cruising runs before hitting something more challenging.


The runs, or pistes, in Europe are typically identified by the following colour codes: 


Blue (Beginner or Easy Run)

These are the easiest runs, good for beginners and intermediate skiers.  They will have gentle gradients and no difficult terrain or moguls. 


Red (Intermediate Run) 

The Red runs will have a steeper gradient with more challenging terrain or moguls.


Black (Advanced Skiers, more difficult)

The Black runs will be the steeper slopes and often have long and very challenging mogul runs. 



In the USA & Canada the ski runs have a different colour coding system:


Green (Beginner and Easiest runs)

The green runs are good for beginners and intermediate skiers. Green runs are most often found near the base of the mountain, but can also be found on the upper slopes, giving beginners the chance to gain confidence and make long runs down to the base of the mountain.  However, it can be intimidating riding a lift to the top of the mountain, so beginners may not wish to attempt these runs without a guide or instructor. 


Blue (Intermediate runs)

The Blue runs are steeper and more challenging runs, often with moguls.  A Blue run might also indicate a run which is not too steep, but perhaps is narrow or slants to one side, or has some other difficult aspect to deal with. 


Black (Advanced, Expert and more difficult runs)

In North America the Black runs are for advanced skiers.  They are also rated according to a Black Diamond symbol – with a single black diamond being the least challenging, all the way up to double and triple black diamonds which are definitely for expert skiers only!  Some Black runs may be suitable for a good intermediate skier, but they can vary from resort to resort.  Many resorts have Mountain Guides and Hosts who ski the mountain and are available to give advice and answer questions. 


Different Types of Snow


If you’re a beginner then a few lessons with an instructor will be very valuable in helping you to get the most out of your time on the slopes.  You’ll encounter many different types of snow and terrain on one mountain – even in the same day - so it’s important to learn how to deal with changing conditions and ski safely and in control.  As a general rule, the snow on the higher slopes will be drier due to the colder temperatures and it’s the type of snow that squeaks and crunches pleasingly as you walk on it.  The snow on the lower slopes is likely to be softer and wetter, depending on the temperatures. 


While you’re learning you’ll be glad to stay in the safe confines of the bunny hills, but once you find your ‘ski-legs’ you’ll want to be off exploring all that the mountain has to offer.  Ski resorts use special equipment to ‘groom’ many of the runs – which basically means they make them nice and flat for you so that you can ski faster and carve big turns.  The groomed runs can make the most ungraceful ‘gorilla turn’ skier look and feel like a pro! 


Many runs are deliberately left ungroomed so that moguls form, which are basically the bumps of snow which build up from skiers making the same tracks around them and the bumps subsequently get larger and larger until the resort decides to groom them flat and start again.  Bump skiing is hard on the knees and probably best left to the younger and fitter skiers, but it can be a fun challenge for all levels of skiers to have a go.  Kids who start early on the bumps often develop amazing ability for this style of skiing (affectionately known as ‘Mogul Mice’) and tackle the bumps with no hint of fear.  It helps that they have a low centre of gravity to start with – and not far to fall! 


Begin on the easy bump runs and work your way up, but leave the ‘Black’ mogul runs to the experts!  It’s a treat to watch expert skiers navigating down a double black diamond mogul run and catching air as they jump off the tops – but you’d be advised to stay out of their way and just watch from the sides - or ride the lifts which pass over those runs for a bird’s eye view of the action.  You’ll be in awe at the skill of some of these athletes! 


Spring Skiing


Spring is a time when you can have loads of fun on the mountain - getting a tan while skiing in shorts and a tee-shirt (or less!) but the downside is that you’ll probably be doing something more akin to water-skiing.  The warm temperatures will mean softer and wetter snow, and even slush on the lower slopes.  The heavy snow can take some getting used to, and be warned that this is often the most common time when accidents happen and bones get broken! 


Powder Skiing


Powder skiing is another experience.  It takes a different technique, so you might consider taking a lesson or hiring an instructor to help you find your balance and get the most out of the powder - or ‘white gold’ as it’s also known.  Many resorts will leave expert runs ungroomed so that you can glide silently through the powder and make your own tracks!  However, these are also the runs where moguls form fast, and later in the day the run could become quite choppy and difficult for beginners and intermediate skiers.  Powder skiing is a fantastic and very addictive experience and one you will want to relive over and over again if you are lucky enough to experience it and can master the art. 


Man Made Snow


Skiing on man-made snow takes yet another technique.  You could be skiing down a groomed piste on velvety snow and suddenly feel as if you’ve hit gravel.  You’ll encounter man-made snow on the lower slopes where they’ve been making snow to keep you from skiing on grass and rocks if the snow level drops low enough – or at the start of the season.  In these areas you will often see hazards (rocks and grass) roped off, or marked with flags or some other method – so you’d be wise to take notice and stay away from those areas rather than risk damaging your skis and having to get them re-tuned and re-waxed – if not re-placed!    


Many beginners make the mistake of thinking they cannot ride the lifts to the top of the mountain and take those runs because they are more advanced.  That is not always the case.  If you study your mountain map (provided free by the resorts) you’ll see that there will often be Beginner or Intermediate runs from the top down to the base.  Sometimes these runs will be connected by roads or trails so that you won’t have to encounter any piste which is beyond your capability.  It’s a good idea to always carry a Mountain Map in your pocket in case you get separated from your group, or to avoid getting yourself into a situation where the only way down is via a Double Black Diamond! (Trust me, it happens. I’ve done it!). 


Off Piste Skiing


Skiing off-piste or out-of-bounds is an activity best avoided or left to advanced and expert skiers. These areas are usually very well flagged and marked, so go through the barriers at your own risk.  The areas are not groomed and you’ll be going off into terrain where there may not be a lift to bring you back out and you’ll be expected to know your way.  Always inform someone of your plans so that emergency services can be informed if you don’t return. You could easily get lost, and if the weather and visibility turns bad you’ll have problems finding your way back.  There’s also the danger of avalanches and even expert skiers who carry all the emergency equipment can get caught out.  Be warned that you’ll also be taking a big chance (which could be very costly) as your Travel Insurance may not cover you if you get into difficulties while skiing off-piste or out of bounds!  (That doesn’t just apply to our Ski Insurance, but any policy).  Use some common sense because you may not just get yourself into danger, but could also put the lives of your rescuers in peril.  In case you’re wondering… Yes, you will probably receive a hefty bill for their services – which could even include a helicopter ride!  If you really want to ride in a helicopter do it properly and pay to go Helicopter Skiing with professional guides and instructors!


Tree Skiing is another type of activity best left to more advanced skiers.  Once you head off into the trees, whether at the side of the piste or other parts of the mountain, you need to be able to control you speed and stop quickly if needed. The tracks through trees are often steep, narrow and winding.  It may look like fun, and your friends may try to persuade you to follow them.  However, if you don’t think you’re up to it our advice is, don’t do it!  Trees are very pretty but also very hard - as many ex skiers have found out.  Also, other skiers don’t appreciate it if you come hurtling out of the trees out-of-control and ski into them!  You could seriously injure yourself or others.  Skiing is fun, so don’t spoil it by taking unnecessary risks, being banned from the mountain, or getting yourself prosecuted or tangled up in lawsuits!


Skiing or Snowboarding? 

Whether you prefer to Ski or Snowboard is a matter of personal choice.  Many older skiers who learned with two skis will never convert to boarding!  However, the popularity of boarding – especially among younger skiers – is huge.  Most resorts do cater for boarders, with special parks, pipes and rails – but again, do your homework and check on the resort rules before you book!  We have come across a few ski areas where boarders are not welcome and some where boarders are confined to certain parts of the mountain.  Most resorts don’t discriminate and boarders are welcome on all the runs.  


Prepare for Your Ski Trip in Advance

You wouldn’t expect to go out and run a marathon without doing plenty of training to prepare yourself.  Likewise with skiing, you’d be advised to start toning up and getting your ski muscles into shape well before you hit the slopes.  Apart from the obvious hazards of being unprepared and out of shape, like breaking bones or tearing ligaments, your skiing ability could be seriously affected by stiff and aching muscles. There’s only so much that a hot tub and mug of hot spiced wine can fix! 


Don’t forget you will be at a higher altitude than you are used to, and many people suffer with varying degrees of Altitude Sickness.  You could find you get out of breath easily, tire easily, or have headaches.  Please remember that your tolerance for alcohol will also be affected, so take it easy!  


To get the most enjoyment out of your winter sports holiday, consider joining a gym well in advance.  Have an instructor show you the best exercises to target your ski muscles. One key point is to remember to warm-up and stretch before you hit the slopes.  Another great way to get conditioned for skiing is to take some lessons at a dry ski slope.  These facilities can be found close to many major cities, so check and see whether you have one in your vicinity. Getting the basics down before you hit real snow will give you a great advantage.


Another word of advice… Don’t try to look cool by skiing in your jeans or track suit!  Once those heavy fabrics get wet you’ll be stuck with them all day and be cold and very uncomfortable!  Plus you won’t look cool at all with wet patches on your clothes as everyone will know that you’ve taken a fall.  Falls can range from a general ‘face plant’ with telltale snow wedged behind your goggles/sunglasses, all the way up to a boot sale/garage sale where poles, skis and goggles leave your body in a sad trail down the mountain.  Wearing proper ski clothing which is waterproof is a must and a good investment.  Layering your clothes is also a good idea, as well as purchasing good quality, waterproof gloves or mittens.  Don’t forget your hat, goggles and sunglasses. Protect your skin and lips with a high SPF sun block and invest in a good quality pair of sunglasses which will screen out the harmful rays. Remember that the sun’s rays are much stronger at altitude, plus reflected glare from the snow.  You never know what kind of weather you will encounter throughout a day on the slopes so most resorts provide lockers where you can shed clothing, or store items and return for them later if needed.  Better to be dry and warm than cold and sorry! 


Should You Take the Kids Skiing?

Have you ever met a kid who doesn’t like playing in the snow?  If you plan to take the children with you it’s vital to choose a ski resort which caters for families.  The good resorts will be well geared-up with a children’s ski school and activities, baby sitting and child-minding services.  As we outlined earlier, most kids take to skiing like proverbial ducks to water so it’s a good idea to start them out young.  They will have a fantastic time, and when they get older and can keep up with you it’ll be even more fun being able to ski as a family and pose at the top of the mountain for those treasured family photos!


A Final Word

Above all, you’d be crazy to go off on your ski trip without taking out Winter Sports Coverage along with your Travel Insurance!!  Unfortunately, accidents can and do happen and medical bills can be astronomical – especially in North America. We cannot emphasize enough that it simply is not worth taking the risk.  We value you as a customer and we want you to remain a customer and return to enjoy your holidays on the slopes year after year!  






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