For many people, the thought of dishing out hundreds (or thousands) of pounds for a ski trip, only to find out some family or friends hate it, or don’t enjoy themselves because they haven’t the skills to ski without repeatedly falling, is daunting
The solution? Learn to ski before you leave the UK.
You don’t have to cross the channel and head into the high reaches of the Alps to get into a pair of skis and learn basic ski skills.
You can do it right here in the UK, in a controlled environment with skilled instructors on hand.
You can even do it indoors to escape the inevitable British rain.
The aim being, before you even leave home, you’ll have equipped yourself and your family with the skills and confidence necessary to really enjoy a holiday on the slopes.
Here are a few of the best indoor learn-to-ski facilities in the UK.
These options run all year round, and can keep you in shape for the slopes, even if you already know how to ski.
This is London’s largest indoor skiing centre, and consists of a giant treadmill-like ski surface.
The treadmill method means that there is no stopping for lift rides, nor is the surface uneven or bumpy.
It is a smooth, easy terrain for learning basic skills like how to turn, slow down, speed up, etc.
There is even a mirror at the ‘bottom’ of the slope that helps learners to see their own form and better respond to instructors’ comments.
Expect to pay around £35 to £40 per hour for a single lesson, with discounts for package deals.
This option offers actual snow, and some rougher terrain. You’ll actually be skiing down a hill here, rather than having a treadmill move beneath your skis.
Runs will be shorter than those found in the alps (up to 170m long compared with several km in some cases), and there will be less choice and variety.
For the beginner it offers a chance to practice in shorter bursts, with a lift ride back up to contemplate how the previous run went, and what to work on during the next one.
This is the best way to simulate what you’ll experience in an actual mountain situation – but in miniature of course – and there are lessons available to help you get started.
Some people even begin with an indoor setting, and move on to something like this in a progression toward mountain skiing.
The Snow Centre
Similar to SnowDome, the Snow Centre has slopes up to 160m in length, with some terrain to negotiate and a true experience of skiing downhill on real snow.
This is the largest indoor ski lesson slope in the UK, with both ski and snowboarding slopes over 30m wide.
It’s a convenient location for Londoners, too.
Other Indoor Locations
Other similar choices for learning to ski and getting some practice in before leaving the UK include the Chill Factor in Manchester, Snow Factor in Glasgow and Braehead and Snowzone in Castleford and Milton Keynes.
Fancy trying out a real, outdoor slope before your trip?
There are options for that right here in the UK. Keep in mind that these don’t compare in scenery or slopes to what you’ll find in the alps, or North America, but for a taste of real skiing before a bigger trip, or a quick weekend on the slopes, they’ll do nicely.
With 590m of vertical, 32km of runs, 24 of which are blue-rated, Cairngorm Mountain offers a true skiing experience for adventurous beginners and those edging toward intermediate status.
Don’t expect this to be suitable for absolute beginners unless they are a bit daring, but it might be a good step up from an initial set of indoor lessons.
It takes about three hours to get there from Glasgow or Edinburgh, but from Inverness the travel time is cut in half.
Just over two hours from Glasgow, and also in Cairngorms National Park, is another option, Glenshee Ski Centre.
Glenshee is bigger than Cairngorm, with 40 km of runs, 24 of them blue-rated.
They are spread over a flatter vertical though, at only 250m, but the views are still good and you’ll get the feel of a real ski trip – in miniature of course.
A third option in the Cairngorms is the Lecht.
Also about three hours from Glasgow or Edinburgh, and a bit over an hour from Inverness, this is reasonably easy to get to and offers some easier intermediate runs – 5km out of the resort total of 18.
The vertical is only 138m, which takes some of the sting out of some of the runs, but it is still for the beginning skier with some miles of experience and a desire to stretch to the edges of the comfort zone.
The Lecht isn’t as well-reviewed as some of the others, but in truth the resorts in this area are all quite similar. You won’t see a wide range of difference from any one to the other.
Among the highest resorts available in the UK, the Nevis Range offers 566m of vertical, and 20km of runs.
None of these are considered beginner level, though 7km is designated blue, so this option is also more for the skier who has a few miles of experience already and wants a bit of a challenge added to holiday preparation.
At three hours north of Glasgow, it’s also a bit off the beaten track for many in the UK – but then most ski resorts are, so nothing abnormal there.
At two hours almost due north of Glasgow, Glencoe offers a whopping (by UK standards) 710m of vertical.
With 7 out of 24km of runs in the blue range, it is similar to other resorts in the UK with regard to difficulty level and choice of runs.
Resorts in the UK all cost about the same, somewhere above £30 for the lift ticket, but not more than £40.
The cost of getting there varies, of course, depending on your point of departure and the way you intend to travel.
Lodging costs, too, vary according to your tastes. Most resorts have at least some choice on both the low-budget end and higher up the luxury ladder.
None will compare with – or cost as much as – luxury offerings in the alps.
These are more like local resorts and, though they do not attract the necessary clientele to justify top-tier rooms or high-end shops and Michelin-starred restaurants, they will aim to be comfortable and to have options for various levels of service and style.
Your best bet is to begin with an indoor club to learn and practise foundation skills.
Once those are in place, you can head out to the alps or, if you just can’t wait for your holiday and want to get some slope-time in under more real-life conditions, head up to one of the UK’s outdoor resorts.
They’re a bit of a trip to get to for most UK residents, but that’s part of the adventure, and the scenery will be worth it.
Expect to pay around £35 an hour for treadmill-style, indoor ski hills have various lift ticket options from an hour to day passes and more, so prices vary widely.
Outdoor resorts are usually around £33 for a single-day lift ticket.
Factor in the cost of at least a few lessons (highly-recommended), hiring equipment, and travel to and from the facility. If you plan to stay overnight, there is that too.
Don’t think if it as lost money though, and don’t think of it as taking anything away from the big trip you see in your future. Quite the opposite is true.
By learning to ski in the UK, you will increase your enjoyment (and safety) of a trip to the alps or North America, and you will be free to explore more of the grand resorts.
In other words, a little preparation here can dramatically increase the value of your later trips.