I tried skiing as a terrified beginner. Here’s why I’m now a convert

Skiing for the first time? Here’s what to expect as a nervous beginner.


I’m not sporty. I hate the cold. And risk-taking isn’t my idea of fun.

So switching my usual sunny beach holiday for a weekend on the slopes didn’t come easy.

But I’ll try anything once. And after just two days in Avoriaz in the French Alps, I am surprised and a little sheepish to admit that I am now a skiing convert.

Yes, I fell over multiple times. My legs are killing me. And I was surrounded by ice and snow.

But it was also a fun, magical experience – and not as cold or expensive as I had envisioned.

If, like me, you’re considering a ski trip but are feeling a little anxious, here’s everything you need to know as a nervous beginner.

Avoriaz: A magical wonderland in the French Alps

After a hair-raisingly fast and windy ride from Geneva, I tottered out of the minivan to the jingle of sleigh bells.

Avoriaz is a car-free resort so horses wait near the parking lot to ferry visitors to their hotels. Trotting past the glittering fir trees (apparently Christmas has no end-date in the Alps) as the snow began to flutter down, my misgivings about the trip already started to melt away.

Having collected my equipment from local hire shop Antoine Ski and dined at La Cabane – just across the snowy ‘high street’ – I sank into a fondue-induced slumber in my cosy apartment at Pierre & Vacances Residence Electra.

I awoke to Alpine choughs soaring across my balcony’s mountain view as I nibbled on fresh baked croissants from the nearby Le Fournil de Cannelle patisserie.

A few drops of Rescue Remedy later (I know it’s probably a placebo, but it makes me feel better) and I was ready to head down to the hotel’s ski lockers to face my fate.

Meeting my group of fellow beginners, we put on our heavy ski boots and awkwardly lugged the rest of our gear down to the baby slopes for our first lesson.

What’s it like to learn to ski in Avoriaz?

We spent an hour or so learning the basics of posture and stopping, using a rope lift to pull us to the top of the gentle slope alongside three-year-olds in ski suits – one of whom was making his way down in tears and clutching a teddy bear. I felt his pain.

We soon moved on to a green slope – the ‘easiest’ level, below blue and black, identified by coloured lines on the resort’s ski map. It was steeper than I expected, covered in children – who I feared slamming into – and complete with a tunnel, which felt ambitious.

While the more experienced members of the group glided ahead, our ski instructor Stephane Jacquier patiently guided the rest of us down, even using his hands to push our skis into the ‘snow plough’ position which is used to slow and stop.

A drag lift pulled us back to the top, with a few casualties falling and rolling to the side along the way, much to my alarm. As clouds descended on the mountains, the low visibility was a blessing as it blocked my view of the next steep slope before me.

It was also a curse – I hadn’t quite got the hang of steering and veered off onto an even steeper slope. I threw myself down, gladly finding that it didn’t hurt to fall in the soft powder. Avoriaz having been without snowfall for the past two weeks, we were blessed with an overnight sprinkling.

Our first lesson lasted from 9am until 1pm, and while I was proud of myself for making it through, I couldn’t wait to get out of the tight and uncomfortable ski boots and sit down for a delicious lunch and a glass of wine at party-hub La Folie Douce.


Though I was reassured that day one of skiing is always a drag, and that everything starts to click on day two, I remained dubious.

I was surprised at how fast I progressed at skiing

Waking with aches and pains in my arms, legs and feet, I was less than enthused to put my ski boots back on on the morning of day two. This time, we learnt the meaning of ‘ski-in/ski-out’ as Stephane met us right outside the hotel. We attempted to take on the small hill leading down to the path, toppling one by one like dominoes. Clearly it hadn’t quite clicked yet.

After navigating some of the previous day’s green slopes with slightly greater ease, we learned how to use the chairlifts and were soon suspended in quiet amazement over the slopes. At the top, the panoramic mountain view across to Switzerland was breathtaking.

Though it was hard to take it all in as I concentrated on making the gradual descent down a pine tree-lined piste, in the moments I managed to relax it was a truly other-worldly experience. ‘I’m starting to get what all this is about,’ I smiled to myself.

We then practised our turns on a huge, steep slope – safe to stay, I was still the worst in the group, but I was just amazed that I was able to do any of it at all.


By the time we returned to the original green slope for one last run, I was finally confident enough to put my skis parallel and enjoy picking up speed. I had caught the bug and didn’t want to leave the next day.

Tips for first time skiers

One of the highest of the 12 resorts in Les Portes du Soleil ski area at 1,800 metres above sea level, Avoriaz presents some minor altitude challenges.

Although I didn’t have a headache (we were advised to take painkillers if we did), I soon experienced the effects of low pressure. First, when my liquid eyeliner spurted all over the sink, and second when a small cut on my finger from carrying my skis turned the white snow into a bloody murder scene. Luckily this was my only injury on the trip – but a good reminder to pack waterproof plasters.

Though the pain in my feet quickly distracted from my finger, I was thankful that I’d tried on a few different pairs of ski boots in the shop to get the best fit – something I’d highly recommend for a more comfortable experience.

One thing I failed to do, however, was stretch before hitting the slopes. I’d definitely do this next time to ease the aches and pains the following day.


Avoriaz and the wider Portes du Soleil ski area is a great place for beginners to find their ski legs: 54 per cent of the slopes are green, meaning there’s plenty of new ground to explore while you practise.

For me, having an experienced instructor to put my trust in was essential. Stephane was patient, darkly humorous and strong enough to drag us up each time we fell (I’d still be lying in the snow if it weren’t for him).

His tips on safety on the slopes and lifts were also indispensable – particularly horrifying was the thought of breaking my knee had I attempted to snow plough when getting off the chairlift.

How much does a skiing holiday cost?

While skiing is not a cheap holiday by any means, it’s also not as expensive as I had imagined.

I borrowed a ski jacket and trousers from a friend so that saved me money. Failing that, you can hire ski wear from companies like Hirestreet and Ecoski, so you don’t have to invest in expensive clothing before you know whether the sport is for you.


Skis, ski boots, poles and helmet hire costs from €108.50 for a week from Antoine Ski. And an adult six-morning beginner ski lesson course with ESF costs from €208 per person.

The Portes du Soleil ski pass is by far the biggest expense, at €324 for six days – but you can slash this by up to 15 per cent when you book a Pierre & Vacances hotel.

Further discounts are available on everything from ski hire to transfers when you travel by train, via the Pass Alpin Express.

Where to stay in Avoriaz

Built for purpose as a ski village, Avoriaz is characterised by mid-rise hotels rather than cabins – though they retain the same inviting wooden aesthetic.

I stayed in Pierre & Vacances Residence Electra, a three-star hotel that’s one of four properties owned by the resort’s original co-founder.


Set across 12 floors, its comfortable apartments each come with a double bedroom, a bathroom with a shower and bath, a separate toilet, and a kitchen/dining/living room, complete with a double sofa bed, and a balcony overlooking the mountains.

With a hob, fridge/freezer, microwave, kettle and kitchenware, these apartments allow for self catering. But when you fancy splashing out, there’s no shortage of high-end restaurants nearby like Le Grand Café, La Réserve, Le Refuge and Le Mil8.

From just €1,166 a week for up to four guests, the apartments are great for families or groups of friends travelling on a budget.

If you’ve got more money to play with, check into Electra’s five-star sister hotel Résidence premium L’Amara where you can ease your aches and pains after a day on the slopes in the indoor pool, sauna, spa and hammam.

Otherwise you can head to the resort’s kid-friendly Aquariaz pool (€12/adult).


How to get to Avoriaz

Avoriaz is located 1,800 metres up in the French Alps, a windy 12 kilometres up from Morzine – also part of Les Portes du Soleil ski area. To reach it by train, you can travel from Gare de Lyon in Paris to Bellegarde sur Valserine in the department of Ain. From there, a transfer by road takes around two hours.

Alternatively, you can fly into Geneva Airport, which is around 1.5 to two hours’ drive from Avoriaz. Shuttle service Skiidy Gonzales offers shared minivan transfers for €68.25 per person each way.

Since Avoriaz is a car-free resort, vehicles must stop in the parking lot below the resort. Horse-drawn sleighs (from €7 for up to four people) and snow vehicles (€13 for up to five people) are available to shuttle you to your hotel.

What to pack for skiing

Being totally clueless about skiing, I packed everything but the kitchen sink – much of which I didn’t end up using.

What I found to be essential were a waterproof ski jacket and trousers, which kept out the cold and wet while on the slopes. Underneath this, I wore a set of thermals and a sweater.


I was glad that I packed a fresh pair of ski socks for each day. Compared to regular thick socks, they are long enough to cover your legs beneath the ski boots and provide added comfort and warmth.

A snood that could double as a head cover when we went electric snow biking (from €70 for a two hour session) was handy for keeping my neck toasty. Rather than buying ski goggles, I wore sunglasses with no issues, though had it been sunnier or snowier while on the slopes I may have needed to upgrade. At the resort, ski goggles would have cost me roughly €100, so I’d recommended searching for a cheaper pair ahead of your trip.

Ski gloves (rather than mittens) bought for £1 (€1.17) off second-hand clothing app Vinted were great at keeping my hands warm and protecting them from the ice and potential accidents.

I took a bum bag that was large enough to fit a bottle of water on the slopes, and used the many pockets in my ski clothes for additional items, including SPF lip balm, factor 50 sunscreen, my phone and some high-energy snacks.

Off the slopes, I mainly wore jeans and jumpers with waterproof hiking boots, plus a scarf, gloves and woolly hat. It was warm inside my apartment, but I appreciated a pair of slippers to ease into after wearing tight ski boots.


A hairdryer, ibuprofen and plasters rounded off my list of essentials.

Angela Symons was a guest of Pierre & Vacances.

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