It doesn’t take stats to know that it’s a competitive market out there for people’s hard-earned holiday funds these days. But the stats are out there and one of them that caught my eye this autumn was that, in the UK at least, school ski trips have traditionally been the single biggest source of new skiers to the market. Worrying, because (it also says) fewer and fewer kids are going on them.
Ever inventive though, the ski industry seems to be coming up with lots of good ideas at the moment to tempt people who’ve never skied before to give the sport a try. And as we all know, once bitten by the ski bug, chances are you’re going to be hooked.
Ski ou snow… c’est cadeau
Last Saturday, Serre Chevalier offered beginner adults aged 15+ a morning lesson from 9-12 and a whole day ski pass for free, if they reserved in advance.
Over in Val Thorens, they’re offering beginners 3 afternoons of lessons and 3x 1-day Val Thorens passes for those who are booked in for a 1-week stay in the resort anytime between 12 January and 2 February. The ski passes, it says, “will be provided by an ESF ski instructor after an evaluation on the Sunday” (hmm, good point… I’m imagining someone who can ski trying to pass themselves off as a total beginner just to get the free passes… would I like to be around with a GoPro handy should that ever happen!).
Orcières 1850 also offers free initiation sessions: every Tuesday morning, before the lifts open for everyone else, between 8 and 9 am. A one-hour lesson, the ski equipment rental and the access to the beginners lift are free. Then if you decide to keep skiing after 9am, you pay for the beginners pass and settle up the equipment rental at the end of the day.
Then there are either free or at least very attractive all-in packages specially designed to make it easier to take the plunge.
Once you’ve been skiing for a while, you forget how important that is, or at least I did until some friends came out to visit us last winter with their three kids aged 11-17. No, they’d never skied before and yes, they’d like to give it a try – could we help? Sure, we said, but actually even for old hands it was not easy: How many lessons should I book for them? Private or group lessons? Would they need a full lift pass for the week? What if they decided not to carry on after a day or two? Etc. They were brilliant. The first day was really tiring and hard – and that was just getting ski and boots fitted and hauling them onto the lift. But after that it was all downhill (one way or another) and, by the end of the week, they had a red run under their belts and were talking of coming back.
In short, I reckon all-in beginners packages are a great idea. Portes du Soleil this winter offers Youcanski packages for adult beginners that come complete with a user-friendly guide to what you can expect, including a glossary of terms, and a designated special “Youcanski safe-to-ski zone… reserved for beginners who can go at their own pace in an enchanting setting, without having to worry about other skiers.”
Meanwhile 3 Vallées is off and running with its Easyrider competition that gives families who have never skied before the chance to learn to ski over five free ski holidays throughout the season, complete with… everything. The winning British and French families have already had their first holidays and you can follow their progress online.
First timers book here
And tour operators, too, are taking the initiative. Crystal Ski has been selling beginner holidays for years but this winter for the first time is offering free learn to ski and snowboard packages in low season, to the first “over 300 genuine first timers” who apply. “Participants only have to pay for the standard cost of the package holiday and will then be given free tuition, free lift passes and free equipment hire, in a bid to attract more new people into the sport.” Various resorts are offered, including Arcs 2000, La Plagne, Tignes and Val d’Isère in France. Last I looked there were still a few places left, but only a few…
Learn to ski… in a t-shirt
Lastly (for now), I’ve got to give a mention to UK-based Skiplex, “an indoor ski training centre with a continually revolving ski slope and adjustable gradient that replicates a real piste.” Indoor snow domes are already great for giving people a chance to learn to ski before they head out to the mountains, with real (ok, man-made) snow and lifts to get the hang of. Skiplex is… something else. If you haven’t seen it before, take a look. It’s hard to get your head around it at first, but it sure looks like fun and people seem to agree, because they’ve already opened a second centre and are planning a third in the UK, all within barely a year of launching.
Now wouldn’t it make a lot of sense for resorts to team up with these indoor centres on joint learn-to-ski and ski holiday promotions?