Winter sports virgin?

If you are about to set off on your first winter sports holiday – congratulations! You are about to see why so many people are passionate about the sport. The mixture of exercising outside coupled with beautiful scenery is thoroughly uplifting. The falling prices of ski and snowboard holidays also means that more and more adults are taking up the sport so you needn’t be disheartened by the many tiny children whizzing down the mountain around you. In this blog we have gathered some tips to help you make the most of your first winter sports trip.

Tip top health
Don’t be fooled by Absolutely Fabulous and the jet set – winter sports are strenuous. If you are new to exercise of any kind, visit your GP for advice before embarking on a training programme. If you are already a member of a gym, tell the instructor you are going ski-ing or snowboarding and get a programme designed for you. Both sports utilise muscles which are rarely used in day-to-day life and other sports. A simple but excellent exercise is to lean against a wall and sit in an imaginary chair with your feet, knees and hips all at right angles and remain there for as long as you can. Once you’re on your holiday, do a warm-up and stretching session every morning before you set off. If you are lucky enough to stay in accommodation which offers massage, saunas or jacuzzis, make the most of them – it’s one of the perks of the holiday!

Choose your resort
If you thought that ski resorts are all much of a muchness, then think again! Nowadays the choice is massive and the adventurous among you can even ski in places like Japan or Chile. The best approach is to assess your ability, and the sort of holiday you want. Beginners should look for resorts with lots of green and blue runs (easy ones) and a good ski school. If you’re on a budget, Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia are worth considering. If you’re after luxury, look at Switzerland, Canada or the USA. For a lack of crowds and a good snow record, try Norway and Sweden (but be prepared for some very cold temperatures!). The Ski Club of Great Britain has an excellent resort guide on their site which will help you choose the resort for you based on your priorities.

To buy or rent equipment?
Ski and snowboard equipment doesn’t come cheap, and most people understandably are hesitant about buying everything when they are not sure whether they are going to use it again. Skis, snowboards, poles and boots can be easily hired abroad. Clothing can also be hired, however ski jackets can be purchased from as little as £25 and come in handy for cold days in the UK as well. Ask around and see if anyone might be prepared to lend you clothing or look for secondhand items (don’t forget though that skis are designed for the individual’s height, and there are many different types so avoid these unless you know your stuff). Don’t be tempted to skimp and wear clothes that aren’t designed specifically for ski-ing – after the first morning of being wet, cold and miserable you will regret it! An important item to bring is a good pair of sturdy shoes or walking boots as not every resort is as efficient with the gritting of walkways as you might expect! Once you start getting more involved, getting your own ski or snowboard boots is often the first investment that people make.

Altitude sickness
When a person is at altitude, their red blood cells will multiply in order to compensate for the reduced oxygen levels. For some people this doesn’t happen quickly enough, and the result is altitude sickness. The main symptoms are giddiness and nausea and unfortunately there is no definite method of prevention – even the fittest people get it. If it happens to you, it is probably a good idea to give the first day of ski-ing a miss as trying to learn everything when you are feeling lousy is going to achieve very little. If you have suffered from it in the past, consider choosing a ski resort that is based at a lower altitude, or look for a package where there is a greater amount of time between arriving in resort and beginning ski-ing to give yourself time to acclimatise. It is also sensible to avoid going straight up to the very top of the resort on the first day – pace yourself!

Etiquette
Don’t be alarmed – this doesn’t mean ski-ing is elitist. What it means is there are a few rules that all users of the slopes must obey.

Respect: Do not endanger others.
Control:
Adapt the manner and speed of your skiing to your ability and to the general conditions on the mountain.
Choice of route: The skier/snowboarder in front has priority – leave enough space.
Overtaking: Leave plenty of space when overtaking a slower skier/snowboarder.
Entering and starting: Look up and down the mountain each time before starting or entering a marked run.
Stopping: Only stop at the edge of the piste or where you can easily be seen.
Climbing: When climbing up or down, always keep to the side of the piste.
Signs: Obey all signs and markings – they are there for your safety.
Assistance: In case of accidents provide help and alert the rescue service.
Identification: All those involved in an accident, including witnesses, should exchange names and addresses.

Learning to Ski
Before you go, get some practice on a dry ski slope with an instructor to get the feel of being on skis or a board, and particularly, learning how to use ski lifts (to avoid embarrassing situations when it comes to the real thing!). It will be a great help to your safety and nerves if you are at least able to snowplough and stop by yourself. But don’t be put off if you find it difficult – it is quite a bit easier on real snow.

Everyone knows a nutter who decides they don’t need tuition on holiday. The same nutter is usually the one being airlifted off the slopes by lunchtime. Even the top skiers take lessons, and you will progress quicker and avoid bad habits with a good instructor. There’s no point in showing off either. Everyone in your group will fall over at least once, including you. It’s all part of the fun!

If you fancy going for a little jaunt after ski-school has finished for the day, make sure you take a piste map with you and you know the way back. There is no worse feeling than finding you have strayed onto a black run or realising you are lost as it is getting dark. Never go alone, and stick to slopes where there are plenty of other skiers.

Don’t go without insurance!
Incredibly, a quarter of Britons travel without insurance on their winter sports holiday*. An accident is upsetting enough, and if you travel without insurance it can be very expensive too. Given that winter sports insurance can be purchase from under £10** from 24/7 travel insurance it is quite frankly peanuts to pay to really enjoy your ski trip.

*Source: Telegraph.co.uk, dated 2nd November 2007

** Premium £9.53 includes Insurance Premium Tax; based on a Standard Single Trip Policy for an adult aged under 55 travelling to Europe for 3 days with winter sports cover.