Learn to ski in Meiringen-Hasliberg

Learning to ski for the first time can be a daunting task but by following a few simple tips and with good instruction, you’ll be confidently and comfortably skiing down the slopes in no time. We sent novice Jonny Payne on a beginners’ ski trip to Meiringen-Hasliberg to find his ‘ski legs’.

Having been kitted out in snug-fitting ski boots and azure-blue skis by the local rental shop, we trudge up the slope like malfunctioning robots, and arrive at the gondola anxiously anticipating our first ski experience. I’m with three other beginners and a guide in the Swiss resort of Meiringen-Hasliberg, and we’re joined by throngs of locals in trendy ski gear who are expectantly heading up to the mountains for what’s supposedly a sunny day on the slopes – although given the thick fog engulfing the town, I have my doubts.

Learning to ski scenery 200Breathtaking scenery above the clouds
Haslital Tourist Office

At the top, however, the mist has dispersed and the beginners’ area at Bidmi is swathed in warming sunlight that makes the snow glisten softly. A picture-perfect mountain backdrop emerges, with the jagged peaks of the Haslital region rising majestically all around, while the famed Eiger lurks ominously in the distance.

We meet our smiling instructor, Maria. She starts us off slowly, first on one ski, then on both, before telling us to walk “like an elephant” to prevent us from sliding around. But soon, one member of the group loses control and falls over, taking Maria with him. I can’t help but let out a nervous laugh, well aware that I could be next.

Within half an hour, we’re getting to grips with the “snowplough” (or “mountain” as Maria prefers to call it), as well as the “penguin”, which stops us from sliding back down the slope.

The Swiss Snow Sports School at Bidmi is a well-organised area where kids and adults can learn the basics needed to tackle the slopes – group lessons start at SFr55 (approx £38) for one day and private lessons cost from SFr70 (approx £48) for one hour. I spot three-year-old children whizzing carefree down the nursery slopes with no poles, and stopping perfectly at the base of the rope tow at the bottom, whilst adult beginners flounder, grabbing onto the closest object (or person) to hand.

Learning to ski jonny 200Attempt to master the 'snowplough'
WTG / Jonny Payne

By the end of the two-hour lesson I feel rather smug not to have fallen over. But it doesn’t take long for this to be unceremoniously quashed the following day. What’s more, I can’t even blame my inadequacies on an après-ski hangover.

Given the handful of nightclubs and bars in a couple of the resort’s main hotels and a few friendly pubs, Meiringen-Hasliberg has a comparatively low-key après-ski scene. In a way, I'm thankful not to be staying up until the early hours, as the adrenaline of skiing does take its toll, particularly on a newbie. I do, however, muster enough energy for some night-time sledging after a hearty meal, which for me is far more thrilling than sinking a few shots.

For non-skiers, there are winter hiking trails to explore, as well as a leisure centre and the Sherlock Holmes Museum – but the resort, which is a few hours by train from Zurich, ultimately has a snow sports focus.

The next morning, I wait in line to head back up the nursery slope on the rope tow, watched by a gaggle of toddlers on skis. As I grab the rope, one ski crosses over the other, and before I know it I’m on my back like a hapless tortoise – legs, arms, poles and skis everywhere. Even with my thick, woollen hat covering my ears, I can hear the multitude of giggles from tiny mouths.

Learning to ski black 200The resort's challenging 'black' run for experts
WTG / Jonny Payne

In fact, lifts are to be my downfall throughout my time in Switzerland. Feeling confident on skis at least, a few of us head up to the Käserstatt ski area on two-seater chairlifts. Having secured ourselves with the bar, we relax as the quietness of the mountains becomes even more apparent. Lulled by this stillness, we fail to pull the bar up in time as we reach the top, and have soon grounded ourselves in the snow. The lift operator immediately stops the whole set of lifts, and we’re let out looking rather sheepish. He’s not best pleased.

What our guide failed to mention was the only way down from the chairlift is part of a blue run, which looks nothing short of a sheer drop. She leads one member of the group down, telling him to use the snowplough turn we had just mastered at the ski school, but soon enough he’s careered straight into her and they’re both entangled off to the side. On that evidence, I decide turning doesn’t look the best option and ski straight down – a tremendous thrill as the wind rushes onto my face.

It’s so good, I decide to go again. But this time a button drag-lift awaits, which resembles a Frisbee on the end of a pole – hardly confidence-inducing. I perch on the plastic disc and immediately end up on my backside. Having made it up the slope after falling once more, I experience that thrilling sensation again – it’s then I realise I certainly have ‘the bug’.

As the night draws in, the snow starts to fall and I start to notice my aching calves and thighs. I baulk at the chance of attempting a floodlit red slope, opting instead for a few warming glasses of glühwein (mulled wine). After all, it’s best to quit while you’re ahead… until the next ski trip.


Learning to ski group 200Group ski lessons are cheaper and can be more fun
WTG / Jonny Payne

Choosing the resort: Look for resorts with certified ski schools and green or easy blue runs so there are options once you’ve mastered the basics. Check out World Travel Guide's ski hub for inspiration.

When to go: Mid- to late January is the optimum time. During school holidays alpine resorts can become crowded, whilst the beginning and end of the season can be cheaper but less reliable in terms of snowfall.

Where to stay: Choose accommodation near the slopes or lifts. You’ll be walking in your ski boots with skis to and from the lifts every day, so this will save time and energy.

Ski gear tips: The key is to remain warm and dry. A thermal base layer, mid-layer, fleece/sweatshirt, waterproof jacket and salopettes (ski trousers), as well as a good supply of ski socks, a warm hat, waterproof gloves, and a scarf (or snood) are essential. You’ll also need sunglasses or goggles.

Ask family and friends to lend you the relevant clothing. Also look at Lidl, Tesco, Sportsdirect.com and TK Maxx for cheap ski gear, or wait for end-of-season sales. Rent skis and ski boots at the resort – this way you can make sure they’ll fit.

Other essentials: Ski insurance and sun cream are vital, and it’s a good idea to take lip balm and plasters. A supply of bite-sized chocolate bars can come in handy for a much-needed energy boost between runs. You’ll also need a basic level of fitness, so get ‘ski fit’ by practising squats before you go.

On the slopes: You can learn more quickly with individual lessons, but these are more expensive, while cheaper group lessons involve a fun learning experience alongside others. It depends on what you want out of your ski trip.

Off the slopes: Après-ski drinking is a big part of ski culture in some resorts, but it’s not a good idea to sink multiple glasses of glühwein before heading off on a challenging blue or red slope – remember your capabilities.


Learning to ski rope 200Get to grips with the rope tow
Haslital Tourist Office

SWISS (tel: 0845 601 0956; www.swiss.com) operates daily flights from London Heathrow, London City, Birmingham and Manchester to Zurich.

SBB Swiss Railways’ (tel: 00800 1002 0030; www.swisstravelsystem.co.uk) Swiss Transfer Ticket covers a round-trip between Zurich Airport and Meiringen town. Prices start from £95.

For more information on Switzerland, see our Switzerland country guide or visit: www.MySwitzerland.com.

Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.