Location: St Moritz
I’ve tried and done a lot of things in my 30 years, but one thing I had never experienced was a ski holiday. That’s right, I’ve been all over the world, but for some reason never felt the need to fly less than two hours to a ski resort near me. Well this was the year that all that changed!
It started when I watched a BBC documentary on the Kulm Hotel in St Moritz – it looked so amazing and seemed to have a such rich history as the birthplace of winter holidays. What better place for a first ski trip? Within a few days we had booked our flights, confirmed our stay at the hotel and were all set for our ski holiday. Admittedly, it wasn’t the temptation of skiing that did it, but the beautiful hotel. I’m not ashamed to say it – I haven’t been sporty for the first 25 years of my life, until I took up running in 2013. The thought of spending the day in a squat-like position, the ease of sustaining an injury and the freezing temperatures, quite frankly, did not sound appealing. I’m more of a beach girl. That being said, so many people around me always raved about their ski trips and it was about time that I understood what all of this was for. I’m now sitting on my return flight back to London, and thought what better use of my time than to write down everything that I felt over the past weekend on my ski holiday, and try and give some insight to those who have never skied before, as well as to those who have just booked their first trip and don’t know what to expect.
Disclaimer: I stress I’m no expert, and everything I write here was about my experience in St Moritz. I have no idea if this is different to other ski resorts around the world.
1. Get Your Kit Sorted
Naively, I thought I would just get up and go and rent everything when I arrived at the resort. Wrong. You need to be super organised when it comes to preparing for your ski holiday. Here’s a basic list of the things you need ahead of time.
- ski goggles (tip: if it’s your first trip, and unless you’ve just won the lottery, don’t spend a fortune on these. They are gonna be running around with your ski wear, you’ll have a lot to carry and chances are they will get scratched or scuffed. Mine did, but at least I only spent £20 on them so wasn’t all that bothered)
- thermal base layers (very important: these are worn under your ski wear and will stop you getting hypothermia)
- ski outerwear (either a ski jacket and trousers/salopettes, or a onesie like in my pics. The onesie looked great, but was a total pain when it came to using the restroom. On the other hand, ski jacket and trousers means you may get snow inside your clothes when you fall (and you will fall). This happened to my husband and drove him crazy. I think a happy compromise is ski jacket and trousers, with a thermal onesie underneath – maybe even a hoodie or fleece on top of the thermals and under the jacket. Another tip for your convenience, try to get a ski jacket that has a zip on the cuff to put your ski pass in – I’ll explain later)
- Ski socks: a little thicker than your normal socks to keep your feet nice and snug in your ski boots. Depending on how long you’re skiing for, you’ll need at least two pairs.
- Balaclava and/or neck scarf
- Gloves or mittens (tip: make sure you get gloves with an elastic strap that wraps around your wrist. You’ll be taking the gloves off and on for a whole load of reasons – because of this you’ll want to have them dangle from your wrist for easy access. I bought gloves that were a little too small for me and did not have a strap and I swore, a lot. I think next time it will be mittens for me.)
That’s the skiwear list, but of course you will need a bunch of other stuff when you are not on the slopes. Most importantly, you’ll need to get yourself a pair of waterproof snow boots. I got mine from Moon Boot and they were perfect! Fleecy on the inside and super warm, yet non-slip and waterproof for walking in snow.
Of course, you’ll also need the usual gloves, beanie, scarf, sunglasses that you will want for any holiday to a colder destination.
Last but not least, there is nothing better than ending a long ski session with a trip to your hotel’s spa. Don’t forget to pack your bathing suit!
2. What to Rent
The above is everything you’ll need to buy ahead of the trip, but we are not done yet. Once you arrive at your ski destination, you’ll need to grab yourself a pair of skis, ski boots, poles and a helmet. I might even suggest buying the latter if you intend to go often.
We had a bit of a debate as to the length of the skis. We were given very short skis by the ski rental shop and were told that these are ideal for beginners, until you get used to not crossing the skis over each other. We were also told that instructors, on the contrary, recommend longer skis as it’s harder to learn with longer ones, and therefore means the skier requires more lessons. I’m not sure what the truth is as I’m no instructor, but from my research, skis should be roughly the length of the floor to your chin. Yes, shorter skis may be easy to avoid crossing over, but you might not get the power you want when you need to stop or gather speed.
Where to rent your skis and boots. St Moritz is crazy expensive. It was therefore recommended that we rent our equipment in Zurich, and take it with us to St Moritz in our rental car. It was literally half the price. The catch 22 is this. You will need to move your skis from your hotel’s locker room, to the mountain. The hotel will likely provide a van to transport you, however once you are at the entrance, you will need to carry them on the funicular to the top of the mountain. The struggle is real. Oh wow I was defeated before I even got to the mountain. Bear in mind, you’re not just carrying your skis, but the poles, your ski boots (unless you put them on at the hotel), your camera (at least in my case), and any items of clothing that you thought you’d put on at the top (see why the strap on the gloves comes in handy?). Of course, you can avoid all of this stress, by renting your skis at the top of the mountain. This comes with a high premium, but if you’re a little precious (and I’m not ashamed to say that I am), this will make your life a whole lot easier.
Another tip for my fellow newbies. At first, ski boots are uncomfortable. They are hard, your feet won’t be used to them, your shins will end up bruised and this will only result in more swearing. You’ll see a lot of people wearing their ski boots from the hotel, straight to the mountain. Obviously, we thought we would do the same. If you are new to skiing, I recommend taking your waterproof boots with you, and changing at the top. You won’t be skiing on the usual slopes as a beginner and therefore won’t get very far on the skis. If you therefore need to walk from one viewpoint to another, you’re not going to be able to do it in your ski boots. They are not made to hike, obviously. By day 3 I was a lot more comfortable in the ski boots and could now tolerate the bruised feeling in the shins, but I still do not regret bringing my normal boots along with me.
I mentioned earlier about finding a ski jacket or onesie with a zip on the cuff. You’ll need a ski pass to get to the top of the mountain, and this is often a card that you’ll need to tap against the gate. If you are carrying your skis, boots, have to take off your gloves, unzip your side pockets to fish your ski pass out – you get the drift – you’ll end up dropping (or throwing) everything and giving up before you even started. Having that handy cuff pocket means you don’t have to take out your card, but rather just tap your wrist to the gate with relative ease.
3. Book Lessons
Don’t be a hero. Book lessons ahead of time with a teacher that speaks your language. Skiing is not easy at first and is not like riding a bike (which I can’t do either by the way!) You need proper instruction on how the skis work, how to stand, how to brake. No amount of videos can prepare you for the feeling once you are actually skiing. The bottom of the ski is flat and very smooth and it’s easy to underestimate how fast you will go. If you are not prepared for this, and do not know how to break, you are setting yourself up for injury.
I thought I could do it on my own on Day II – wow was I wrong. I couldn’t do anything and I just ended up feeling defeated. I then booked a lesson on day III, and went from barely being able to walk, to controlling my speed down steep slopes. It’s all about knowing the techniques – once you know them, the feeling of gliding down the slopes surrounded by stunning scenery is breathtaking. It was only then that I got what everyone was on about when they spoke so highly about their ski holiday. Another tip for first time skiers, two to three days is not enough. I recommend going for at least a week to get sufficient practise to build on.
Be sure to know the colour codes for the slopes: blue is beginner, red is medium and black is difficult. My husband picked up skiing really quickly and decided to attempt a blue slope on day II – he admitted this was a mistake. Just because it’s blue, it does not mean it’s easy for a complete beginner.
I hope the above was useful for anyone thinking about a ski holiday in the near future. As much as it sounds like a bit of a faf, the whole experience is really quite beautiful once you get the hang of it all and know what to expect. You will see some of the most ethereal views you have ever seen, and everywhere covered in white snow is just so picturesque. Of course, there is always the apres ski to enjoy – the socialising over a mulled wine after your ski session, surrounded by incredible natural beauty.
Follow my travels on Instagram @sarahbarthet