Skiing can be intimidating. Between the cold temperatures, the specialized gear and the prospect of sliding down a snowy slope at high speeds, the sport definitely takes some getting used to.
But if you’ve always wanted to learn how to ski or snowboard, resorts across the U.S. and Canada are waiting to welcome you with open arms and ensure you have the best experience possible. With compassionate instructors, accessible terrain, off-slope activities and lots of other little touches to make you feel comfortable, ski areas love to introduce new people to the sport — and give them the skills and confidence they need to enjoy themselves.
Ready to hit the slopes and give skiing a try? Book a trip to one of these top ski areas that are perfect for beginners.
SkiBig3 — Alberta, Canada
Sweeping views of the rugged Canadian Rockies, friendly people, delicious food and drinks, uncrowded ski runs and family-friendly activities abound at the three ski resorts located inside Banff National Park, known collectively as SkiBig3.
Together, Lake Louise, Banff Sunshine and Mt. Norquay offer an impressive 7,748 acres of terrain spread across 362 runs, many of which were designed with beginners in mind. Even better: Roughly 95% of all ski lifts offer access to beginner or intermediate terrain, which means you really can’t go wrong no matter which one you hop on. Whether it’s your first day out or you just need a quick refresher, you can also enroll in helpful lessons at all three mountains.
Banff’s streamlined public transit system, coupled with free SkiBig3 shuttles to and from the ski resorts, makes it super easy and affordable to get around — your novice crew doesn’t have to get stressed out sitting in traffic, trying to follow directions, driving in inclement weather or finding parking.
For beginners, it also helps to build other fun winter activities into any ski-centric itinerary — and the Banff/Lake Louise region is brimming with options. Families can enjoy tubing at Lake Louise and Mt. Norquay, guided “ice walk” hikes to see spectacular frozen waterfalls in Johnston Canyon, taking festive sleigh rides through the glittering powder and sampling some of the best hot cocoa in town along the scrumptious Banff Hot Chocolate Trail.
Choose from dozens of Banff hotels that fit your budget, from charming bed and breakfasts to charming lodges like the Moose Hotel & Suites. And after a day spent out on the slopes, treat yourself to apres-ski appetizers and beverages at cozy spots like Park Distillery, Three Bears Brewery & Restaurant and Bluebird.
Schweitzer — Sandpoint, Idaho
With more than 2,900 acres of picturesque terrain for skiers and snowboarders of all ability levels, Schweitzer is one of the most family-friendly ski resorts in the entire Pacific Northwest. It’s a great place to learn how to ski, thanks to its robust Snowsports School, which offers an array of private and group lessons for kids and adults taught by experienced professionals.
Schweitzer is also an affordable option, with several budget-friendly lift ticket options that are perfect for first-timers and little ones. Kids 6 and under are always free, as are seniors who are 80 years old and up, which means planning a winter trip for the whole family won’t break the bank. The resort also offers half-day, afternoon lift tickets, which are ideal for novices who haven’t yet built up their skiing stamina but still want to spend a few hours on the slopes with everyone else. And as the sun dips below the Selkirk Mountains in the Idaho panhandle, Schweitzer’s crew switches on the big lights to illuminate the hill for magical twilight skiing under the stars.
There’s also plenty to do off the slopes, including adrenaline-pumping snow tubing, relaxing treatments at Schweitzer’s new Cambium Spa, serene guided snowshoe hikes and scenic snowbiking.
For your vacation home base, we recommend the new Humbird Hotel, a 31-room boutique property located just steps from the ski lifts. This close proximity means beginners won’t have to spend as much time walking around in their clunky ski boots (which can take some getting used to!) and can get on the snow right away. With panoramic views of Lake Pend Oreille out the windows, the hotel is also handy for taking breaks throughout the day, which is absolutely essential for those who are just learning. The on-site Crow’s Bench restaurant is also ideal for reliving the day’s funniest moments and biggest accomplishments over apres-ski snacks and drinks.
Mammoth Mountain Ski Area — Mammoth Lakes, California
Every winter, families flock to Mammoth Lakes for its laidback skiing, bountiful activities and beautiful snow globe vibes. With its stress-free rental process and lessons created specifically for first-timers, Mammoth Mountain is an ideal place to learn how to ski. Worried about getting too cold out there? Don’t be: Mammoth gets an average of 300 days of sunshine each year, which makes for ideal bluebird conditions.
And when you need a little breather from practicing your pizza/French fry ski positioning on the slopes, Mammoth also has a glee-inducing tube park and snow play area where the ski resort’s mascot, Woolly, is known to make regular appearances. You can also zoom through the frosty evergreens on a guided snowmobile adventure, glide through the snow on cross-country skis at Tamarack Cross-Country Ski Center and hop aboard a toasty snowcat for a mountaintop picnic with stunning views.
Mammoth also makes getting around seamless, which can remove some of the logistical headaches of planning a ski trip, thanks to its free Eastern Sierra Transit Authority bus service that goes all over town.
Vail Ski Resort — Vail, Colorado
Founded 60 years ago this winter, Vail is one of the most beloved and well-known ski areas around — especially for beginners. This sprawling resort in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains offers a whopping 5,317 acres of skiable terrain, so you’ve got plenty of room to spread out (and make mistakes!) while you’re still learning.
Vail’s ski and snowboard instructors are so good at helping first-timers master the sport that the ski area even has a special “Green Run Guarantee,” which promises that you’ll be able to confidently ski or ride a green run after just three lessons or the fourth one is free. The resort also conveniently organizes its lessons by ability level, which can help make the whole experience less intimidating — beginners learn right alongside other beginners and get personalized, targeted instruction designed to help them grow.
Come winter, the town of Vail itself also transforms into a gorgeous winter wonderland, complete with European-inspired architecture, cozy restaurants and mountain views everywhere you turn. Check into the historic Sonnenalp hotel, which is centrally located along the banks of Gore Creek in Vail Village. It’s home to one of the best spas in the Vail Valley, so you can soak your aching muscles in the hot tub or book yourself a rejuvenating massage after a day on the hill, all while gazing out over the serene winter landscape. Ice skating, shopping, snowmobiling, ice bumper cars, sleigh rides and dog sled tours will also help make your trip to Vail one to remember.
Snowmass Ski Resort — Snowmass, Colorado
Nestled in the Roaring Fork Valley among Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, Snowmass attracts beginners and families from all over the world to its friendly slopes. With rolling, wide-open runs, you’ll have plenty of space to cruise around while you perfect your technique at Snowmass. Make the most of your time on the mountain by booking a lesson with one of Snowmass’ many talented instructors, who offer private lessons, adult lessons and clinics, child lessons and teen lessons, to name a few. Their private sessions are especially helpful, as your teacher can tailor the experience based on your strengths, weaknesses, goals and priorities.
Once the lifts stop spinning at the end of the day, glide down to the base area for complimentary s’mores, offered every afternoon throughout the winter season. Check into the Limelight Hotel Snowmass, which has a warm, cozy lobby that feels just like a living room. Grab a bite to eat in The Lounge, then head up to one of 99 colorful rooms that are ideal for families and groups. Take a break from skiing and go ice skating instead, or wander among the inspiring outdoor sculpture garden at Anderson Ranch Arts Center. We also recommend Snowmass Luminescence, an immersive display of light and art that comes alive after dark.
Another reason why Snowmass is so great for beginners? It’s just a short (and free!) bus ride from three other ski resorts — Aspen Mountain, Buttermilk and Aspen Highlands — so you can get a feel for other types of terrain and features as you learn to ski. Aspen also offers a wide variety of off-the-slopes activities, from sleigh rides to lunch at Pine Creek Cookhouse to contemporary art at the free Aspen Art Museum to insightful historical tours of some of the city’s most important landmarks.