Skiing can be intimidating to those, like me, who've never been. Every January we endure the flood of ski selfies in our Facebook feeds, the iPhones reflected in mirrored goggles with backdrops to die for. My mind has always boggled: Why would you go on holiday somewhere you can't sunbathe? Why spend days on end doing one big squat with – I would hazard a guess – a 75% chance of breaking a bone?
That was, until I went on a mini-break with a friend in the heart of the Alps. Switzerland's picture-perfect mountains have always been firmly on my bucket list – that powdery white snow, so photogenic for those all-important Instagrams. And the après-ski? More on that later...
Where to go
When planning a ski trip, there are a few key things to have in mind – you're not going to want to walk a mile in ski boots to get to the lifts each morning, especially with last night's wine swilling around in your stomach. Look for a destination with accommodation close to the lifts, and put your other priorities into the mix, too – mine were picturesque landscapes for photo-taking and, of course, delicious food and drink. You'll find these in most resorts in the beautuiful Alps, with most destinations in France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy. There's also a more affordable skiing scene a bit further east, look to Slovenia and Bulgaria for budget options.
I looked at quite a few resorts before settling for Laax in Graubünden, Switzerland, centred as it is around a hub of places to eat, drink and stay – you can basically roll out of bed into the lifts. It's not a huge resort, which I wanted as a complete beginner and is also great for spectators. Laax is home to the world's largest half-pipe; if you're not quite ready to give it a go yourself, it's rather nice to take a break from the slopes and sit, beer in hand, watching the pros.
What to pack
Skiing involves a lot of clobber. For your first trip, it's recommended to hire the essential kit which includes skis, helmet, poles and boots. This usually costs around £45 for 3 days on the slopes. You might want to invest in your own once you know you'll go regularly.
Clothing wise, the checklist includes goggles, gloves, thermal base-layers, socks and a ski suit or jacket and trousers. We've compiled a shopping list here, or you might be able to borrow from a friend, if you don't want to invest all at once, and high street favourites H&M and Topshop have skiwear lines. We're taking the opportunity to revisit our teens and go all-out Roxy. Outdoor brands such as Patagonia, known for its sustainable ethos (big tick), often have extensive ranges, especially good for those thermal base layers.
The skiing bit
If you've not been before, lessons are a must. Even better, work with a personal instructor for at least one session – it can be expensive but they will ensure you get off to the right start and will keep you safe. Start with a morning session, to get the essentials down before exploring the blue (easy) slopes from the piste map.
The first couple of days will probably mean a lot of 'snowplough' – which means pointing your toes inwards to ski in a V shape, staying slow and keeping the falls to a minimum. Once you've mastered that, skiing parallel is on the horizon, which means keeping your skis in line and generally looking a bit more pro. It's better to stick to the easy slopes until you're fully confident, plus you'll be able to push yourself a bit more by building up speed on a more gradual piste.
Where to eat and drink
After all that exercise you're going to be starving; luckily, the food in ski resorts like in Switzerland is primarily beige and insanely delicious, and always comes complete with fresh bread and melted cheese. In Laax, try the Travelling Restaurant, a pop-up from Zurich where a hot grill is placed in the centre of each table for you to cook your own food and, most importantly, melt your raclette cheese. If you want traditional Swiss, Tegia Larnags is a must, with a selective food menu and over 150 wines to choose from. This is not the time to hold back – the fondue here is off the chart. Bring hiking boots, though; the restaurant is a 20-minute walk up the slope from Laax village.
The main thing people think about when they think skiing, is how expensive it's known to be. True, a Toblerone will cost you five times the amount it does in England (ironic) but food and drink prices are about the same as in London – and just think of all that fresh air, views you can only dream of and the equivalent in spenny exercise classes. Just don't let yourself get too attached... or you'll never come back.