There’s no getting around it: skiing and snowboarding can be a little intimidating. After all, you have to make it down a slippery incline while trying to avoid crashing into other people or the occasional tree. And you’re doing it strapped to an unwieldy plank; two if you’re skiing.
Fortunately, the gear has improved so much in the past 15 years that the learning curve has considerably shortened, especially for skiers. Newcomers can now often move from green (beginner) runs to blue (intermediate) ones in just a few days. Picking the right resort for either your first steps on snow or the important transition from beginner to intermediate is also key. Here's find a selection of places in the northeast that boast great ski schools, forgiving terrain or both. Next thing you know, you’ll be tackling black diamonds.
One tip before you go: whenever possible, buy your lift tickets online ahead of time — most resorts now use dynamic pricing and the window rate is considerably higher.
WHERE Hunter, New York
Yes, this Catskills ski area has a reputation for being overrun on weekends, which can be a little intimidating for newbies. But the 2018-19 season will see a terrain expansion on the north-facing slopes, with a new six-person lift serving one new green run, four new blue runs. According to the Peak Resorts group, which purchased Hunter a couple of years ago, this is the biggest development in the northeast in 15 years, and by spreading the crowds it should alleviate pressure on beginners, not to mention give them more room to play.
INFO 800-486-8376, huntermtn.com
WHERE Hancock, Massachusetts
This Berkshires resort offers the most beginner terrain in Massachusetts: Just over half of its trails are classified as green, and another 29 percent is rated blue. Right there you know there won’t be much, if any, treacherous areas. Another Jiminy Peak asset is that it offers adaptive lessons for beginners with special needs. The ski school includes instructors with special training, and is equipped to handle students with intellectual or physical disabilities. The cost is relatively affordable at $110 for a morning and afternoon lesson, including adaptive and standard rental gear. Snowsports provide thrills that can last a lifetime, and it’s great to see resorts like Jiminy Peak make them accessible to a wide range of people.
INFO 413-738-5500, jiminypeak.com
WHERE Highmount, New York
Belleayre is cheaper and mellower than its Catskills neighbors at Hunter and Windham. This means fewer intimidating crowds and more money for lessons. The majority of the green runs is on the lower part of the mountain (start at the Discovery Lodge), so you are safely tucked away from more experienced risk-takers, who have a propensity to cut off people.
If you get the snow bug, starting at Belleayre offers another advantage: Once you are ready for intermediate and black-diamond slopes, you can buy cost-effective frequent-skier cards and “snow samplers” that are good at all three resorts operated by the New York State Olympic Regional Development Authority — the other two are the more challenging Gore and Whiteface, in the Adirondacks.
INFO 800-942-6904, belleayre.com
WHERE Warwick, New York
An issue with being a beginner is that you really need to fork over for lessons because a solid technical foundation is essential when it comes to snowsports. (Pro tip: learning with a friend, parent or spouse can end in tears.) Luckily, tiny Mount Peter, in the New York-New Jersey Highlands, offers free beginner lessons with the purchase of a lift ticket three times a day on weekends for skiers five and older. A midweek package includes an hourlong group lesson, rentals and a beginner lift ticket/area pass; the cost for the new season hasn’t been announced yet, but it shouldn’t be much more than last year’s very affordable $65.
INFO 845-986-4940, mtpeter.com
WHERE Hillsdale, New York
Straddling New York and Massachusetts, Catamount is a mere 15 minutes from Great Barrington and easily accessible via the Taconic State Parkway. If you have never set ski on snow, you can figure out the basic moves and stance in the Snowsports Learning Area, where a magic carpet takes you up the barely-there slope. Next, it’s on to the Meadows area, which is served by a triple chair and where the green runs are safely tucked away. A nifty Catamount touch is the presence of a small terrain park for budding freeskiers and riders, with easy rails and other features.
INFO 518-325-3200, catamountski.com
WHERE Somerset, Vermont
Mount Snow is Vermont’s southernmost resort, and it happens to have comprehensive Learn to Ski and Ride programs. There are all the usual camps for kids, of course, but Mount Snow also offers extensive instruction for adults — it even distinguishes between first-timers and beginners, which not all places do. You can develop a feel for snow and learn how to handle a variety of lifts in the “Launch Pad” area, starting on magic carpets (i.e. conveyor belt) then moving up to a triple chair. You’d be amazed how fast you will be able to cruise the 3.1 mile green run Long John from the summit all the way to the base area.
INFO 800-245-7669, mountsnow.com
WHERE Peru, Vermont
One of the things snowsports beginners often struggle with is the weather: Yes, it’s not all that pleasant if you are not used to being outdoors when the temperature drops. Besides making sure to wear appropriate clothing, you can also pick a resort with southern exposure like Vermont’s Bromley Mountain. Comfort goes a long way. Bromley offers all-in-one Get Skiing and Get Snowboarding packages that include rentals, instruction and access to two of the resort’s easiest lifts, the Star carpet and the East Mountain chair. Starting on a positive note is key, and Bromley does its best to insure that.
INFO 802-824-5522, bromley.com
WHERE Killington, Vermont
Killington is known for intermediate-to-advanced camps and high-level racing: It’s the only East Coast stop on the alpine World Cup circuit. But despite all that and its fearsome nickname — the Beast of the East — Killington actually is a good pick for beginners thanks to its excellent ski school. The resort has adopted an approach called Terrain Based Learning, where purpose-built features help students control their speed and build their confidence while decreasing the fear of falling. For first-timers, it doesn’t get better than this.
INFO 800-734-9435, killington.com