September 21, 2023
Guide to Beginner-Friendly Resorts
We all start somewhere.
If you love the atmosphere of a day on the mountain, but haven’t been ripping down slalom courses since you were six…we can relate. Maybe you just moved near the mountains and are looking to get into skiing, but don’t know the first place to start.
Well, here’s the best-kept secret about how to make skiing fun; double black diamonds are NOT a requirement.
We all start somewhere – here are the best places to do so.
No 1. Breckenridge, Colorado
Just an hour and a half from Denver is the breathtaking little town of Breckenridge, a popular destination for out-of-staters and Colorado natives alike. Breck’s mountain attracts everyone from the most extreme boarders and mountain bikers (depending on the season) to those of us that prefer après skiing - without the skiing. When you’re somewhere in between those two, Breck is the place to be. Getting the hang of hauling everything you need takes some time, so take advantage of Breck’s FreeRide Bus to make getting from town to the hill easy-breezy.
Once you’re there, all you need to remember is the numbers 8 and 9. If you’re ready to hop on a lift, Peak 8 drops you off at the best of the mountain’s green runs, including a long, winding cat track that brings you all the way to downtown! Ski straight into happy hour and celebrate your Most Improved status. If it’s truly your first day, your magic number is 9. Peak 9 is an area you can access entirely from magic carpets to master the basics. And if you thought après drinks were a good idea, how about some après yoga!? At the base of Peak 9 you can find Bhava, the only ski-in, ski-out yoga studio in Colorado. You’ll be stretched out and ready to go for tomorrow’s shred sesh.
A few months back, we highlighted the best of Breck here. Check it out for the inside scoop on where to stay, where to eat, and what else there is to do!
No 2. Flagstaff, AZ
A ski mountain in the desert?! Well, not quite. You might not think ‘skiing’ when you think ‘Arizona’ but only a few hours uphill from Sky Harbor International Airport is a resort called Snowbowl! Snowbowl, in the northern Arizona town of Flagstaff, is home to the largest amount of beginner terrain in the southwest. We could woo you with a description of Flagstaff’s down-to-earth feel and streets lined with pines, but let’s skip to the facts. Snowbowl has DEALS.
On weekdays, half day tickets are as low as $39, full day tickets check out for as low as $47, skis can be rented for $30, and your first lesson is, no joke, FREE. Zero dollars. The resort even offers “terrain based learning” on mini-runs designed around the natural terrain of the mountain to control first-timer’s speed and body position. Pizzas, french fries, turns and burns optimized! Once you get the hang of things, hop on Hart Prairie’s four lifts that access wide open beginner playgrounds.
At this rate, you might need to make a dual purpose spring break out of some time catching a tan in Phoenix and catching some edges in Flagstaff. The day trip is only about 2 hours one-way, with the chance to take in breathtaking gradient views as Mother Nature cues the saguaro cacti to ~fade to~ massive pine trees.
No 3. Eldora, CO
Eldora is a hidden gem of the front range. Locals moan and groan about the drive up I25 to Colorado’s most popular resorts, which are certainly a bit of a haul to get to… especially if 50% of Denver hits the road at the same time as you. For someone just starting out, it might be much more relaxing to wind up Boulder Canyon to Eldora.
Eldora is what you might call fun size. It has everything the big guys offer, from beginner greens to expert terrain parks, all condensed under the views of just 8 lifts (plus 2 magic carpets). It’s perfect for friend groups with a wide range of ski abilities… nearly every chair serves runs from green to black. This place gets heavy snow but light crowds- you can master your S curves all day without worrying about Chad clipping a pole out of your hand at 38 mph.
At the end of the day, stop for hot chocolate in the tiny town of Nederland just a few minutes away, or hit Pearl Street back in Boulder for a more upscale cocktail to warm you up. We put together a guide to Boulder in the summer here, but our breakfast, dinner, dessert, and shopping recs still stand.
No. 4 Sugarloaf, ME
For East Coast beginners looking to escape the hustle of Boston, NYC, and the likes… Sugarloaf is the place for you! Sugarloaf Mountain is an Ikon Resort nestled in the Appalachians of Maine, and is just as charming as the name implies. Sugarloaf is situated above the treeline, creating one-of-a-kind views, and obstacle-free, wide open runs. Tote Road is one of the longest ski runs in the entire country, at over 2 miles long. No out-of-nowhere tree stumps to wrap your skis around here! With over 20 green runs and miles of cross country ski trails, you’ll be feeling like an expert in no time… or at least ready to take on the blues.
Bring your more seasoned ski buddy along and set them loose to play all day. Sugarloaf has something for everyone- the 162 total runs break down into 23% beginner (green), 34% blue (intermediate) and 43% advanced or expert only (black or double black). Take a ski-bike lesson, ride a cat to the powder in the backcountry, or take on the challenge of cross country skiing on Sugarloaf’s 50 kilometers of groomed nordic trails.
Then, indulge in some east coast flavors… stop in at Shipyard Brew Haus right off Sawduster Lift for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or après drinks. If their wine list and local beers don’t make you want to stay, their 5 versions of mac n’ cheese (yes, you read that right) will. Try The Bag for the best burger on the mountain or The Rack for a local’s-only feel.
No 5. Your local bunny hill
We get it- skiing for the first time ever is a little intimidating- maybe you’re not quite ready to pack up the car or board the plane to slip-n-slide down a mountain on 2 pieces of wood. Cut us a deal, and promise to give it just one try. We have a feeling you might like this more than you think…
First timer hills that might be near you:
California- Sierra at Tahoe, or Big Bear
Connecticut- Mohawk Mountain
Illinois- Chestnut Mountain
Minnesota- Afton Alps
New York- Catamount Ski Area
Oregon- Mt. Ashland Ski Area
Pennsylvania- Blue Mountain
Vermont- Okemo Mountain
Wisconsin- Granite Peak
Wherever you end up, remember these Halfdays Pearls of Wisdom
- Don’t ski scared! Keep your eyes up and your smile big!
- Be patient… and be proud of yourself for trying something new.
- LAYER, LAYER, LAYER.
- Rent gear to get a good idea of what’s comfortable on your feet before dropping money on skis, boots, and a helmet.
- If you have a friend with a season pass, use their buddy discount for a day ticket.
- If you have a crew of other beginners, consider signing up for a group lesson! Fun for all, without the price of a one-on-one.
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