Even if your typical cold-weather routine involves avoiding the outdoors at all costs, there’s no denying that winter takes on a picturesque vibe on a ski trip. Think hot tubs, après ski drinks, and of course, hitting the slopes. But if you've never been, having to actually learn how to ski can be a daunting detail.
Trying any new activity as an adult can feel intimidating, especially when those little ski school tykes seem like they’re picking it up so much quicker. Listen, I’ve been skiing since I was eight years old, and I still have plenty of challenging days on the mountain that force me to get back to those basics. It’s part of the thrill, and whether you’ve been skiing for a while or you’re a true beginner, improving your skills is a rewarding feeling.
Aside from being a fun athletic challenge, Skiing is also an excellent way to get outside in the winter, and it's also a great workout for your legs, butt, and core. Plus, it challenges your balance and stability. (Psst, here's a 10-minute workout to get your muscles ready for ski season.)
It’s also worth noting that skiing isn't exactly a low-barrier-to-entry sport. Depending on where you live and your skiing needs, it requires travel, gear rentals, lift tickets, and lessons, so it can get costly, both money- and time-wise. But if skiing is a sport you're interested in trying and you're in a position to invest in learning, it's totally possible to pick up the winter hobby as an adult.
When you’re deciding on a destination, it’s important to remember that some ski resorts are better to start at than others—even as an experienced skier, there are some mountains that I feel iffy at and wouldn’t recommend to beginners. (For example, Jackson Hole, Wyoming is a popular ski spot, but it isn’t for the faint of heart.) Some ski resorts are just known for having mainly challenging, steep terrain—think ungroomed runs, lots of moguls (bumps), and all-around limited options for beginners to enjoy safely.
The good news? There are plenty of mountains that are practically primed for learning, and being in a place that sets you up for success will make it way more fun.
Here, we rounded up eight of the best places to learn how to ski (or snowboard!) in North America, according to common knowledge among experienced skiers (including me!) and general info provided by each mountain. These destinations all have reputations for being beginner-friendly, with plenty of easy terrain, deals on lessons and rentals packages, fun villages to hang out in, plus, options for more advanced skiers you might be traveling with, too.
1. Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Steamboat's trademark "Champagne powder” (which basically refers to light, dry snow) draws in skiers from around the world, including beginners. While most of the beginner terrain is located at the base of the mountain (as is the case with many ski resorts), after gaining some confidence, newbie skiers can take a gondola up to the Why Not trail. At over three miles long, it's Steamboat's longest beginner trail. Whether it’s easy or advanced, long trails like these are fun because you can swish down ‘em for a while without constantly stopping to take another lift up. No one wants to feel like most of their ski day is spent on a lift or in line, so this kind of long run, which is sometimes called a “cruiser,” is good news for beginner skiers.
And with a pretty incredible ski-slope backdrop, Steamboat is also known for being a charmingly classic mountain town. Plus, the nearby natural hot springs is a perfect place to soothe sore muscles after a ski day.
2. Sugarloaf, Maine
Sugarloaf is one of the most popular ski destinations on the East Coast, but don't worry about overwhelming crowds—it's the largest ski area east of the Rockies, so there's space for days. Sugarloaf also has a hard-to-beat beginner's package, so it's a cost-effective choice for newbies: You can snag rental equipment, a 90-minute lesson, and a single day lift ticket for $ 99, which is an exceptionally good deal.
Another benefit of East Coast skiing is the lower elevation. The summit of the mountain tops out at 4,237 feet—less than, say, Breckenridge, Colorado's 9,600 feet. (Breckenridge can also be a great ski trip choice for beginners thanks to its ski area and fun town, but the elevation can be a challenge for out-of-towners.) A lower elevation makes it easier to acclimate, so your chances of altitude sickness are lower.
3. Big Sky, Montana
Big Sky is an aptly named ski area. Aside from its expansive views, the resort is known for its big, wide runs, which is good news for beginners. When you're learning skills like turning and stopping, the more space and width you have to work with, the better. Narrow runs can feel a little claustrophobic when you’re first learning, and as someone who’s been skiing for years and still feels nervous on narrow runs when the terrain is above my comfort level, I know how helpful this extra room can be. And as a bonus, Big Sky is also known for being an uncrowded ski area, which adds to your space even more.
Plus, in the Moonlight Basin area of the mountain, the bottom left section is almost entirely made up of green (easy) runs. This is great for your peace of mind, since you don't have to worry much about accidentally skiing into an area you didn't mean to be in.
4. Park City, Utah
Park City Mountain Resort is the largest ski resort in the U.S., so there's no shortage of options for skiers of all levels. It merged with next-door Canyons Resort in 2015, which is good news for newbies: In 2018, they opened the High Meadow Park on the Canyons side, a big learning area exclusively for beginners, so you'll avoid reckless skiers and boarders zooming by and throwing you off. Since the beginner's park is on the Canyons side, staying in that area is your best bet for easy access—the Grand Summit Hotel is right by the Red Pine Gondola, which takes you straight to that amateur’s playground. (I was recently given a complementary first-hand look at the beginner's park as a member of the press.)
Plus, Park City is only a 30- to 40-minute drive from the Salt Lake City airport, so Utah skiing is known for being easy to access when you're coming from out of state. Pro tip: If you manage to nab accommodations during Sundance Film Festival, that's known as the best time to ski—the slopes usually aren't crowded since the old mining town itself is buzzing with activity. (And you just might spot some celebrities at après ski drinks, too.)
5. Beaver Creek, Colorado
Beaver Creek is a unique ski destination in that most of its beginner terrain is toward the top of the mountain, so you can experience Insta-worthy views in an area that's often reserved for more advanced terrain. Beaver Creek debuted its Red Buffalo Park in 2017, which has 12 fun beginner-friendly trails at 11,440 feet (which is really high; don't forget to stay hydrated and make sure you adjust to the altitude before skiing). In 2018 it opened another beginner area called Haymeadow Park, so Beaver Creek officially has the most dedicated learning terrain in Colorado. Plus, Haymeadow is also at a slightly lower elevation (8,400 feet), so if you’ve got a couple days to ski, it might be a good idea to start there while your body adjusts to the altitude.
And as far as lessons go, Beaver Creek is also known for its fantastic ski school and world-class instructors (they're said to be in the "Ivy League of ski schools"). In fact, it’s one of the mountains I first learned to ski on, and I think it served me well.
Beaver Creek itself is a luxury destination, so it's not always inexpensive to stay there. But it's located in Summit County along with other popular ski destinations like Breckenridge and Vail, so it’s definitely accessible for a day if you're staying in another ski town.
6. Whistler, British Columbia
Whistler Blackcomb ski resort is a bucket-list destination for skiers from across the globe, and for a good reason: The scenery is spectacular, the village area itself has plenty to do, and with over 8,000 skiable acres, it's the largest ski resort in North America. Over 1,600 of those acres are designated for beginners, and they're spread across the entire mountain, so you're not confined to one area. In fact, only a handful of the lifts don't have access to green runs at the top.
Bonus: Since Whistler was home to several events during the 2010 Winter Olympics, you can also visit the Olympic rings at the Olympic Plaza in Whistler Village. Plus, you'll likely fly in and out of Vancouver, which is worth spending an extra day exploring if you have time.
7. Northstar, California
Lake Tahoe is known for its skiing, but that actually doesn't refer to just one resort. There are about 13 ski resorts around Lake Tahoe, and Northstar is one of the best picks for first-timers. While Tahoe in general isn't a super easy place to ski, Northstar is known for being less steep than some of the other Tahoe options, so it's a good choice if you're in Northern California, Nevada, or another nearby state, since it's relatively accessible.
There are plenty of groomed green runs and blue runs (intermediate) to choose from, and when you're not skiing, Northstar is also known for its fun non-ski scene off the mountain. Think: great restaurants and an ice skating rink.
8. Okemo, Vermont
Okemo Mountain Resort in Southern Vermont is another East Coast favorite for those new to skiing. According to the resort, 32 percent of the terrain is beginner friendly, which is a big percentage for most resorts. They also have a great deal for beginners: The First Tracks packages include full rentals, a two-hour group lesson, and access to the lower mountain lifts for $ 98.
And, like many ski schools, they focus on working your way up as you build on skills and on having a good time, even when you're learning.
And ultimately, that's the point of skiing: Sliding on snow is supposed to be fun. So wherever you learn, the most important thing is to ski safe and enjoy the process.