Picking the right ski area is not easy. One needs to take into consideration many different factors. The ideal choice is dependent on the actual people in your family, their knowledge and skills of skiing. No matter how hard we try, sometimes we need to make compromises.

💭 If there would be a perfect ski area, then everyone would go there. And immediately, it would become imperfect.

This post is the first part of a series. Here we will take a look at two significant factors with regards to selecting the right area. These two factors are:

  • How big is the ski area?
  • In what condition are the ski lifts?

How big is the ski area? What's the ideal size?

The size of the ski area is measured by the sum of the length of all ski trails. According to this, there are areas from only a couple km up to a couple hundred km in size.

📏 Size - Is the bigger always better?

Many people are convinced that the larger is better. However, this is not always entirely true. It is altogether unnecessary to go to a vast ski area if you're traveling only for a couple days, and the whole family is a beginner. Compared to large areas, small ones may have many advantages. They are typically less busy, for example.

📊 Slope types

Another important aspect is the various types of slopes in the ski area. If you are skiing in Europe, the following color grading is crucial to memorize.

Green Blue Red Black
Difficulty Beginner Easy Moderate Difficult
Gradient 0-20% 20-30% 30-45% 45%+
Recommended for Students Beginners Intermediate skiers Advanced skiers / Professionals

So, depending on the level of skills, different slope types could be necessary for the members of the group. For beginners, ski areas rich in green or blue slopes are much better. At the same time, advanced skiers prefer red and black slopes.

↘ ️Longest downhill trail

An essential aspect to consider is the longest downhill trail. This is more important for the advanced skier who likes skiing faster and longer and not necessarily spending their time in ski lifts. Unfortunately, most of the ski areas don't publish this data, so the only way to figure this out is by looking and measuring the actual length of the slopes on Google Maps or Google Earth.

Let's dig deep and take a look at what ski areas could be ideal for a family skiing dependent on the skills of the skiers.

What's the ideal ski area - For Beginners

Size: Shorter or medium-sized ski areas are perfect and absolutely sufficient for a beginner. It depends obviously on the number of days spent there. As a complete beginner, you simply won't see any extra benefits of ski areas larger than 20-30 km in size.

Slope types: Look for ski areas with more blue slopes.

Longest downhill: As a complete beginner, this won't be very important for you. At the same time, skiing down 2-3 km continuously could give you just a cathartic feeling.


💡[Tip for Beginner Families] Don't stress out on the size of the ski area. It won't really matter for you since you're beginners. The slope types will matter much more. Look for the blue slopes, and you'll have a wonderful time.


What's the ideal ski area - For Intermediate Skiers

Size: Medium-sized, 30-80 km length ski areas are perfect for a one-week family skiing vacation. You'll be able to pick a favorite slope and probably a most hated one too. Everyone in the group will know exactly where the bottom of Piste #2 is, and you won't spend time trying to explain it.

Slope types: Look for a ski area lavish in blue and red slopes. Perhaps you'll dare to visit a black diamond trail, but it's unlikely that you'll spend much time on them. There'll be red ones that everyone in the group will enjoy, and you'll have a great time talking about which one is harder to ski. The absolute beginners will be happy with the shorter blue slopes, while the intermediate skier will dare to pay a visit on one or two black ones.

Longest downhill: It's worth the time to look for an area that has the longest downhill trail with a length of around 10 km. The intermediate skiers will love that they can ski continuously that long.


💡[Tip for Intermediate Families] Take a look at the ski map together before picking an area. This will be good fun for the entire family. Try to ski the slopes in your mind while looking at the map. Show the beginners the slopes that likely they are going to ski on, and as an intermediate skier find the longest downhill.


What's the ideal ski area - For Advanced Skiers

Size: Look for the large ski areas or places with multiple areas. Many ski areas offer combined ski passes that you can use to ski more ski areas with a single pass. 100 km and above. That's what you should be looking for.

Slope types: Look for areas rich in red and black slopes.

Longest downhill: It should be above 10 km. Otherwise, you'll have the feeling that you're spending most of your time waiting for or sitting in the lifts.


💡[Tip for Advanced Families] As an advanced skier, it is vital to determine the long downhill options. If there aren't enough of these, the entire area can become very dull pretty fast.


What's the ideal ski area - For Skiers with Mixed Skillset

Size: Look for the large ski areas. Many ski areas offer combined ski passes that you can use to ski more ski areas with a single pass. 100 km and above. That's what you should be looking for.

Slope types: Look for areas rich in red and black slopes, but also pay attention to have enough blue trails available. Because of the large ski area, it is safe to assume that the number of blue slopes will be sufficient enough for the beginners, while the intermediate and advanced skiers will enjoy the red and black slopes.

Longest downhill: It should be above 10 km. Otherwise, you'll have the feeling that you're spending most of your time waiting for or sitting in the lifts. Look for more long downhill options that contain blue slopes too. This way you'll have a chance to meet the beginners in your group also.


💡[Tip for Families with Mixed Skillset] Families with mixed skillset should look for ski areas rich in red and black slopes. Because of the large ski area, it is safe to assume that the number of blue slopes will be sufficient enough for the beginners.


In what condition are the ski lifts?

Most of the stories about crying during a ski vacation are connected to ski lifts. Primarily to surface lifts like T-bars or Pomas.

The type, comfort, capacity, and speed of ski lifts have a massive impact on the quality of the ski experience. This is not surprising, considering that to be able to ski down the from the hill, one needs to get on top of it first. Unless you trek up or walk to the top, for every downhill experience, you have a lift experience to endure. Therefore the average skier spends more time on ski lifts than on the slopes.

Hence it is worth the time to examine the ski lifts of the area before you make your final decision. Depending on the level of skiing skills, different aspects matter.

Ski lifts - For Beginner Skiers

In the case of an absolute beginner skier, it is inevitable to learn how to use the surface lifts, like T-bar and Poma. You can only get to the top of many blue or green slopes with these kinds. You have to watch out both getting on and off the lift. For an inexperienced skier, this is usually one of the biggest challenges.

For a beginner, it is critical to try oneself out with a slow, not so busy surface lift and then learn how to get on and off the lift.

If you are an absolute beginner, first take a look at which lifts take the top of the blue slopes. If these are T-bars or Pomas, check out their speed. Surface lifts with the velocity below 2 m/s are good enough for practice and getting used to them.

In case you can get to the top with aerial lifts (e.g. gondolas or chairlifts), then it will significantly improve your first skiing experience.


💡[Tip for Beginner Families] Take a look at the lifts taking you to blue and slopes and check how fast the surface lifts are, so you can safely practice how to use them.


Ski lifts - For Intermediate Skiers

Families with beginner to intermediate skiers usually ski blue and red slopes. Most of the lifts for these ones are aerial lifts (e.g. chairlifts) rather than surface lifts.

The bigger the ski area is, the more likely that a high capacity (8+ people) gondola will take the skiers to the top with high speed (3-6 m/s). One can get to the top with these ones, but unfortunately, one needs to take off the skis each and every time. This slows down the process, which can cause bottlenecks at the bottom of the lift, especially in case of busy slopes.

Chairlifts are more comfortable than gondolas, especially if they have a high capacity (6+ people), and they are fast. One doesn't need to take the skis off, and the newer ones can go very fast.

At the same the following problems often encounter in case of chairlifts:

  1. They are old, low capacity (2 people), slow (2 m/s), not cushioned, and they don't have a bubble, which can be very annoying if the weather is terrible.
  2. One still needs some experience to get on and off these. If someone doesn't stand at the right spot while getting on, it's easy to get hit. And if you don't get out from the chair at the right time, you can fell off and hit yourself pretty badly. To avoid such accidents, chairlifts are often stopped or slowed down, so this decreases their effective average speed.

For the above reasons, it is worth to check out the various aerial lifts of the ski areas with regards to when they were built and how fast they are. Old, low capacity and slow aerial lifts can make the ski experience dull.


💡[Tip for Intermediate Families] Take a look at when the gondolas and chairlifts have been built. A new aerial lift can sweeten the ski experience very much.


Ski lifts - For Advanced Skiers

For an advanced skier, the most critical aspect of a lift is its capacity and speed. Advanced skier ski faster, and often they realize that they have to sit on various lifts 30-40 minutes to get to the top. From there, it will take 10 minutes to get down, but then it starts again.

If you are an advanced skier, it is worth to take a look at the lift routes to understand how much we will spend on the lifts rather than skiing.


💡[Tip for Advanced Families] Take a look at how much time it will take with the lifts to get to the top from the bottom with the lifts calculating with transfers, and compare it to the longest downhill skiing time. Avoid the area if it's a huge difference.


Ski lifts - For Skiers with Mixed Skillset

Skiers with mixed skillset should use the following recipe:

  • There should be at least one very slow (<2 m/s) surface lift where the beginners can practice how to use lifts.
  • There should be one or two blue trails that one gets to with aerial lifts.
  • Chairlifts and gondolas shouldn't be too old. They should have high capacity and be fast.
  • One should need to transfer from one lift to another for the longest downhill trail. The lifts to use to get there should be modern and fast.

Summary

In this article, we've examined two factors with regards to selecting the right ski area: the size of the area and the condition of the ski lifts.

We advise you that before you pick the area, first assess the level of skiing skills in your family, since it will influence your choice very much.

As a rule of thumb, one should pick a ski area that fits nicely one's level.

In the next part, we're going to look at further factors, and we're going to make similar suggestions that we hope will help you pick an area much easier and faster.