Getting started: Learning to ski or snowboard on a budget

It needn't cost you the Earth to learn
It needn't cost you the Earth to learn
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If you really want to, you can spend a small fortune on learning to ski or snowboard. Jet off to the Alps, book yourself into a posh hotel at one of the ritziest resorts, treat yourself to the most expensive gear you can find then shell out for private lessons and you’ll have maxed out your credit cards before you can say “snowplow turn”. But these sports are no longer the preserve of the super-rich. In fact, if you’re lucky enough to live in Scotland you can get started for very little. Here’s how...


The absolute minimum requirements for learning to ski or snowboard? Skis or a snowboard plus boots that fit. You don’t have to buy your own gear: all the Scottish ski centres hire it out at very reasonable rates. Skis, ski boots and ski poles (or a snowboard and snowboard boots) can cost as little as £18 a day for a one-off hire, and as little as £12 a day if you hire them for several days at a time. And of course, kids pay less for ski hire – and for everything else on this list.


When you’re deciding how much money to spend on ski clobber, remember: only a couple of generations ago, people still skied in tweeds. A durable, waterproof outer layer is a good idea, and enough layers underneath to keep you warm on a Munro in winter. Apart from that, all you really need is a woolly hat, a pair of gloves and some goggles. Also bear in mind that all the Scottish ski centres now rent ski clothing, so you don’t have to buy anything at all if you don’t want to.


Full price ski passes at Scotland’s five outdoor ski centres cost around £30, but that’s only if you want access to the whole mountain for an entire day. A one-day beginner area pass at Glenshee costs just £17; a midweek all-area pass at Glencoe is £25; a half-day all area pass at CairnGorm is £21. Be realistic about how much skiing you’re going to do and how much of the mountain you’re going to use and book accordingly. You’ll be surprised how much you save.


Got a mate who’s offered to teach you to ski? That’s great. Until it snows six inches on Friday night, that is, and your mate dumps you on the bunny slopes on Saturday morning, tells you skiing is ‘just like riding a bike’ and then heads off up the hill alone to score fresh tracks. All the ski centres offer tuition at reasonable rates, and some also offer all-in packages that include tuition, lift passes and gear hire in the price. If you’re just starting out, this one-stop-shop approach could save you time and hassle, as well as money.


The good news? You don’t have to pay to fly to the slopes. The even better news? You don’t have to pay for your bags to fly with you, you don’t have to pay to reserve a seat on the plane and you don’t have to pay for using a credit card to pay for all of the above. You don’t need to fork out for a hire car either – you can take your own. Want to save money on petrol? Car share. Don’t have a car? No problem – CairnGorm, Glencoe and Nevis Range are all easily accessible by public transport.


Unless you live in the far north, the far south or the Islands, all of the Scottish ski centres are commutable in a day, so if you don’t want to spend anything on accommodation, you don’t have to. That said, after a day on the hill, the prospect of a few pints in front of a roaring fire before bed is a lot more appealing than the thought of driving home in the dark. There are loads of great hotels clustered around the five main ski centres, and some now offer special ski packages, saving you even more money.