From the top of Chair 15—at roughly 10,000 feet of elevation—on Vail Mountain in Colorado, the panorama of the peaks and valleys in the Rocky Mountains draws more than 1.3 million skiers and snowboarders every winter.
“What gets people really inspired to ski and snowboard is the vista, the big view,” John Plack, the senior manager of communications for Vail Mountain and Beaver Creek, told AFAR.
Unfortunately, views like this aren’t always as accessible to those who are new to snow sports—beginner-friendly routes are often relegated to the very bottom of the mountain, and getting to take in the scenery above the treeline may require more advanced skills.
However, in the past five years, more U.S. ski resorts like Vail have reworked the terrain and revamped learning opportunities to give beginners better opportunities to experience the scene from the summit.
“Getting to experience that from Day 1 is what keeps people coming back and keep practicing,” Plack explained.
It’s a shift that comes during a time when the National Ski Areas Association recorded historically high numbers of visitors to U.S. ski areas: In the 2021–2022 season, more than 61 million people spent a day skiing or snowboarding, an increase of 3.5 percent over the previous season.
Ski resorts that offer beginner-friendly terrain
In 2021, Colorado ski resort Beaver Creek unveiled its newest terrain expansion, McCoy Park, aimed at helping beginners level up their skiing and riding skills.
The 250-acre expansion is located in a terrain bowl, with 14 green (easy) and three blue (intermediate) runs. Each trail is wide, groomed, and leisurely. And importantly, it has no expert runs, as they can be a potentially dangerous situation for fast-moving skiers and those who are just learning to move through the same corridor.
Also at Beaver Creek is the 2018-opened Haymeadow Park, an area accessed by gondolas and specifically designed for beginners. However, its focus is on helping children practice on more dynamic terrain. There, among the magic carpets (conveyor belts installed at the level of the snow that pull riders uphill) and runs with negligible elevation loss, guests will find bumps, berms, and rollers, like you’d find elsewhere on the mountain but shrunk down to kid size. The idea, Plack said, is to help develop the skills necessary to advance to more challenging runs elsewhere.
Other Colorado resorts have developments planned for later this season: Steamboat Springs is opening the beginner-focused Greenhorn Ranch Learning Center, and Copper Mountain will unveil regraded trails that better favor freshman skiers and snowboarders. It’s also the first full season that Crested Butte’s regraded beginner area, aimed at helping newcomers enhance their skills, will be usable.
Outside of the Centennial State, other resorts will be rolling out terrain expansions specifically aimed at bringing more beginner-friendly options to their mountains. One is Snowbasin in Utah, which has long been known for its steep terrain (the 2002 Olympic downhill races were held there for that reason). By December 2024, the 3,000-acre resort will have a designated area for novices.
Ski resorts that offer programs for adult newbies
Skiing and snowboarding aren’t sports that are gentle with newbies—particularly those who haven’t seen many winters. And older learners, Plack noted, often aren’t keen on being grouped with kids, which is why some resorts have launched programs better tailored to adults just getting into snow sports.
Beyond conducting kid lessons on one chair lift and adults on another, Plack said Vail wanted to find a way to engage with adults in a way that made them feel good about learning. So Vail opened up the Avanti Performance Center last year, where guests are treated more like professional athletes when opting for lessons.
On a given day, Avanti Performance Center guests will go out on more intermediate terrain with their guide, who will film them. After a few runs, they’ll go inside and review the tape to get a better sense of how to improve body positioning. From there, they can practice the correct stance in a simulator placed in front of a mirror to understand better how the movements should look and feel before returning to the mountain. This feature comes at no extra cost to guests.
“It’s specifically a learning area focused on adults and helping them unlock that next level,” Plack said.
Though Utah’s Snowbasin is considered a more advanced mountain, it’s often ranked as one of the best places to learn to ski or snowboard. Last year it won the Conversion Cup, an award given by the National Ski Areas Association to the resort with the best program to expand the sport. The achievement was due to its Learn and Earn skiing and snowboarding program.
“Its purpose is to eliminate the barriers to learning skiing or snowboarding,” Michael Rueckert, director of marketing at Snowbasin, told AFAR. “If someone wants to pick up skiing, typically they need to get at least the gear, the lessons, and the season pass, which can be intimidating and expensive for people starting out. The Learn and Earn program packages everything you need together, and we sell it for about 75 percent off.”
The program participants receive three lessons (where they’re split into groups by age), a rental package for the entire winter, and a season pass for the remainder of the year. If they repeat the program the following year, they again get the lessons and season pass but also get to keep the gear when the season is over. And in the third and final year, participants get a private lesson to fine-tune their skills before graduating with a season pass in hand.
The outcome of having programs that offer better instruction and more terrain options, Plack said, “is to show newcomers how fun these activities can be and helps make it more inclusive.”