The mountains of Meribel in France’s Three Valleys offer some of Europe’s best skiing And are also a great training ground for beginners. WORDS: Lynette Eyb

It is not unusual for human beings to panic when confronted with death. And death can come at any time, even in life’s most beautiful places. It’s day one on the slopes, and the winding run before us turns unexpectedly from green to blue. The mountain drops away, and a sharp jolt of hysteria pierces my veins.

The trees on either side of the run start to close in; the snowplough gives way; the knees pack it in; the skis slide in opposite directions. The one and only objective now is to avoid death or serious injury, to come to a stop sometime soon with all bodily parts in place and functioning to their usual capacity. Sprawled across the mountain moments later, four-year-olds whizzing by me at breakneck speed, a new objective is set: how the hell am I going to get down the rest of this mountain alive?

Learning to ski – the rules

Learn in the right place
Learn on the right runs in the right resort. You’re bound to get bored if your ski field of choice caters more for red- and black-run skiers than for beginners as you’ll spend your entire week(end) on the same run, which will limit your ability to see other areas of the mountain. By choosing a larger resort which has ski schools offering more personalised lessons in smaller groups, while also offering loads of different runs for beginners, you’ll have more fun, be more relaxed and you’ll improve at a faster rate.

Meribel, for example, falls into the Three Valleys region of the French Alps and its lift and goldola links to neighbouring resorts make the area the largest ski field in the world with 600km of piste. This means there’s plenty of room for you to take off your training wheels.

The snowplough
Having made it down the mountain on that first ill-fated journey (ski, fall, struggle to feet, slide, walk, swear, cruise into village pretending to have skied the whole way), the best advice I can offer other beginners comes in the form of one word: lessons. Here you’ll hear that magic word: snowplough, and find out why it will become your most important survival skill when it’s just you at one – or at odds – with the mountain.

Like the scrum in rugby or the one-handed backhand in tennis, the snowplough is an entirely unnatural act which sees your knees and your ankles angled inward at awkward angles in the hope of bringing your skis to a halt while you are hurtling down a 45° slope. Stopping, you will learn, is not always physically possible, but the snowplough is your best bet and the only way you’ll make it down that mountain alive.

Know your limits

Stay within your limits until you get the hang of things. Here in Meribel and right across the Three Valleys, there are green runs, which are basic and open, and the perfect training ground for beginners. There are also dozens of blue runs which allow you to move up a gear when you’re ready.

Know the mountain
Get to know the ski fields you are using and the signposts which highlight runs of varying standards. By getting to know the mountain, you’ll stay out of trouble. See opening paragraph.

Stick together
Hang out with skiers as bad – or almost as bad – as yourself. You’ll give each other the confidence to keep going and, when your pride is battered and your bum is bruised, they’ll be there to drag you to your feet – or at least help locate your feet in the wreckage of your latest fall.