This is after all why you’re going on a snow holiday, right? But for many of us South Africans skiing can be a bit daunting – we’re still excited about the 1cm snow fall in Joburg in ’96 and now we’re supposed to strap on some skis and head down a piste at high speed! Luckily most resorts are used to first-timers and are ready with ski schools, private lessons and learner slopes.

Example of a ski pass

Ski Pass

Ski Pass, also known as a Lift Ticket or Lift Pass, is a skier’s ‘passport to ride’!

It is a small RFID (radio frequency ID) embedded card which gives a skier access to the resort ski lift system. They contain information like validity periods (e.g. per day, per week or for the season), child or adult, and which parts of the system a skier has access to. The card is attached to or inserted into the ski jacket and will be scanned (usually automatically) at each lift station.

Many ski villages (resorts) have their own immediate ski areas and also form part of a larger ski domain which may include multiple villages. Ski passes for the local area will be cheaper than domain ski passes but skiing will be more limited. For beginner and early intermediate skiers the local area passes are usually varied and challenging enough to enjoy a wonderful snow holiday.

Ski passes are often included in your holiday package, or can be bought online or at the destination.

Types of Ski Lifts

Ski Lifts are the main form of transport on the slopes, besides your skis/board of course. They come in a huge variety of contraptions from humble button lifts made for one person to double decker mega gondolas that carry hundreds of people at a time. Their purpose is to get skiers to their snowy slope-top destinations of choice as quickly as possible. Generally the smaller the lift the shorter the distance and conversely the longer the distance the bigger, more advanced the lift.
Access to these lifts is granted by way of a ski pass.

Here are some examples of the different lift system that you may encounter:

Kids on a carpet lift


(Conveyer belts on the practise and nursery slopes.)

Skiers being dragged up the slope on button lift

Button Lift

T-bar lift for skiers


Four skiers in the air on a on a chair lift

Chair Lift

Ski lift gondola leaving the station


Aerial tram or gondola suspended in the air by a cable

Aerial Tramways and Cableways

Funicular to transport skiers up to the top of the piste


Red train in snow going to mountain top


Slope Classification

In Europe ski slopes or ‘pistes’ are classified into different levels of difficulty and labelled with a colour system – these pistes will be marked in that colour on maps and information boards.

So if for example, you are a beginner you should look for a village or resort with a more green and blue slopes, but if you are more advanced you would be after red, black or orange.

You may also notice that slopes are marked in solid or dotted lines indicating whether they have been groomed or not.

Marking and colour system may differ by country – please double check with your local ski guide before you set off.

Graphic of ski piste colour color gradings
Red alpine skis and poles at the top of a steep piste
Alpine Skiing and Nordic Skiing

The main difference between the two is the operation of the binding. On a Nordic ski the heel of the boot is not fixed and is free move, while on an Alpine ski the heel is fixed to the ski.

  • Nordic skiing includes Telemark, Cross-Country, Ski Jumping and Biathlon
  • Alpine skiing is also know as Downhill skiing, and as the name suggests, involves skiing with fixed boot bindings down a variety of slopes of varying lengths, gradients and snow conditions.

Off-Piste Skiing & Ski Touring

Off-piste skiing – also known as back country or out-of-area skiing – involves skiing down slopes that have not been groomed or prepared for ‘normal’ skiing. Being able to ski in fresh powder and cut your own lines on virgin snow is a real thrill, but one that requires an advanced set of skills and comes with its own set of risks. Ski Touring takes one or more days, is generally done on Telemark skis (free heel binding) and is not dissimilar to off-piste skiing in that one spends much of the time away from prepared runs and outside recognised ski domains or areas. Think of it as ‘snow hiking’ but with skis on… Great that one can ski downhill, but a real workout when negotiating an uphill ‘hike’ with a pair of Telemark skis on.
Neither of these activities should be attempted by novice skiers or without a guide.

Cross country walkers on snow slope
Cross country skier in skin tights red leggings
Cross Country Trails

Cross country skiing is practised on fairly flat prepared trails with long thin skis with no heel binding. Using ski poles for leverage, one skates or shuffles along the trail without lifting the ski completely off the snow between strides. It takes some getting used to but is great exercise!
Cross country skis, poles and boots can be rented in most resorts.