Israel has experienced only some snow this winter, but December for some countries is already the start of a brand new ski season. Though no accurate numbers exist on how many Israelis go on ski vacations every year, estimates range from around 25,000 to 100,000. Even if the truth lies somewhere in between, the large number of Israelis who once or twice a year leave the country to ski on European or American slopes represent more than just a passing trend. The marketing of ski packages has been stepped up in recent years, and there are now all-inclusive deals being offered to a variety of locations during the winter. These deals include the costs of the flights, a week of hotel accommodation and meals, ski equipment and a ski guide per group. They start at the relatively reasonable price of 900 euros, make the temptation to try it out even bigger. Peretz Fabrikant, a ski instructor who heads the A.S.F. Ski School for Snow Sports and the ski department at Shelly Tours, says the most important thing for a new skier is that his first ski vacation should be with a group and a instructor. "People tend to think they can learn alone or from a friend, but this is a mistake," Fabrikant says. "If someone plans to turn skiing into an annual thing, he will enjoy it more if he sees progress every time he goes on a ski vacation and will be able to move gradually from the beginners' level to the more advanced levels." Up until 20 years ago, only a few Israelis practiced skiing as a sport. Artifacts found in Russia, Scandinavia and China show, however, that an ancient form of skiing started some 6,000 years ago. In 1888, the Norwegian explorer, scientist and diplomat Fridtjof Nansen published his experiences during his first research trip in which he crossed Greenland on a pair of skis, and inspired thousands of people around the world to embrace skiing as a sport. Since then, four European countries have based a great part of their tourism industry on the snow sport: Austria, Switzerland, Italy and France, all of which share a piece of the Alps. During the last decade and a half, some Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Romania have joined the ski market. Foreign companies from the original four Alpine countries have developed many of the ski sites in the eastern countries, while others don't contain all the modern services available at most ski complexes. However, skiing in countries of the Former Soviet Union or in the newest ski resort of Andorra, located between Spain and France, is much cheaper. Fabrikant explains that another advantage of purchasing an all-inclusive deal is the fact that the instructor knows which sites would be best for a group of beginners who have not yet gained confidence. "Factors such as a hotel that is located close to the green and blue pistes [beginner paths] are important because rookie skiers don't appreciate long walks, and usually it takes them time to feel comfortable in clumsy shoes," he says. "They fall a lot, and get wet and cold before the fun has even begun." Klein advises beginners to stay on the pistes that fit their level until they are ready to move to the next stage and to go through the learning stage with an instructor. "It simply saves many of the injuries and one week with a ski guide is equal to a month alone." "In addition, a hotel that is located right in front of the pistes provides a sense of security for beginners who say to themselves that at the very worst, they can always find their way back," he adds. Each month of the ski season has a preferred area, and so less snowy countries may be perfect for the early winter, from December to January, and more snowy countries would be more appropriate at the end of the season, from March to April. Fabrikant says that the classical destinations have stayed as popular as they were in the past, and countries such as Austria, France and Italy still draw most foreign skiers. "Two of the most famous geographic regions that were and remain popular are St. Anton in western Austria, a region that used to be Italian until World War II, and the Italian Dolomites, which constitute part of the Alps and have a unique reddish stone that intensifies the experience, both landscape and difficulty-wise." Planning a ski vacation also should take the clothing issue into account. Erel Klein, a ski instructor and manager of the "snow department" at La'Metayel, says that three layers of clothing are needed.. "The first layer comprises thin, thermal pants and a shirt that can keep the body temperature stable and evaporate sweat successfully in order to prevent a sudden cold in between the strenuous activity," Klein says. "The second layer is usually made up of micro-fleece, which supplies the body with the heat it needs. The third layer is the ski suit consisting of pants and a jacket." Klein advises all skiers, especially beginners (who fall a lot and get wet easily) to invest in a good, waterproof ski suit. Professional stores have a large variety of hats, scarves and gloves. If you plan to try snowboarding, specially padded gloves are a must because most of snowboard injuries are in the hands. Wearing a helmet is always recommended, even if the site's rules do not mention it. When it comes to the ski equipment, says Klein, "it is worth purchasing your own set, but only after a couple of skiing trips when you know you will continue to ski in the future. The airline companies usually allow you to send the equipment bag as a suitcase, and in general, it is not a problem to ship it." Another important aspect of a ski vacation is physical fitness. Yuval David, a sport physiotherapist from the Sport and Spine Physiotherapy Clinic in Ramat Gan - whose staff specializes in treating sports injuries - says physical preparations should start three months before a ski vacation. "Members of the Israeli skiing community are aware of this need, and in most cases, they maintain a healthy lifestyle," David says. "Those who usually don't ski and don't have three months to get in shape can get ready in one month so long as they remember they shouldn't try to work harder than recommended during these weeks because the extra stress can end up hurting them." According to David, the most common ski injuries are on the knees. For this reason, he recommends a series of exercises involving knee-bending as well as on aerobic activity such as fast walks or jogging - four times a week, for 20 to 30 minutes at first, and gradually for a whole hour. "Statistically, three to five percent of skiers end their ski vacation with injuries," he says. "The Israeli ski community increasingly understands the importance of physical fitness and prior preparations. Even people who suffer in daily life from back pain can ski - they just need to be advised professionally how to do it before they start to ski." Regarding ski jargon, say the experts, the instructor will lead you through the unique terminology of this sport. However, you might want to remember that every day of a ski vacation has its apres ski, the relaxing part of the day when tired skiers feel they have earned the right to enjoy a particular place's attractions, food and atmosphere.