Ten Tips for First Time Skiers
Skiing is a sport that can endure for a lifetime. Here are ten great tips for embarking on your first ski trip!
1) Take a Lesson
While some things can be learned without instruction, skiing is not one of them. Coordinating two skis without crossing the tips and while exiting a ski lift takes some skill, and should be learned from a qualified instructor. The instructors will help you learn how to click into your skis, form a wedge, use a lift (whether a magic carpet, tow lift, or chair lift), and, most importantly, how to stop! They will also help you learn to get up when you fall.
Don’t be surprised if you are given no ski poles at your first lesson. Poles are often a distraction for first time skiers and may throw them off balance while skiing. Many instructors will have skiers form a wedge and place their arms straight out in front of them to keep the body in the correct position.
Some people progress very quickly, and others progress slowly. The most important thing is to have fun while skiing, not to ski a black diamond on your first run. Far too many new skiers have a need to “get to the next level” and end up on a run that is too challenging for them. An out-of-control skier not only endangers themselves, but also the others on the run! Control is the goal here, not speed or the “level” of the run. Your instructor will help you navigate the level of trail you should be able to handle after you have completed your lesson. Some people will remain on the beginner slope, though many will progress to gentle, groomed “green” runs.
When learning to ski, sometimes fear strikes when a slope seems to be steeper than it looked on the lift ride up. Many new skiers begin down the slope, then panic as speed builds. The natural inclination of many is to lean back, trying to “brake” and slow down. This action, however, actually causes the skis to speed up. Never, ever lean back. Skiers should center their weight forward on the skis, and ski across the slope, make a turn, and ski back across the slope to control their speed. This, of course, leads to the next point – stay in terrain you are able to ski!
Most lessons are run as a “group” lesson, which is the cheapest option. Groups are not very large for the most part, and all groups are gathered by ability level. While you won’t get as much one-on-one attention in a group lesson, you will get a lot of camaraderie and support from your fellow class members, and might find a buddy to ski with after the lesson is completed. Private lessons come at a steeper price point, but offer a more tailored approach and will give you a lot more attention.
A group lesson heads out to learn new skills.
2) Look for Specials
January is “Learn to Ski and Snowboard” month in the USA, and many resorts offer a steep first-timer discount. Our local resorts provide a first-time lesson, ski and boot rental package, and beginner area lift ticket for less than $30. This is an incredible deal, and the least expensive way a person can try out skiing as a new sport. Please note that this type deal is only available in January, only at some resorts in the USA, and will only include a beginner area lift ticket. If you have skied before, the short skis, lack of poles, and beginner area ticket will not be right for you. While not as cheap as the special deals offered in January, many resorts do offer a first-time skier package discount regardless of the month.
Check into different resorts in your area to see what lesson packages are available and what specials they are running. Some larger resorts even have lessons for specific populations, which can make being in a group more comfortable.
3) Keep Your Expectations Realistic
Many new skiers are disappointed when they are not schussing down the slopes as quickly as they thought they would be. Nearly all beginner skiers are in a wedge, skiing green runs, and learning to turn for quite some time. Don’t be disappointed with this, as it is all part of the process and is a necessary step to learning edge control and parallel turns. Know that you will fall, will have a ski pop off, and will feel uncoordinated at times. It will take more than one lesson to learn how to ski – many lessons are often needed, particularly when learning a new skill (such as parallel turning, skiing moguls, and other more advanced techniques). If your expectations are kept in line with reality, the experience will be a lot more fun.
Take it slow and have fun.
4) Wear the Right Clothing
Every time I see someone on the slopes wearing jeans, I cringe. Denim gets sodden, freezing, and will make the skiing experience miserable. As the Scandinavians say, there is no bad weather – only bad clothing!
Proper Underclothes for Skiing
For your underclothes, wear long underwear under the rest of your gear. It will keep you warm and provide a layer of protection between your skin and rough ski pants. For women, I highly recommend wearing a sports bra. I had been skiing for well over a decade before a friend – new to skiing – recommended this to me. Adjusting bra straps is not possible while skiing, and having a sports bra prevents you from dealing with a slipped strap.
If you don’t have “official” ski socks, don’t fret. Wear warm knee socks, but be sure they are not too thick. Wool is better than cotton, as wool wicks moisture better and is a warmer material. If possible, buy a pair of ski socks before you head to the slopes.
Waterproof Ski Pants
Ski pants may come as overalls, pants with suspenders, or as plain pants. All will be waterproof, and will have an inner layer that can be stretched over your ski boot to prevent snow from getting into your boots while skiing.
A Good Jacket
Get an appropriate, waterproof ski jacket. Many of these coats have a toggle to attach a lift pass, and extra pockets to carry ID, trail maps, and other items. Some come in multiple layers, with a removable liner if the weather becomes warm. Others are a single layer system. All that really matters for a beginner is staying warm and dry, so don’t fret too much about the type of system the coat uses – just make sure it fits well, is appropriate for very cold weather, and is waterproof.
Mittens or Gloves
Depending on the weather where you ski, you may want to opt for mittens instead of gloves. I have found that weather colder than 15°F (-9°C) requires mittens for my personal comfort. For those skiing in warmer areas or who have a higher “cold tolerance level”, gloves are fine. Make sure all are waterproof! If the weather will be very cold, buy a few hand warmers (a common name is "Hot Hands") - these packets release heat up to 8 hours and can be tucked inside a mitten for additional warmth.
Protecting your eyes from glare and wind is critical. On a sunny, mild day, sunglasses will work just fine. In colder weather or high winds, goggles are necessary. They don't need to be expensive, just big enough to go around a ski helmet. For those who need vision correction, there are specialty goggles made to fit over eyewear.
We ski in very cold weather and often have no skin showing!
Balaclava with Helmet or Hat
If you will be renting a helmet (highly recommended), wear a balaclava to wear under the helmet. It will keep your head warmer and will make the helmet more comfortable. If you opt out of a helmet, then a warm hat will be needed. Helmets are highly recommended, however, for both warmth and safety reasons.
5) Get Appropriate Skis and Proper Boots
Don’t borrow a friend’s “old skis” because their boot size fits you. Skis are extremely specialized as to function and the shape of the ski, length, and composition affects performance. Beginners typically ski on shorter skis with a curved shape and more flexibility within the ski itself – this allows for easier maneuvering and keeps speed in check. For a first-time skier, it is better to rent a beginner ski at the resort, as the ski will be the proper type for your ski level. As your skill level advances, intermediate skis offer a stiffer surface to handle speed and come in longer lengths.
In addition, make sure the ski boots fit properly.
The boot is as important as the ski itself: the skier needs a perfect connection from the foot to the ski to angle the ski. A poorly fitted, loose boot loses energy and causes the foot to slip inside the boot. This can make it impossible to engage the edge of the ski or to initiate a turn. The ski boot should be tightly fitted around your foot, with no “wiggle space” in the toes. If renting boots for the first time, the ski rental shop personnel should help you find a proper fit. Don’t be alarmed if your toes touch the end of the boot when you first slide into it: once the buckles are cinched down your foot will be pulled back slightly and the boot should be snug.
6) Stay in Beginner Terrain
If you do not know how to side slip, comfortably turn and stop, and pick yourself up from a fall, then do not venture onto intermediate or advanced trails. If you do not even know what side slipping is, then you definitely don’t belong on steeper slopes. The easiest trails are marked by a green symbol, and are groomed, gentle slopes perfect for perfecting your skills. Once you can ski in a wedge comfortably, can turn and stop, and know how to side slip, then it is safe to venture out onto a short intermediate run to test your skills. The more advanced runs are better suited to those who can parallel ski without frustration.
Green runs are long and very gentle, perfect for beginners!
7) Find a Resort with a Magic Carpet Lift
Many resorts now have a “moving sidewalk” style of lift for first time skiers. These lifts are very easy to use and take very little skill. The skier simply shuffles onto the carpet and it carries them to the top of the beginner area. These lifts are much easier to use than a tow lift system (the skier must hold onto a bar and keep their skis parallel while getting pulled up the hill) or a chair lift (the skier must be able to unload from the chair and ski down a short embankment). Check the websites of the resort you intend to visit and determine if they have this type of lift for new skiers.
Magic Carpet Lifts are the easiest for first-timers.
8) Get Comfortable with Falling
You will fall. Possibly a lot. On the beginner slopes, it is impossible to generate a ton of speed, so don’t fret about falling. Most new skiers fall backwards, after feeling frightened and trying to lean back in an effort to “stop.” Of course, leaning back only increases speed and throws the skier off-balance, but it is a natural reflex that takes time to unlearn. Another cause of falling is crossed tips, as the skier gets one ski over the other while in a wedge. This causes a fall forward or sideways. In most cases, a ski or two will pop off and you will need to get up and put your skis back on. In the event the skis remain on your boots, it will be harder to get up. Either remove the skis or position yourself sideways to the hill before you attempt to get up.
9) Don’t Bang Your Skis Together
Ski bindings (the thing that holds your boot to the ski) have different settings. When signing up for a lesson, most forms have a section that asks for your “skier type.” These are listed as Type I, Type II, or Type III. Beginner skiers are Type I, and the bindings will be set accordingly. Type I skiers have settings to release a ski easily, as beginner skiers generally don’t ski at high speeds and may fall frequently. Having a ski “pop off” is safer for both the actual fall and for standing back up after a fall has occurred.
Due to the binding settings, do not bang your skis together while sitting on a chair lift. It can be tempting to knock the snow off one ski by using the other, or to click them together. If you do this, you risk having one fall off while on the chair – and exiting a chair lift on one ski is a rather tricky thing to do!
10) Wear a Helmet
I cannot recommend this one enough. When I first started skiing, I wore only a hat. Helmets were not common in the early 2000’s. I would never ski without one now. They are ubiquitous now, for good reason. Most severe skier collisions occur when one skier hits another person on the slopes. Even if you are being very careful, there is always the risk that someone else may collide with you. In addition, simply falling backward and hitting your head on the hard-packed snow could cause injury. Nearly everyone wears helmets now.
In addition to the obvious safety aspect, helmets are also much warmer than hats. It can be windy when skiing, and the hard surface of the helmet prevents wind-chill. Most also cover the ears, and have an adjustable dial on the back to adjust to a snug fit. Wearing a balaclava under the helmet will increase warmth and comfort.
Starting out on the right foot with this sport is important, as it offers a lifetime of rewards. We have been skiing with multiple generations of our family for years, and it is one of the few sports an entire family can participate in together.