In this beginner skiing guide we cover everything from what to expect from your first lesson to understanding the slopes. You’ll also learn skiing lingo, equipment advice and how to ride a chairlift! Continue reading below…
- 1 A Brief History of Skiing
- 2 A Little About the Lingo
- 3 What to Wear When Skiing
- 4 Understanding the Slopes
- 5 Renting Gear
- 6 What to Expect on Your First Lesson
- 7 Riding the Chairlift
- 8 Skills That Will Get You Through Day One and Beyond
- 9 A Quick Note and Thanks to Our Ski Patrol
- 10 Progression and Next Steps
Skiing for Beginners
Trying out a new sport can be both intimidating as much as it is exciting, especially when that new sport involves attaching yourself to two planks of fiberglass and using them to hurtle down a mountain at speeds of up to 60mph.
Nevertheless, skiing is a great way to stay fit during the winter months and let’s be honest…there’s few problems in life that being in a mountain range doesn’t solve.
In this guide, I am going to take you through all you need to know about skiing to help you prepare for your first day on the slopes.
I’ll be covering everything from what to wear, to how to navigate the mountain and more. So, sit down, grab yourself a cup of tea and get ready to learn all about skiing.
A Brief History of Skiing
Skiing has a history dating back around 8000 years, though skiing as a sport is a much more modern invention. The first half of the 19th century saw the first public skiing competition in Norway, with the first skiing clubs forming shortly afterwards.
In 1924 we saw our first winter Olympics held, which coincided with the formation of the International Ski Federation.
Today, there are 5561 ski resorts open across the globe which are comprised of almost 60,000km of downhill slopes and over 22,000 ski lifts.
When you consider backcountry terrain in addition to this, the possibilities can be pretty much endless when it comes to your options for chasing fresh snow.
A Little About the Lingo
Before we get started, I wanted to run through a couple of terms you’re likely to hear both in this guide and while you’re on the mountain. When I first started skiing and got chatting to some locals, I thought they were speaking another language at times, especially when they were discussing ‘gnarly chutes’ and ‘sending hard’.
It’s safe to say I was a little oblivious to the ski talk, so wanted to enlighten you with a few of my favorite sayings as well as useful ‘ski’ words to help you out on the slope. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it will give you a good basis for understanding.
Frankly, one of the most important and familiar words on the slopes. Deriving from the French word for after; après is the term we use to describe the drinking and parties that go on at the end of the day once the slopes are closed.
Not just for snowboarders, carving is the art of using the very edges of your ski to make controlled turns down the slope. Once you reach this level of skiing, you’ll be far beyond the beginner phase. You’ll be able to clearly see when someone has been carving the mountain as there’ll be two very thin perfect lines in the snow, where the edges of the ski have been digging in.
A word used to describe the freshly groomed lines on ski runs first thing on a morning. The lines make it look like corduroy trousers. There’s nothing quite like hitting some fresh corduroy after a night of snowfall. Packed powder is pretty awesome.
A couloir is a narrow chute that usually has rocks at either side of it and they’re definitely tailored to the expert skiers. One of the most famous couloirs has to be Corbet’s in Jackson Hole. It begins with a 20ft drop off the top of the mountain into some extremely steep and challenging terrain. This year, during the annual ‘Kings and Queens of Corbet’s’ competition hosted by Redbull, someone actually skied the couloir on a sit ski.
A skier’s worst nightmare. This is icy and hard packed snow. If someone tells you a run is cruddy, steer clear, especially as a beginner.
One of my favorite words to hear on the ski slope. The word gnarly is used to describe anything and everything that’s remotely dangerous or difficult on the slopes – “bro that run was gnarly!”
The groomers are the runs that are groomed, simple hey?!
You may hear people on your ski trip talk favorably of the ‘lifties’ in the resort. These are the guys and gals who operate the chairlift, they’re super fun to talk to, love their easygoing job and will be more than willing to help you out the first few times you load.
Moguls are bumps of snow purposely left on the runs to challenge your skiing ability. I don’t recommend attempting them as a newbie, but as your skills progress and if you want to challenge yourself, these are great to practice on. Some skiers live for the mogul runs.
A word used to describe skiers and snowboarders who spend all their days in the terrain park and don’t venture off anywhere else.
Piste and Off Piste
The word ‘piste’ derives from France and refers to all of the groomed slopes you see on the mountain. The term off-piste is used to describe the rest of the mountain; from the ungroomed chutes that hang off runs all the way to backcountry terrain that is often located outside the ski boundary.
When skiing in North America, they tend to use the phrase piste and off-piste a little differently. North Americans usually class off-piste skiing as solely anything that is outside of the ski boundary.
Powder is the holy grail of snow. Skiers flock to resorts on a powder day well before first chair to get in line early and get some fresh lines. Some people may even be referred to as powder hounds; those who seek the powder no matter what. I myself have been known to take 12-hour detours, mid roadtrip, to chase fresh snow on a powder day.
A ripper is a person who simply ‘rips up the mountain’ or, more simply, is an excellent skier who isn’t afraid to ski fast and hard, yet remains in complete control. When you see kids on the slope who are particularly good, you’ll likely hear them referred to as “little rippers”.
Though not really a slang word either, I wanted you to know what it means to be inside and outside of the ski boundary.
Some resorts in North America pride themselves on having a lot of ‘wild’ terrain that’s actually in bounds of the ski resort. When you’re within the ski boundary, you can be sure that avalanche mitigation techniques have been employed and that ski patrol will come rescue you, should you find yourself in a less than favorable situation.
There’re many signs all across the resort that will inform you if you’re about to leave the safety of the ski resort and head into the side or backcountry.
What to Wear When Skiing
With your first day on the slopes finally booked, you will need to start thinking about exactly what gear you’ll need to ensure a successful and fun time on the mountain. In this section of the article I am going to go head to toe (literally) on absolutely everything you’ll want to wear. We also recommend checking out TripOutside.com as they know all the best ski rental places.
I would say that as a beginner, your helmet is the most important piece of ski equipment and you should be prepared to spend a fair few bucks on it. While some items we discuss here can be second hand, such as clothing, I don’t recommend it for a helmet. You don’t know what kind of falls people have got themselves into or if the helmet is damaged or not.
A new helmet is an absolute essential in any beginner’s ski kit.
Plus, as a beginner you’re likely going to be taking a few tumbles and it’s better to be safe than sorry; I’ve seen my fair share of people tomahawk without a helmet and it looks pretty nasty.
So, what are some of the most popular helmet brands to choose from?
If cost is a deciding factor, brands like Giro are more affordable and Smith is likely the brand you will see in literally every ski shop you walk into. Smith helmets are my go-to recommendation for beginners as price wise you can find them from as cheap as $100, all the way to $300 or more.
Many newer helmets are now equipped with MIPS technology too for a small additional cost – which in my opinion is worth it.
MIPS stands for Multi-directional Impact Prevention System and is comprised of an interior layer that rotates up to 5mm in the event of a fall to reduce the rotational impacts on your head. Representatives for MIPS have personally told me that having a MIPS equipped helmet reduces the impact of a blow to the head by 30%.
I personally opted for the Smith Vantage MIPS after demoing it on mountain and experiencing that added later of protection after I took a tumble.
Demoing is a great way to try gear before you buy it and several vendors will likely attend your local mountain periodically throughout the season.
Unfortunately, the color of your goggles isn’t all about matching your outfit choice (sorry everyone). There’s a lot of science that goes into making every pair of goggles you see on the slopes.
Each lens is specially designed to let in a certain amount of light depending on the filter that you choose; if it’s sunny, you’re going to want to have less light let through the goggle’s lens so that you don’t strain your eyes.
On overcast and snowy days, you will want much more light to enter the lens so you can see where you’re going. As a beginner you should look at investing in both a storm lens as well as something for bright conditions.
Contrast is also a major factor when it comes to choosing the perfect goggle.
There’s nothing worse than being unable to see bumps in the snow on a whiteout day, especially as a beginner. This is why a personal favorite of mine are the Oakley Prizm lenses. They enhance the natural contrast you see in the snow, no matter the conditions, helping to minimize those unexpected falls. I swear by Hi-Prizm Pink on a powder day! Here’s a sample of the difference you see when wearing Prizm technology.
When it comes to changing lenses however, as much as I love my Oakley goggles, I find the lens change to be a little frustrating and it can take anything up to 5 minutes to switch them out. Especially when I’m in a rush and it’s all fingers and thumbs.
If you want a goggle that has a high-quality lens, and a quick lens change is your primary concern, the anon goggles are incredible. Their lenses are magnetic and you can switch them in seconds… even as a newbie! They’re also a much cheaper alternative to Oakley.
When I was choosing my first pair of goggles, one thing that I really struggled with was the fit. Everything I tried pressed on my sinuses and it felt like I couldn’t breathe. If you have this issue, I recommend trying out the Oakley Fall Line as they have a wider nose. If you have a smaller face, the Flight Deck XM or Asian Fit goggles tend to work best.
A pro-tip too is to choose the same brand of goggles as your helmet. It’s not essential, but they are designed to work with each other.
When you’re new to skiing, you’ll quickly discover that it is one heck of a workout and, chances are, unless you’re roaming around a resort that regularly falls below zero, you may not need a thick base layer. I rarely wear more than a thin base layer and my jacket on most days and in my day to day life, I’m usually the type of person that always complains that they’re cold.
When shopping for your base layer though, I do highly recommend investing in merino wool as opposed to cheaper, synthetic options. It naturally wicks sweat and has anti-microbial properties to curb the stink! It will also keep you that little bit warmer on the cold days. You can learn more about the benefits of merino wool here.
Skiers have a plethora of options available to them when it comes to their outerwear, far more than snowboarders in my opinion. I personally prefer baggier styles as I like to have room when I’m bending my knees but the tighter ‘Jetset’ style is popular amongst my skiing friends and they find the stretchy material super comfortable and easy to move in.
The big question amongst skiers and riders is usually when it comes to Gore-Tex and whether or not it’s worth the money. In case you don’t know, Gore-Tex is a type of waterproof and breathable material that has become the gold standard for outdoor gear.
I was discussing this topic with a friend who skis regularly in the west coast and his opinion is that you don’t particularly need Gore-Tex unless you’re skiing in super wet conditions or heading out to the backcountry on the regular. Nevertheless, I’ve had some less than happy days on the slopes where my butt has gotten a little too wet from a snowy chairlift seat.
With that said, if you’re just starting out and are on a budget, you’ll likely not reap all the benefits Gore-Tex has to offer until you start ripping out of bounds. Instead, go with something a little cheaper, with a minimum waterproof level of 10,000mm and use the extra cash you saved to invest in some lessons!
In terms of brands, The North Face have some affordable options for outerwear, particularly towards the end of the season. My most recent pair of pants cost just 90 bucks and despite them not being Gore-Tex there’s only been a few days where I’ve really felt it and I’m approaching a 90-day season for this year.
Boots probably come in joint first position with your helmet when it comes to prioritizing your investments with ski wear. I wore poorly fitted boots my first few times on the slopes, and let me tell you, it was nothing short of grim.
Ski boots tend to cost more than snowboarding boots but definitely last a lot longer. A friend of mine just replaced her ski boots after 10 years!
My number one recommendation would be to head to a boot fitter and try on as many brands and styles as you can so you can make an informed choice. Insoles are also a lifesaver, especially if you have high arches and Superfeet are my go-to brand as a secondary choice to custom orthotics.
Before I wore insoles, I would get the worst cramp in my arches to the point that it would shoot up my leg. If I’d have known that 50 bucks was all that stood between incredible pain and total bliss, I would’ve purchased them much sooner.
Many boot fitters can now heat mold your boots for an even snugger and more customized fit.
Pricewise, I have seen boots range from $300 to over $1000 depending on the level of customization and the brand.
I wanted to take a quick paragraph to explain a couple of my go-to accessories that you may not think about when you’re first ready to head out to the slopes. I wish I had both these items on my first day!
Buff is a brand of multifunctional neck/head warmers that you will see on practically everyone on the slopes. They can be worn countless ways, are quick drying and really protect your face on days where it’s snowing sideways and the wind is blowing a hard gale. They also come in every design imaginable.
The only downside I’ve found to it is when they get super wet (think rainy, spring conditions) it can get a little difficult to breathe.
The first time I went skiing I thought I could get away with wearing regular socks, because frankly, paying upwards of $25 for one pair of socks made my heart sink a little bit. After investing in a few pairs of solid ski socks over the years, let me tell you, they’re definitely worth the extra cash.
Good ski socks are thin, yet keep you warm and have added support in all the important places such as your ankles, heels and toes. When you’re wearing new ski boots this creature comfort is totally worth it, it’s amazing what an extra layer of material does for comfort.
Ski socks are usually made from merino wool or similar synthetics. So, like your base layers, they will wick sweat, dry quick and don’t smell bad. Even after a solid day of shredding the mountain.
Few other accessories to consider are:
- Ski helmet headphones, if you’re music obsessed
- Ski backpack for backcountry skiing
- Ski boot dryer, it’s especially useful when you’re on a multi-day trip
- Ski boot bag, to keep your boots dry and protected from the elements
Understanding the Slopes
Each and every ski resort has a grading system which ranks the difficulty of the slope you’re about to ride. There’s some variation between continents and the biggest difference is the colors associated with the runs in North America. In this section I will run through all you need to know about the different categories you will encounter on the slopes.
Slopes can be measured in degrees or a gradient percentage. For reference, a 100% gradient would be the equivalent of a 45° angle.
One thing you should know is that the slope will be rated based on its most difficult part, so even if it’s only steep for a small portion of the run, it will be rated on its steepness at that point. In addition to this, every mountain grade their slopes based on the other runs around that specific slope and on that resort as a whole, so you may find that a black run at a smaller mountain such as Cypress in Vancouver will be a lot more mellow than a black run at bigger and gnarlier resorts such as Whistler Blackcomb or Alta Snowbird.
Green slopes are featured in most resorts across the globe. Though in Europe the green slopes tend to be a little more mellow than some greens in North America.
Greens are often referred to as the ‘bunny hill’, which is a wide open, short and mellow slope ideal for beginners such as yourself. In Europe, a green slope is usually between 0-11° or 0-20% gradient. In North America the gradient is said to go up to 14° or 25% gradient. Personally though, I have skied some ‘green’ runs in North America that have gone up to 18° (according to my ski tracker that is).
Greens in some extreme resorts like Jackson Hole, are surprisingly mellow. I myself would class them all as longer bunny hills to be fair. If you’re learning in a place like Jackson, there’s a huge jump from green runs to blue. However, on the brightside, once you can ride blues at such a resort, blues in other places will look far less scary.
NOTE: Some North American resorts, such as Mammoth Mountain for example, have green/black runs. These are some of the slightly harder green runs; not quite a blue, but not quite as easy as most greens. These slopes are perfect for practicing your technique during your first few days.
Blue runs are generally intermediate type runs, but in Europe and most of the world, the blue run is the sign for an early intermediate; the gradient being around 20-30% – an 11-17° angle.
In North America however, the blues can be much steeper. The general consensus is that blues in North America typically have a gradient of 25-40% or a 14 to 22° angle. From my personal experience, using a number of ski trackers and skiing countless blues in resorts, however, I would say a ‘solid’ blue is around 24° especially in the west coast of the USA.
In some resorts like Jackson, I’ve been on blue slopes that have hit an angle of 30°, though only for a very short period of time.
North America also features several resorts that have either ‘double blue’ runs, or blue/black runs; which depict a black diamond inside a blue square. They can be compared to the ‘red’ runs you see in Europe and the rest of the world which we discuss below. Examples of resorts that have such runs are Jackson Hole, Mammoth Mountain and Winter Park in Colorado. These runs are the perfect way to push your learning curve once you hit intermediate level skiing.
Red runs aren’t seen in North America, but are super common in Europe and other parts of the world such as Japan. A red run defines advanced intermediate terrain and could see you hitting slopes with a gradient of anything from 30-45% or 17 to 24° and above.
Red runs are not for the faint hearted and can feature narrow areas, moguls (bumps) and steep sections that some resorts may even consider to be ‘black diamond’ terrain.
I would recommend not attempting a red run until you have mastered linking your turns and can control your speed comfortably. Practicing the ‘pizza wedge’ or ‘snow plow’ as it’s often referred to, wouldn’t be too successful on these types of runs and it could result in injury.
Back when I was first learning to ski, my first black diamond was nothing short of a humbling experience.
I went into the run feeling pretty confident that I could handle the turns and control my speed, yet balancing on these runs takes a lot of skill and you need to ensure you’ve perfected your technique so that you don’t lose control; it’s safe to say, I went flying…literally.
I don’t want to put you off trying black diamonds, once you’ve nailed your skillset, I just want to make sure you know that the black runs are something that beginners should be rushing into.
Black Diamond runs in North America can be any run that’s over 21° or a 40% pitch; having said that, many of the resorts I have been to in the west coast in particular, are far steeper than this.
In Europe, black diamond is the highest level you can go and usually covers terrain that is 24° and higher, or a 45% pitch.
No matter where you are in the world, you should only head onto these black runs if you are fully confident of your skiing ability. In other words, as a beginner you’re better off steering clear of these gnarly runs.
Double Black Diamond
North America has another category for it’s particularly steep runs. These can be chutes, have tight trees and are usually slopes with a pitch of 26° and higher, though I am yet to see a double black which is that mellow.
Take for example, Aspen Highlands in Colorado. Their famous highlands bowl has a plethora of double black runs awaiting those who take the grueling 30-minute ridge climb up there. The runs range from 38° to an incredible 48° and are not for the faint hearted.
It’s worth mentioning that on terrain as steep as this, there is also a major avalanche risk, even when you’re inside the ski boundary.
Some North American resorts also have runs that are so risky that they’re defined as ‘extreme terrain’ and should only be attempted by very talented experts.
Such runs can be found in the likes of Aspen, Steamboat Springs and Boise. Narrow chutes and cliff drops are highly likely on these runs and they should be avoided by beginners.
The terrain is usually clearly marked so you don’t end up wandering onto the run. They’re also usually accessed by one small opening in the ski boundary or gate too, so it’s particularly hard to find yourself on an extreme run by ‘mistake’.
The Terrain Park (Orange)
Terrain parks are often always orange in each of the ski resorts and are separated into different abilities; S, M, L and XL. You will usually see the rating of the terrain park in black letters inside the orange sign.
I would highly recommend mastering some of the basic skills of skiing before venturing off into the terrain park; even if you’re only hitting small features. Confidence and experience on your skis, as well as good balance and control will be your saving grace when it comes to attempting jumps, flips, 360’s and jibs.
Once you’re feeling confident on your skis, the terrain park can be a fun place to spend a day or two; there’s usually a lively atmosphere and many skiers and boarders there to cheer you on in your endeavors.
Once you arrive at your ski resort of choice, you will need to think about renting gear. Most mountains have some kind of package where you can buy your lessons, lift tickets and gear rentals for one set price, but it may be worth shopping around – especially if you plan on skiing for a few days.
There’s usually an abundance of shops in the ski resort village that have rentals available which work can out cheaper than renting directly off the mountain.
Another benefit of this is that you will also have the opportunity to sit down the day before your ski lesson and really think about how your boots are fitting, if the bindings are set correctly (don’t worry, the sales associates do this for you) and that you have the correct size skis, without feeling like you’re in a complete rush.
As a reference, here is what you will be given as part of your rental package:
Skis – Obviously! These should stand somewhere between your shoulder and your chin. The smaller they are, the easier they will be to ride on.
Bindings – These are how your feet stay attached to the skis, they will already be installed onto your rental ski, but the rental associate will need to change your DIN setting.
Your DIN setting is calculated by measuring your height and weight, so be sure to head to the rental place with this information to hand, as not all locations have access to scales and a way to measure your height.
The number on your DIN settings will basically control how much forward falling and twisting force is required in order for your bindings to release you from your skis. Put simply, if you fall, you want your skis to pop off, the DIN controls this.
Poles – You will be given poles but most likely won’t need to use them, especially for your first lesson. With the kind of terrain you will be skiing during day one, poles will only get in your way.
Helmet – If you’ve not already purchased a helmet (understandable if you’re a first timer and you don’t even know if you’ll like the sport) you will also be able to get one as part of your gear rental. The rental associate will be able to discuss the fit and size with you, but you will want it to be snug without hurting your head once it’s on.
I’ve been a victim of tightening my helmet too much in the early days, it kind of hurt and it left a lovely mark across my forehead, which just screamed beginner – if my skiing skills at the time didn’t already!
What to Expect on Your First Lesson
You’ve got the clothes and you’ve rented your gear, now it’s time to head for the slopes! For first timers, I always recommend booking a full day as opposed to a half day. The difference in price is minimal and you get so much more value from spending a full day with an instructor on the mountain.
Some mountains even do multi-day workshops which are the ideal package for beginners and will see you progressing in no time at all!
On the day of the lesson you should plan to arrive at the base fairly early. If the lesson starts at 9am, then be there at around 8-8:15am to get signed in, collect your lift tickets and get over to the meetup point.
I know it may seem like overkill arriving this early, but it really helps to not be rushing around on your first day. Being organized and having a calm and collective attitude will help so much once you’re on the slopes.
In addition to this, you’re not the only one who will be having lessons, especially if it’s a weekend, there’s going to be a lot of crowds…and a lot of standing in line.
If you’ve chosen to rent your gear directly from the mountain, rather than from a third-party supplier, I would aim to arrive even earlier. Queues at the rental desk are usually long and chaotic, especially in high season and you could be waiting around for a while.
I still remember back to my first skiing lesson; I rocked up about 20 minutes before it was due to start, naively thinking that was ample time. I ended up extremely flustered and on the verge of meltdown because I’d not left enough time to fill out the forms, collect my gear and attempt to find my group’s meeting point. They thankfully ended up waiting for me (some resorts don’t always do that) – but it took away from the rest of the group’s time with the instructor and being tardy is never a good first impression!
As a first timer you will likely be taken to a very small section of the beginner area, usually by the magic carpet, and the instructor will run through some of the basics with you to help you get started. This will include getting in and out of your skis, walking up the mountain in your skis – it’s more of an awkward sidestep – and practicing the snowplow which will help you to stop on the super mellow terrain.
They’ll likely also have a discussion about falling and how skiers don’t tend to fall as much as snowboarders do on their first day, they may even make a fun game out of whoever falls the most on the day, because there’s nothing wrong with a bit of healthy competition on the mountain!
On my first day, I was told if I fell more than three times, I had to buy my instructor a beer at the end of the lesson. If I fell more than four, I had to buy drinks for the whole group. That certainly kept me on my feet on day one!
Once you’ve gone through some of the basic skills, you’ll also be taught the art of turning before the instructor takes you for a ride on the magic carpet or other chairlifts.
From there, the instructor will have you lapping small, easy runs to asses everyone’s skill level and give you all pointers. There will be some people who just pick it up right away and are a natural to skiing; if you’re one of those lucky ones, you may find that in the afternoon you get bumped up a level to help develop your skillset further and quicker.
Once the day is over, I can guarantee you’re going to be tired. I completely recommend taking a dip in the hot tub at your accommodation and definitely stretching off, whether it’s pre or post après drinks.
This is because the day after your first lesson your whole body is going to be VERY sore. You’ll quickly discover that you had muscles you never even knew about. Even if you’re in relatively good shape already, you’ll be using completely different muscle groups to what you do in your day to day life and it’s going to have an impact. Embrace it though, it’s all part of the learning process and aching after a day on the slopes sure does make you feel good!
Riding the Chairlift
As a newbie to skiing, riding the chairlift can certainly be one of the most daunting parts to prepare for. When you’ve never done it before, all kinds of thoughts can run through your head about successfully loading and offloading the chair without causing too much chaos.
The great news is that as a skier, you do have it easier than snowboarders and you will find that it’s far easier for you to learn to load and offload than it is for them.
In this section I want to briefly discuss the different types of chairlifts you will come across on the mountain. As part of your lessons, you will be taught how to ride the lifts, so don’t panic! If you ever encounter a lift type that you’re not too familiar with, you can always ask the friendly ‘lifty’ for assistance on how to load and unload that particular chair.
On some of the newer lifts, they can even slow the chair down for you on your first few times until you get used to it. This YouTube video is the perfect accompaniment to this section of the guide and takes you through loading and offloading beginner chairlifts.
The Magic Carpet
Depending on the resort you choose to learn in, the magic carpet is likely one of the first types of lift you will encounter on the mountain as a beginner. It basically looks like a conveyor belt that travels up the smaller hills; sometimes it’s open and sometimes it’s covered. Loading the magic carpet is relatively easy, though it may feel a little strange the first time around.
Your skis will grip on to the carpet, feel free to slightly bend your knees for balance and support. When you reach the top, simply wait until your skis are around half way off the carpet then ski away. If you have your poles with you, be sure to hold them in one hand.
Regular Chairlifts; Doubles, Quads, Six/Eight Seaters
The standard chairlifts come in a wealth of different shapes, sizes and speeds.
Some of the older two seaters don’t have a bar on them, which I found a little scary at first. If you find yourself on such a lift, just be sure to sit back and you will be fine.
Some newer, high speed lifts have become very high tech and feature heated seats and covers. They even automatically raise so all you need to worry about is hopping off. I’ve even ridden lifts with built in music.
Unfortunately, the chairlift is the place where you’re most likely to fall when first starting out. It’s just a practice thing and you’ll soon get used to getting off at just the right moment.
My advice when getting off the chairlift is to look forward, keep your knees bent and weight centered over the skis. If you’re carrying poles, make sure they’re both in one hand and don’t have the ropes attached to your wrists. As you leave the lift, refrain from doing the pizza wedge. Keep your skis parallel. That way you won’t knock the skis of anyone else you’re sharing the lift with. If necessary, you can ask the liftie to slow the chair down.
The T bar is still super popular in certain parts of Europe but if you’re skiing in North America, they tend to be few and far between and usually lie in intermediate to advanced terrain. Nevertheless, it’s great for you to know what to expect should you encounter one.
The T-bar is designed to be used in pairs and this will be your saving grace when using it. Having one person on either side of the bar will help with your balance and it will be easier to use. It’s also not designed to be sat on, let it come up behind you, place your hand on the middle pole and let it guide you up the mountain!
The rope tow is fairly easy for skiers to use but can be intimidating, especially at first as it may jolt you and you could lose balance. Rope tows sometimes are literally just a rope which you grab onto, and other times they have a short handle sticking out for you to grab. Rope tows only tend to get difficult if it gets steep and you’re not wearing gloves with a good grip. If you’re thinking of visiting a resort that uses rope tows, be sure to stock up on some high-quality gloves!
I would say that the button lift is one of the easiest drag lifts for skiers to use. As the lift comes by, pass the bar between your legs with the small button/base plate resting on your butt and lean back. Don’t try to sit on the plate as it wont work, just lean back and let the lift do its work. You’ll also need to relax your body as much as possible. If you’re stiff and you hit a bump, you’re more likely to fall. The more you practice riding the button lift, the more natural it will become. You’ll be a pro in no time!
Skills That Will Get You Through Day One and Beyond
There’re obviously a few key skills that will help you with your skiing endeavors. Some of them are skiing specific skills and others are more about your mindset on the mountain which I feel will really help you progress into a talented skier.
The Snow Plow
Very much a skiing specific skill; the snow plow or pizza wedge as it’s commonly referred to will help you to control your speed until you can comfortably do parallel turns and stops. You will be taught this maneuver on your first day on the mountain. However, if you want to learn about it beforehand or want to refer back to it at a later date, I recommend this video.
Overcoming the Mental Challenges
Skiing can feel pretty scary, especially when it’s a bluebird day and you can see for miles and miles. You can sometimes feel a little overwhelmed and if you look straight down the run you can definitely psych yourself out and talk yourself out of doing a run.
Don’t listen to that voice in your head!
A good piece of advice if you get scared is to not look directly down the run to the ski village that is miles beneath you. Instead, pick a focal point to the side of the run, such as trees, and focus on that when you’re coming down the hill. Then, as you turn, focus on a specific point on the other side.
You will see the gradient of the run as you do this and it will help you to feel less afraid, especially if it’s only mellow.
If you’re above the tree line, find another focal point such as a cliff or a rock. You can even focus on another skier and follow their line. Obviously if they’re hurtling straight down the mountain without turning, don’t choose them. Before you know it, you will have confidently made multiple turns without even thinking about it and could be half way down the run. You can then use this as motivation to continue down the mountain.
Lapping the same runs over and over again is also a great way to overcome the doubt/mental challenges you may face when skiing for the first time. If you get down a run once without falling, great! Do that same run a few more times to desensitize yourself to the run and you’ll gain a lot more confidence.
The Importance of Rest Days
Though not a skill directly related to skiing, I wanted to remind you to take some well needed rest days when you’re beginning your skiing journey. It’s easy to become caught up in wanting to practice every single day especially if you only have a week or two in a resort but going hard and fast like this is going to ware you down and could result in injury.
When I was learning to ski there was a lot of difference in opinion around this topic. Some people would tell me that the only way to improve was to be on the mountain on a daily basis, but I quickly found this became exhausting and that it actually hindered my progress.
You’re going to have some days where you ski extremely well, and then the next you may not do as good. This is completely normal and from my own personal experience, I found if I was skiing 3 to 4 days in a row and then had a bad day, it really hit my confidence and I became frustrated that I “couldn’t ski anymore”.
What was actually happening is that I was tired, I began to experiment and found that having one day on the slope and one day off actually meant that every time I was on the mountain I would improve on the previous time I had skied. As I got more confident and comfortable on the slopes, I began to ski 2 and 3 days in a row.
I recommend that you experiment with your rest days, see what works for you, and I guarantee you will see results!
Finally, one of the most important steps of your skiing journey has to be patience. You may learn quicker than some people and others may learn quicker than you. Don’t beat yourself up and remember that everyone started where you are today – even the pros! Trust that you will get to where you want to be in time with lots of patience and hard work and just enjoy being on the mountain for what it is.
A Quick Note and Thanks to Our Ski Patrol
They are the heroes of all our ski resorts, these are the guys and gals who keep our slopes safe and are our first point of call should an accident occur on the mountain.
They help with avalanche mitigation, first aid, rescues and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. They’re working hard on the mountain early in the morning before you’re even up for breakfast and are usually the last ones off it once they’ve checked everyone is down safely at the end of the day.
Ski patrollers are very friendly and are always willing to help you out on the slopes, even if you just need pointing in the right direction – don’t be afraid to just ask. You can easily spot them as they often are wearing bright red jackets with a white cross on them.
If you see any patrollers while you’re out on the slopes, give them a friendly hello, a high five or even buy them a drink to thank them for their service (once they’ve got off shift of course). They usually have great stories to tell and come from all corners of the globe. What’s more, they have an incurable passion for the sport and will gladly give you some help and advice.
Progression and Next Steps
Skiing is a sport that is easy to pick up when compared with snowboarding for example, but the small intricacies in developing your skills can be a little bit more difficult to master. Keep pushing yourself and have a great time on the mountain.
For help with progressing your skillset, I recommend following Ski School by Elate Media on YouTube. They have an awesome collection of skiing tutorials, all the way from beginner level, right up to expert and even backcountry tips. They break down each skill into easy to digest chunks so that you don’t feel overwhelmed.
As you improve your skiing too, still take some lessons from time to time. Ski schools train people from their first day, all the way to riding your first expert chutes and some resorts even offer avalanche training too. The sky really is the limit when it comes to what the ski school can offer you and it’s a great investment in yourself.
Finally, try and hit the slopes with some friends who are slightly better than you. This will really give you the push you need to do better and challenge yourself on the mountain; my most successful days came from skiing the mountain with friends who had done it for years before me.
I hope this article has helped you prepare in some way for your first day on the mountain. I know it’s a lot to take in and skiing has a lot of learning curves associated with it. But follow these guidelines to get you started, take some lessons and most importantly, inhale the fresh air and have some fun!
If you have any questions about what to expect on your first day, you can also send me a message and I’d love to help you out!