I’ve been there, just where you are. You are a grown-up who has never skied before. You are thinking about going to a ski resort and giving this thing a try. You might be bringing a friend or two, your significant other, your kids. By this time, you are feeling a little overwhelmed. That’s a good sign. You are aware of some level of complexity around the task at hand.
I’ve been there, merely two years ago. I asked a good friend, who is an active skier, for advice, and he gave me plenty of info. I set up everything for my family and myself, all determined to get started, and we went for our very first ski day. We hired a private instructor for the group of four. At the end of the day, my feet hurt, my legs hurt, and so did my arms. I was physically exhausted and emotionally drained. I also knew that my life had changed forever.
Skiing is a wonderful experience, especially when shared with friends and family. It involves play and fun in the most beautiful natural setting: snow-covered mountains. You feel like a kid again. But you need to be aware that skiing isn’t particularly straightforward. It takes commitment to learning, proper equipment, and adherence to the mountain rules.
You may be wondering what was so hard about the first day. For starters, I had to wear ski boots, the single most important piece of skiing equipment. Ski boots provide the mechanical link between your feet and your skis. Ski boots are great for skiing, but hard for moving around if you are not used to them. I felt deeply frustrated in other ways, too: the most basic things seemed incredibly difficult to me, yet little kids would pass by me, skiing wonderfully. What was wrong with the Universe, all of the sudden?
But let’s back up and discuss getting ready for that first day. The most common advice is that you rent equipment, head to a resort, ski for a day or two (under some sort of professional instruction), and then decide what’s next. Most people would agree that you should take at least one or two ski lessons to get started. The first one will teach you the rudiments: how to walk in ski boots, how to put skis on, how to walk on the snow with the skis on, how to get up when you fall. You will probably move to a bunny hill, where you will learn how to turn and stop in the most basic way (wedging, that is, placing your skis in an inverted V-shaped position and using the inside edges to scrape the snow). That’s your first milestone. Your second milestone will be learning how to ride a chairlift to the easiest run on that mountain then how to make some basic turns in a wedge. Next you’ll probably focus on learning how to stop in a more efficient way (the so-called hockey stop), and progress into more parallel turns.
That’s the short of it, but let’s dive into the details. Using proper equipment and wearing appropriate clothes for the sport are key, and so is choosing a good time and place to get started. Adequate fitness level is an important prerequisite.
- Equipment. You’ll probably want to rent skis and boots first and then figure out the rest. Try to avoid generic big-box stores and use a dedicated ski shop instead. Ask them about pros and cons of buying versus renting. Renting ski equipment is a lengthy process, so do it before your first ski day. Do not use somebody else’s boots and skis, which could result in serious injury.
Clothing. You need to keep yourself warm and dry. Buy snow pants (you can get a cheap pair to start), and make sure you have a proper snow jacket. Buy ski socks: you
use proper socks. Dress in multiple, comfortable layers. You definitely want goggles for eye protection, and a helmet is just as important as when you ride a bike, perhaps even more.
Ask for help finding a good resort to start in your area; pugski.com is a friendly place to start. Give the resort a call and book lessons ahead of time. Make a plan. They should be able to help with that.
If you can, avoid starting on a long weekend or major holiday, when most resorts get crowded and the whole experience degrades. Remember: the very first day will be a little tough no matter what; you don’t want it to be any harder than it needs to be. Try to give your first trip at least two consecutive days, ideally three, with instruction each day. You will have invested a significant amount of money and preparation time, and you want to reap the benefits. It’s very likely that by Day 3, you will be having fun, and you’ll end your first trip on a positive note.
- Fitness. As mentioned above, a certain level of fitness is required before you start. The thing to remember is that you need to get in shape in order to ski, not the other way around. Skiing is a high-performance sport where you slide down slippery slopes on two thin planks. There are no brakes. Your body is the machine that controls the skis. If you haven’t been physically active lately, do yourself a favor and get at least a month of preparation; gym workouts with a focus on lower body and core section are great, and so is biking.
Morning lessons work best for many beginners, because fatigue can be an issue in the afternoon. A good, healthy, wholesome breakfast will help you make the best of your ski day. Hydration throughout the day is also very important. You might want to bring along some snacks, such as cereal bars or nuts.
Does it sound like quite a bit of preparation? It is, but it’s well worth it. And it’s not that complicated, if you focus and get organized. Let’s restate our quick checklist: buy or rent proper clothes and equipment in advance, book two to three consecutive days of instruction, and make sure you are in reasonably athletic shape.
So, now you are probably wondering, what’s next? Once you are back from your first trip, you probably either loved it or decided that skiing is not your thing. Assuming you loved it, which you very likely did, you’ll want to extend your rentals. Season rentals are much cheaper than renting every time you hit the slopes, and they make the preparation for the next trip trivial: all you need is lift tickets and a big smile. Try to ski at least 10 days in your first season, hopefully even more. Also, try to get frequent instruction.
At first, and most likely for the rest of your first season, you will be using beginner trails, which are indicated by the color green. Enjoy them, have a blast. You will progressively turn with your skis more parallel to each other. Your level of control over your skis and your overall level of confidence will be constantly increasing. Your next milestone will be to control your speed by making turns with parallel skis, where corresponding edges are used each time, so that both skis have very similar inclination with respect to the snow. Skiing is the art of turning. Good technique will allow you to make good turns. Good tactics will dictate the size and shape of your turns, which will allow you to control your speed.
Other milestones will follow, but avoid the temptation to move to steeper terrain before you are ready. Focus on improving your technique. Skiing is an extremely technical sport, and there is a lot to learn. Better technique will allow you to explore more challenging terrain. But it’s not so much about the destination, it’s about enjoying the journey. And this journey, I can tell you, is a lovely one.
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