Growing up, I had friends who would return from annual ski trips with rosy cheeks, ready to regale me with tales of their adventures on double black diamond slopes. But mine wasn’t a skiing family, partly because there were five kids and it’s an expensive vacation. Plus, I didn’t really care. We went other places.
But just a few years ago, I decided I wanted to learn how to ski. The idea of waddling around in heavy boots, lugging skis, and trying to scratch that itch on my back through puffy gloves was intimidating enough, let alone the skiing part. When I made it to the top of my first run, I watched everyone around me hop off the lift and zoom down. Not so with me.
My skis weren’t properly fitted and my goggles kept fogging up. And when I’d inevitably fall down, one ski would fly to the left and the other to the right.
Then something clicked. Call it a combination of patient practice and newfound confidence, but I felt like I could fly. I don’t consider myself a great skier now, but with the right gear, a little help, and some advanced planning, it’s possible to learn as an adult. And the best part? Being an avid traveler, previously unreachable corners of the globe — from Aspen to Zermatt — have opened up to me.
Here are some tips to make your transition from non-skier to skier as smooth as possible:
Pick your mountain carefully. While almost every ski resort has bunny hills, some mountains are better for beginners, like Vail. Though it’s the largest single ski mountain in North America at 7 miles long with 5,289 acres, Vail is “a beginner skier’s dream” because you can get around the mountain so easily, said Guy Sedillo, training manager at Vail Village Ski & Snowboard School. I learned to ski at Whistler and found it very accommodating, too.
To rent or not to rent? If you are renting, it is important to be honest when filling out paperwork (i.e. don’t lie about your weight!). “As long as the information is accurate, the boot will fit extremely well,” Prichard said. “You’re only supposed to come out of the ski if you take a fall.” Ian Prichard is co-founder and president of Black Tie Ski Rentals, a company designed to counter the negative experience of ski rentals and equipment. They will deliver and pick up anything you rent at 13 locations (including Steamboat Springs, Park City, and Whistler), which is extremely helpful for beginners.
See past the sticker shock. The costs associated with skiing can seem prohibitive, but much of it comes at the beginning. Choosing high-quality gear now means you won’t be buying it again for a long time. “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing!” Sedillo said. “Ideally you’ll need a basic pair of snow goggles, socks, lip balm, hand and toe warmers, ski pants, a good jacket, a good pair of gloves, and a helmet. Helmets are really the standard now, even on the covers of ski magazines. A lot of ski schools require them,” Prichard said.
Embrace new technology. Ask your rental shop or concierge service about rocker ski technology. “We’ve seen a lot of success with beginners and rocker skis,” said Prichard. “The tips and tails of the skis are a little bit bent upward, which prevents the ski from catching, and you going to the ground.”
Request a certified instructor. It may be helpful to hire a private instructor for at least one day. If you’re skiing in the U.S., make sure to look into whether the staff is certified by the Professional Ski Instructors of America organization. In an ideal world, you would have a fully certified instructor (there are three levels of certification) — i.e. what is considered to be a top pro — but Level One instructors are fully capable of helping beginners learn how to tame the slopes.
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Get in shape before you go. It’s a good idea to do some core conditioning and lower body exercises before you hit the slopes. “Skiing is a very active sport and the people that have the easiest time picking it up are athletic already,” said Sedillo. “If you are a 22-year-old hockey player, the movements are obviously going to be very natural. It will take a little longer for those who don’t do athletics.”
Commit to three days. For group lessons, it’s best to commit to three full days — the time it usually takes for a new skier to gain confidence and ability to handle the easy runs. “On day one, you are learning about your equipment, how to take skis on and off, how to stand, and how to control your speed. Day two is spent refining [your] turning because that’s what controls your speed, and on day three, you really start to experience what skiing is all about,” said Sedillo.
Don’t be afraid to ask. There are millions of skiers out there, and each has nuggets of information that can save you time and frustration (plus, every mountain is different!). For one, don’t ever wipe the inside of your goggle lens. I wish I had known this when I was learning to ski. You want a goggle with anti-fogging coating but try never to wipe the inside of your goggle lens with your glove or jacket or you’ll risk scratching the lenses and making them foggier. Anti-fog cloths can work but the best way is to air-dry them or use the hand dryer in the restroom. When in doubt, ask.