Ski season is almost here and for a lot of people that means fun days on the mountain shredding down epic runs with friends. Ski season is my favorite time of the year and this is because of all the great days I have had on the mountain with my friends and family in my twenty years of skiing.
I’ve met a lot of people who would like to learn how to ski, but have never begun the process. If this sounds like yourself, you’re missing out on some serious fun. Skiing is enjoyable for skiers of all abilities and there is truly a trail for everyone!
I’ve talked to a lot of people who want to try skiing, but have delayed getting on the slopes and I always ask them why? The biggest reason I’ve heard from people who don’t try skiing is because of how hard they believe it is to get started from the actual technique to the gear they’ll need to keep them cozy on a chilly winter day.
There are some necessities to getting on the slopes for the first time, but it’s a lot simpler than any beginner would expect.
Here’s my basic beginner guide for you to hit the slopes for the first time and have an amazing day. I’m going to discuss six topics that you’ll want to know for your first day out on the slopes!
- Basic Equipment
- What to Wear and Essential Apparel
- The Best Trails for Beginners
- The Basic Techniques that you Should Learn First
- Getting On and Off the Chair Lift
- Mountain Etiquette
When I think of ski equipment the first thing that comes to mind is skis and boots. These are the two most essential pieces of equipment because you can’t have any fun on the trails without either of these items.
Skis and Boots
If you’re venturing to the mountain for your first time, I highly recommend that you rent your skis and boots.
There are so many benefits to renting for your first few trips to the ski resort. You won’t have to lug around your equipment and you won’t have to spend any extra money on gear that may end up being uncomfortable.
Renting also gives you the ability to try equipment that you may want to purchase when you make the commitment of grabbing your own gear.
The first time I went skiing in Italy, I rented all my equipment and ended up buying the same skis when I got back to the US because of how great they were on the mountain. To this day, those skis were my all-time favorite that I have ever used in my skiing career.
For help choosing the right skis to buy or rent, check out our guide to the best skis for beginners.
Skis and boots are two essential items that you should rent from the resort. When you get to the rental shop, make sure you tell the rental technician that it’s your first-time skiing and they will make sure you’re comfortable with all your equipment.
You’ll want to ask for a shorter pair of skis than they would normally give a person for your height because smaller skis are easier to control. After a few trips, you’ll be in a bigger pair fit for your height, but control is key for a successful day on the slopes.
I believe boots are more important than skis when we’re talking about someone’s first day skiing. Your feet are strapped into your boots so you want to make sure they’re going to be happy.
When you’re with the rental technician, comfort should be your main thought when trying on boots. Sometimes boots feel comfortable in the base lodge, but when you get on the mountain they may start to pinch or make your feet sore. If this is the case, head back to the rental shop and they’ll be happy to fix the issue.
For your first day skiing, poles are definitely unnecessary. They will become important down the road, but they create bad habits for new skiers so my recommendation would be to ditch the poles on day one.
If you’d like to use poles you can rent them, but I assure you that they aren’t needed to ski. If you learn the basics without them, you’ll be a better skier in the long run!
Helmets and Goggles
Skiers who don’t wear helmets are becoming few and far between on the mountain so I highly recommend wearing a helmet. Most ski experts agree that It’s a great way to give you an added level of protection and warmth on the slopes.
Any basic ski helmet will do, and these are available for rent or purchase at your local ski shop. I assure you that buying a helmet for your first day is a great investment!
Goggles are another essential piece of equipment. Some people wear sunglasses, but no matter what you’re wearing, you’ll want some eye protection.
Goggles help you see the snow better, they keep snow from getting in your eyes, and they also prevent your eyes from watering as you fly down the trail.
Goggles are the perfect complement to a great helmet!
What to Wear…The Essential Apparel
When you’re getting dressed for a cold day on the mountain, layering will be your best friend. A good rule of thumb is that the more layers you wear the warmer you will be so take this into account when you’re checking the forecast.
In no way do you have to buy a bunch of new gear to go skiing. Your winter wardrobe should be sufficient for a day out on the mountain.
The first pieces of apparel that you’ll want to look for are your base layers. This is the first thing you’re putting on. A wool shirt, fleece pants, or any tight compression gear will be great for a base layer.
On top of that, you’ll want a layer of insulation like a fleece jacket or pullover.
Finally, you’ll put on your ski jacket and ski pants. These are obviously for added warmth, but they also are for water resistance. You will get wet on the mountain so having a good jacket and pair of pants will keep you dry and feeling great all day long.
The combinations are really endless for what you should wear under your ski jacket and pants, but make sure to add extra layers like sweatshirts and sweatpants when temperatures drop.
Socks and Gloves
Socks are very important because happy feet make for happy skiers. You’ll want a pair of wool knee-high socks. Ski socks come in all different lengths and thicknesses, but this is one piece of apparel that I recommend you go out and buy.
Regular socks just don’t do it when it comes to the mountain!
When getting ski gloves, don’t think about style. Think about warmth!
You’re going to want gloves that keep your hands warm and dry. There are heated gloves which can get a little pricey, but if your hands are cold with gloves try mittens first for extra warmth.
I alternate between gloves and mittens depending on the temperature. If you need added warmth, just add a hand warmer for some extra heat.
By no means do you need these extra pieces of apparel, but I wanted to mention them because they have saved me on some cold winter days.
Winter sock hats when worn under a helmet are very comfortable and help with regulating your body temperature. I started adding a sock hat under my helmet a few years ago and it’s really allowed me to get some extra runs in on cold days.
To accompany a sock hat, I also would recommend wearing a gaiter. These are the masks that go around your neck and you can pull them up to cover your face. Gaiters are a lifesaver and the best part about them is that they can just be worn around your neck when they’re not needed!
The Best Trails for Beginners
When you make your first trip to a ski mountain, you’ll see a bunch of trail signs with a rating system.
Before I get into explaining the trail rating system, let me start by saying that the first trail you need to master is the bunny slope. Get comfortable on your skis before progressing to harder terrain, but with a little work you’ll be on tougher trails in no time.
The way the ski trail rating system works is by using a combination of colors and shapes.
Green circles mean those specific trails are the easiest types on the mountain. These are made for beginners and usually feature smaller flatter descents. When you first make the trip up the lift to the peak, stick with green trails to make your way down.
While all levels of skiers venture down green trails, typically these are filled with new skiers, so it gives you a great area to work on your craft.
The next step up is blue square trails which mean intermediate difficulty. I’m not going to lie…These vary in difficulty depending on the mountain so keep that in mind as a beginner.
Intermediate trails are my favorite to ski on because they’re usually kept in great condition, frequently groomed and they have descents that vary in steepness.
Black and double black diamonds are next on the list, but as a beginner I wouldn’t venture anywhere near these trails. These are for experts and when attempted too early can really ruin a skier’s confidence.
Bunny, green, then blue: Follow that progression for a great day of skiing!
The Basic Techniques You Need to Learn First
As a brand-new skier, I would recommend getting a quick ski lesson to kick off your day. All mountains have great instructors that are certified to set you up for a successful day on the slopes.
A couple years ago I was a new snowboarder trying to learn the skill after a lifetime of skiing. After a one-hour morning lesson, my instructor had me confident enough to go to the peak to ride the greens by the middle of the day.
Now I definitely prefer skiing, but my first day snowboarding wouldn’t have been as fun without my initial lesson.
Before you progress up the mountain, you’ll want to master a few basic skills:
Ski to Pizza Stop
Stopping is key to a successful day on the mountain. When you feel comfortable stopping, you’ll start to gain confidence in your ability to control your skis. The first technique you should learn is the ski to pizza stop.
When you start your trip down the hill, you’ll begin to pick up speed. The more you make your skis into pizza shape with the tips close together, the slower you will go. Play with this technique and in time and keep trying to straighten your skis to speed up and pizza to slow down.
Friction slows you down. The inside edges of your skis are what you will dig into the ground to slow yourself down. Push your heels out to begin the pizza slice. To come to a quick stop continue digging in with your heels.
The Snowplough Turn
After you learn how to stop, the next technique that you need to learn is how to turn. After you master the snowplough turn you will be moving on to more advanced techniques, but this sets the foundation for great turns down the road.
To snowplough turn, start in your pizza stop position by digging in with the inside edges of your skis. Don’t dig too much that you’re completely stopped, but apply enough pressure where you’re moving at a relatively slow pace.
To turn, apply extra pressure with the inside edge of your downhill ski. By downhill ski I mean the lowest one once you make the turn. If you want to turn right, your downhill ski would be your left one and visa versa.
Once you get directly across the hill repeat the process with the uphill ski and that will become the downhill ski as you complete the next turn.
Getting Back Up
As fun of a sport as skiing is, I guarantee when learning you will fall. The pros fall so don’t expect yourself to be any different!
Getting up after a fall can be tough if you don’t know the basics. It all starts with your body position!
When you fall, use the hill as your friend. It may have made you fall, but the slopes always want to help you get back up!
Put your skis directly downhill and bring your body as close to your skis as possible. This concentrates your power to help you push up with ease and forces you to push yourself a shorter distance to get back to your base.
Push with your uphill arm and throw your downhill arm back over the middle of your skis to get your body going in the right direction. Shift your weight back over your skis and you’ll be standing.
This will take some practice, but it’ll become second nature after a few attempts.
Getting On and Off the Chair Lift
The chair lift is your ticket to another run, a short rest, and breathtaking views depending on the mountain where you’re spending your day. Different resorts have different styles of chair lifts. You may see the classic low speed two person all the way up to the high speed eight-person bubble lifts.
No matter the chair style, the principle of getting on and off is the same. Let’s start with getting on the lift!
On most lifts, you’ll be waiting behind a bar that will open when it’s time for you to approach the lift. If there’s no bar, there will be a lift attendant signaling you to move forward.
The first thing you need to remember is to unloop your wrists from your pole strap. I know I said earlier that you don’t need poles for day one, but when you get them don’t forget this necessary step!
If your pole got stuck in the ground with your wrist in the loop, the lift won’t stop quick enough to save you and this could lead to a short day on the mountain or a potentially severe injury.
Lift attendants will often remind you of this, but do your best to remember so your epic day shredding doesn’t come to a quick end.
As soon as the gates open or you get the go ahead to prepare for getting on the lift, scoot forward to the stop line. Put your ski tips right at the top of the line.
Be under control, but don’t take your time moving forward. The quicker you get to the line, the more time you have to prepare to get on the lift safely.
Once you’re on the line, grab both your poles in one hand and look behind one shoulder to see the chair approaching. As soon as the chair gets to you, sit down and lift your ski tips up to prevent them from getting stuck in the ground.
Before you know it, you’ll be riding up the mountain taking in some great views. Put the bar down, kick your feet up on the footrests and relax.
On the chair lift, I have two tips. The first is to enjoy seeing the mountain from a different viewpoint, but also take care of your personal belongings and poles. If you check your phone or wallet, make sure it’s secured because if it falls off the lift your day will be filled with more searching than skiing.
I’ve never dropped my phone, but I have dropped a pole from checking my phone so take my advice and be extra careful!
After a nice break on the chair, it’ll be time for you to get off the lift. When you get within 30 seconds of the exit ramp start preparing to get off. Take your feet off the rest and when everyone is ready lift up the safety bar.
Keep your ski tips up so nothing gets caught and hold both your poles in one hand. Use your opposite hand to push off the chair.
A new lift will slow down, but an older lift will drop you off slightly faster than a newer one so be prepared for this as you’re riding up mountain.
As your riding down the small slope from the chair, depart straight off and don’t turn until both your sides are clear. Be cognizant of other lift riders that are departing as well.
I read the actions of other riders when they’re getting off the lift and I either depart slightly faster or slower to limit congestion in the off-ramp area.
If you ever fall off the lift which still gets the best of every skier, don’t worry as lift operators are there to stop the lift until you get up and clear the area.
Mountain etiquette is critical for every skier. It’s important to know mountain etiquette so nobody infringes on anyone else’s day on the slopes.
The National Ski Areas Association has put together a code of conduct that every skier and snowboarder need to abide by on the mountain. It’s a comprehensive list that covers everything you need to know for proper mountain etiquette. The list is as followed:
- Always stay in control, and be able to stop or avoid other people or objects.
- People ahead of you have the right of way. It is your responsibility to avoid them.
- You must not stop where you obstruct a trail, or are not visible from above.
- Whenever starting downhill or merging into a trail, look uphill and yield to others.
- Always use devices to help prevent runaway equipment.
- Observe all posted signs and warnings. Keep off closed trails and out of closed areas.
- Prior to using any lift, you must have the knowledge and ability to load, ride and unload safely.
These rules are meant to keep everyone safe and if you live by them on the mountain, I know your first day skiing will be amazing.
I hope this information was helpful and I hope to share a few runs with you in the future.