Tuesday, March 28, 2017

How To Ski For Beginners

I recently went skiing for the first time. While the memory is still fresh on my mind, I figured it would be worthwhile to write about how to ski for beginners. While there are many great websites out there explaining the basics of skiing, sometimes experts forget what it is like to be a beginner and how even basic steps may require some explanation for the complete novice. This guide will go over what to wear, what to expect at the ski resort, and the very basic first steps of getting out on the slopes. This post will most definitely *not* teach you how to ski well, but rather how to get the most out of your first ski trip without breaking the bank or your bones! Warning: you will end up on your butt a lot with more than just your ego ending up bruised.

What To Wear

The main consideration when consider ski gear for the first time is whether you should buy or rent. Depending on where you live and how much you enjoy your first trip, this whole skiing thing may be a one time deal. You can easily spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars on equipment you may never use. When in doubt, err towards renting first. The list below covers all the items you should need from head to toe.
  • Helmet - Rent. Most ski resorts should have these available for one or two day use at a reasonable price.
  • Goggles - Buy. While these can get pricey, a basic pair should be fairly affordable.
  • Scarf/neck liner/balaclava - Buy. These should be fairly affordable and multi-purpose since you can use them in other cold settings, such as riding a bike on a cold day.
  • Base layer - Buy. You want something that easily wicks away sweat and moisture.
  • Mid layer - Buy but optional. If the weather is not too cold, you do not necessarily need this.
  • Jacket - Buy. Similar to the pants below, you want something thermal and waterproof.
  • Gloves - Buy. Look for gloves that are waterproof and thermal. Mittens are fine too. You do not need fine manual dexterity.
  • Waterproof Pants - Buy. Essential - you will have a very unpleasant experience if you try skiing with pants that let both the cold and the wet in.
  • Socks - Buy. Wear a single layer that has some insulation but is still able to wick away moisture.
  • Boots - Rent. This should be included with the skis.
  • Skis/Poles/Bindings - Rent. Similar to the helmet, these should be easily available.
  • Backpack - Buy. Any backpack should do, but one that is water resistant is helpful. The backpack is useful to keep water and other snacks with you while on the slopes. 

How To Prepare

To be honest, you could probably show up, take a lesson, and be fine. However, the more prepared you are, the more you will get out of the experience. As you can see above, you are likely going to have invest a little bit to even get started skiing, so might as well make the most of it, right? A great place to start is the Ski School channel on YouTube. They have a lot of great, short videos that address all the small points that beginners should know but many experienced skiers would take for granted. For example, here is how to put on ski boots:

What To Expect At The Ski Resort

I can only speak to my experience at Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont, but I imagine most places are fairly similar. Most likely, you will want to take lessons, so head to the ski shop to find out what your options are. You should try to call ahead and reserve, because spots can fill up quickly, especially on a popular weekend. Check to see if the ski equipment rental and lift ticket are included with the lessons. Give yourself enough time to change into your ski gear and head to the meeting point for the lessons.

Your instructor will most likely take you to the bunny slope, which is the lowest grade slope one can ski down. To get to the top of most of the trails, you will need to take some kind of lift. Many bunny slopes have a 'magic carpet', which is basically a human conveyor belt to ferry you up the slope. Simply approach the belt, shuffle forward with your skis, and let the belt carry you. It helps to lean forward a bit so that the jolt of the belt doesn't throw you off balance.

Once at the top, point your ski ends together in a wedge or pizza configuration, and slowly descend the slope. Your goal here is to maintain control. Being on ice, speed will come whether you want it or not. The main point to master is getting your skis to move when and how you want, and more importantly how to stop moving! Keep doing runs down the bunny slope until you feel fully comfortable... and then do 3 more runs just to be sure.

Your First Trail

If you have taken lessons, your teacher will be able to assess whether you are ready for a full trail. The trails are rated by a hybrid color / diamond system, with green being the easiest. Do not try for anything more on your first trip. Be careful to map out your trail beforehand and keep aware of all trail markings. It is easy to take a wrong turn and end up on a much more difficult trail. Also, go with a friend or someone more experienced for your first runs so that they can keep an eye on you, and help you out of a jam.

To get to the trail, you will need to take a ski lift. Similar to the carpet, you approach the lift by shuffling forward. Place one hand back and use it to gauge the seat as it approaches you. Once you make contact, lower yourself into the chair. After being seated and clearing the loading area, lower the safety rail down in front of you. As you reach the top, lift the rail up and scoot to the edge of the seat. Tip your skis upwards and lean forwards as you make contact with the snow. Push off as you land, and ski forward a few yards to clear the landing area for the skiers coming behind you.

As you head down your first trail, remember to take it easy! Aim for control and practice the skills you learned during your lessons. Keep your knees bent, lean forward, with the weight of your shins firmly against the tongues of your boots. Be safe and yield to skiers in front of you. Most of all, have fun! 

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