So You Want to Learn How to Ski…
From getting the right gear to weathering the cold, these tips for first-time skiers will keep you safe on the slopes
So you’ve decided this is the year you’re going to learn how to ski. Congratulations!
Unlike children, who have a built-in fearless factor, learning to ski as an adult is different. We’re more aware of our surroundings — and the consequences of when things go south. Kelly Hansen, a lifelong skier and former Slalom racer for Boston University, and Bertie Holland, director of snowsports at Pats Peak Ski Area, offer ways beginners can create memorable (and safe!) experiences on the slopes.
Consider the weather
If you’re going to be outside, you’ve got to dress for it — that means layers, and lots of them. “Dressing for the weather, and especially the wind, is incredibly important,” says Hansen. “Yes, you'll work up a sweat riding down the mountain, but you'll be sitting still for 30 minutes riding the chairlift to the top — where you won't be able to hide from the elements.”
Hansen recommends moisture-wicking base layers, along with a protective waterproof shell and pants, and some hand and feet warmers to keep extremities warm. And, she adds, don’t forget your face. “I almost always wear my goggles purely for the warmth.”
Getting around — on the ground
But don’t dress completely head-to-toe just yet: put on your skis outside the lodge in a snowy area, just before you’re ready to take off, says Holland. Adults should carry skis over their shoulders, in tandem, with the bindings facing outward. Boots can be strapped together and worn over your shoulder or placed in a backpack.
Protect your head
There are no laws to mandate helmets while skiing like there are for riding motorcycles. But wearing a helmet can mean the difference between life and death. Hansen is pleased to see their spike in popularity.
“The slopes can get icy and slick throughout the day, if you're moving at high speeds and end up taking a spill you'll be glad you've protected yourself. A helmet will also help keep your head toasty.”
Use the right equipment
“I know that renting can be pricey,” says Hansen, “but it’s best to have someone set you up with the proper gear instead of just borrowing something your friends may have lying around.” That means boots that are snug (but not too tight) and skis that are tuned up with sharpened edges. “As a beginner, you don't know what a properly tuned ski looks or feels like, and it shouldn't be your responsibility. Trust the professionals with getting you skis that are tuned and the correct length for your height and experience level.”
Likewise, ski lessons might seem expensive — or even embarrassing, if you’re an adult — but learning the basics is important and will lay the groundwork for acquiring additional skills. Taking one with a trained instructor is best. You can save money by opting in for group lessons (where you’ll quickly learn that you’re not the only beginner out there).
Know the rules of the slopes
Much like driving a car, there are rules of the road when it comes to the slopes, starting with the chairlift.
“If you’ve ever sat on a porch swing, you’ve mastered the art of loading and riding a chairlift,” says Holland. Start by sliding out to the loading area, which will be clearly marked, and look over your shoulder to watch for the chair coming up behind you. When the chair touches the back of your legs, simply sit down and slide back into the chair. Pull down on the restraint bar. At the top of the lift, you’ll see signs instructing you to raise the restraint bar and prepare to unload, which you can do by moving just a little bit forward off the seat. When you get to the "Unload Here" sign, stand up, lean slightly forward as the snow gradually comes up to meet your skis, and slide straight down the ramp.
Hansen says it’s a general rule that the person in front of you (downhill) has the right of way, since they cannot see anything behind them. If someone is moving slowly, give them space. If you're moving slowly, try to stay to the side of the hill and note the obstacles and people around you. If you want to take a break to rest your legs or take in the scenery, don't stop in the middle of the hill. Try to move off to the side, peeking uphill to make sure the coast is clear so you don't collide with another rider.
Hansen also points out the importance of sticking to the trails: “If the sign says ‘Do Not Enter,’ then don’t. Seriously.”
If you want to go beyond your comfort level, it's smart to have a more experienced partner, like a trained instructor, with you to help you along. And if you’re not comfortable moving beyond a beginner trail? Don’t! “This is supposed to be fun,” says Hansen. “Not scary.”