There is something almost mystical about skiing. It’s like no other sport out there. The movements are so fluid and balanced that it mesmerizes. Of course, you have to have a good foundation and practice to get to that point but anyone can with a little time. To help you get on your way, here are some helpful tips to keep in mind before you hit the slopes this winter! Good luck!
Get an Instructor
Right off the bat, I want to say that nothing in this article will beat real instruction from someone who really knows what they are doing as well as the location. This is not your best bud but someone who is trained not only to ski but to teach you how to ski.
What you will get out of instruction that no article can give you is feedback. I can’t be there with you on the slope so get someone who can. This person can correct flaws as you make them and improve every aspect of your ski performance.
Get to know this instructor and go back as your skill progresses. He can always be a guide to fine-tuning your performance. When he has nothing left to correct, you are ready to tackle any of the normal slopes with confidence. This will take a while.
Usually, when we talk about protective gear, we are talking about things like pads and such. With skiing, your first level of protective gear is proper clothing. Though there are some general winter clothing pieces that will work for skiing, you want to get specific ski clothing if possible. Not only is it warm but it’s less bulky and easier to move in. Things vital to the skier.
You will also want some basic protective items. Generally, you won’t need knee pads. Elbow pads can be a good idea. A helmet is a must! There are also protective back braces that can be handy for the new skier. One thing you don’t want to forget is your eye protection. Snow blindness happens and if you get it that will be the last time you go without eye protection, guaranteed!
Getting Your Gear
Some gear you are just going to have to break down and buy. This generally includes your clothing though some places will offer that as a rental as well. If you are going to be skiing more than just a single day, go ahead and invest in decent ski clothing. Make sure you get good ski socks! This is the most important thing to remember here.
The rest of the gear you are better off renting. Not only will it save you some money if you don’t enjoy skiing as much as you plan but it will also let you try out a variety of equipment to see what works for you. Starting out, this is the only way to go!
The single most important piece of gear starting out is going to be your boots. Make sure you get fitted and the boots are the proper fit. You want them to be tight enough so you can control your skis but not so tight as to be uncomfortable on a full day of skiing. Loose boots are sloppy and can cause blisters, tight boots are going to cause pain and can cause you to overwork your knees.
Picking Your Slopes
The first thing you want to do is get a slope guide from the lodge or wherever the main entry point is for your location. This will show you where everything is including the lifts, starter slopes, learning areas, and the slopes you are likely to want to ski as a beginner.
In the U.S. starter slopes are usually green and in Europe, they are usually blue. These are the ones you want. If the guide has written descriptions of these slopes, all the better. Read up and see what ones sound easier. If you are just starting, you want to start in the learning areas. After that, start with the easiest, shortest slopes they have.
How you ski is alien starting out. It isn’t like any movement you do anywhere else doing anything else. This is a part of what makes skiing so fun and gives you that free, sailing sensation as you go downhill. That said, you do want to learn some basic movements. Any good instructor will teach you these but this section is more to describe how those movements work rather than what they are.
Much of skiing is really going to be a balance between how you place your weight left and right on the skis and how far back or forward you move your center of balance. Very rarely are you going to find yourself trying to point your skis in any direction when you are moving. Instead, by virtue of how you shift your weight, you can swoop around. As you get better, there are times where pointing will help you tighten things up.
At the same time, you are controlling your weight in your hips and knees, you will be trying to place your skis either flat to the ground or sometimes angle them left or right. This will do a variety of things dependent on what you are doing at the time. This could make turns tighter or help you stop.
Keep these ideas in mind as you work with your instructor. Importantly, don’t move on until you can at least stop, turn, fall, get back up, and get yourself properly oriented. Make sure you can skate on your skis as you will have a very hard time dealing with ski lifts if you are relying only on your poles for forward momentum.
There are a few methods of turning on skis but there is one that should be your focus as a beginner. This is the snow plow method and it is highly effective and easy to control. The downside is that the turn is really wide and loose. You will learn to tighten up this turn the more you ski.
The basic snowplow is a stopping maneuver and should be just about the first thing you learn from an instructor. To do this, you are going to keep your weight balanced left and right and then lean slightly back as you point your ski tips toward each other, forming a backward-facing V. This will bring you to a stop on most gentle slopes.
To make this a turn, you will simply shift your weight more to one foot making sure you keep your weight very slightly toward the back of your skis. You should start to slowly swoop to the opposite side from where the majority of your weight is.
As you practice this, you will naturally start to control how much weight you shift and how quickly you can shift from left to right as well as resume a straight course. Though many ski instructors may not start you this way, keep it in mind and practice it. It’s a very natural way to learn.
Dealing with Steeper Slopes
One of the most intimidating things to new skiers are hills. Going down feels uncontrolled and can make you panic. That is the opposite of anything good you could be doing. You need a clear head and the right techniques to build confidence before you tackle any hills. Confidence will go a long way toward improving your technique.
For gentle slopes, you will be fine with the standard snowplow stop method above. For anything steeper, that is more likely to cause you to fall than to stop. You will stop but it may be face-first into a snowpack. We need something a little more sure and controlled to deal with steeper hills.
For that, the side slip is one of the better methods. You are going to stand parallel to the slop and lean away from it. This will put your skis on edge and reduce friction. You should start to move. The further you lean away will increase speed so keep it gentle.
Because hills aren’t always even, you may find yourself drifting forward or backward. You can stop this by leaning the opposite of which way you want to go. To move backwards, you will lean slightly forwards. Remember that this is a small, gradual lean. If you go too far, you will go out of control and can end up pointing downhill no matter how hard you try.
Though we have avoided skills in this section, this is one you should talk to your instructor about. Many reserve this skill for later in your education but it takes practice to get right. You are better off starting this earlier than later.
Face Forward, Eyes Open
One of the most important lessons you can learn about skiing is to keep your body square to your skis. As you progress, there may be times where this isn’t the case but staring out, you want your shoulders facing the tips of your skis at all times. You will have far better control as well as being in a more advantageous position should you fall. By the time you get to a skill level where turning your body is helpful, you will understand why and what that will do for you.
While facing forward, be sure to keep your eyes open and look far enough ahead to be able to make changes to situations before they arise. Too many new skiers look right at the front of their skis and are oblivious to what is going on down the slope. This leads to more accidents than any other single factor. You need to keep your eyes open and in front of you. You can look to the sides and use your peripheral vision to avoid other skiers. The rest of your focus should be at least 50 feet downslope.
Skiing is one of those skills that can be tricky but isn’t hard. With good instruction and practice, anyone can become a skilled skier in short order. You can learn a lot in a season, especially if you are physically active and good at coordinating your body movements. Just keep aware of where your weight is over your skis and where they are pointing. That is half of skiing right there and when you get that figured out, you can handle most any of the moderate slopes around the world.