Learn on your own
Everything looks so relaxed and easy on a sunny winter day as everyone seems to easily glide down the slope. Even with gravity on your side it’s not as easy as just sliding on down. Learning a little technique goes a long way.
Little kids that grow up near the mountains are out there skiing as their parents hold them between their legs. Three olds are often strong enough to start with their parents or in a pre-school class.
Adults don’t necessarily need to take lessons to learn, though as part of a vacation or over a weekend it is a nice way to enjoy fresh mountain air and hopefully catch a case of ski fever. Experienced, patient friends can do a great job of being your ski instructors, too.
Getting in gear
So what do you need in addition to skis? Your gear should all be practical and functional and a good fit for you. Boots definitely need to fit well, without pressure points. Ski poles also have to be the right length for your body.
Take a layering approach to apparel so you can adapt to changing weather conditions. Here’s a basics checklist:
- Comfortable, breathable underwear/base layer
- Ski socks that will stay in place
- A fleece layer as needed
- Hat or headband
- Ski jacket
- Ski pants
- Ski gloves
- Helmet (whether required or not, it’s the way to go)
Skis for beginners
If you do catch ski fever, you’ll want to get your own skis, instead of renting them every time. But that involves learning about sidecuts, widths, and lengths… Don’t worry, it’s easy, and we have the answers. Basically, the only information needed is your personal size, ability level, and the type of skiing you’ll be doing.
A quick overview of ski essentials is:
- Length should be somewhat less than your height; somewhere between chin and forehead.
- Wide skis float better in deep snow, but are less maneuverable overall. The narrower the waist, the sharper the turn, though often at the expense of stability.
- There are different stiffness, or “flex”, levels. Softer is a more gentle ride, but may not grip as well on the hard stuff.
Getting onto your skis
Just learning how to step into the binding may seem like a big first hurdle, but it will go smoothly…
- Lay both skis down on the snow, being sure they’re perpendicular to the slope and won’t slide away. The two thin arms at the rear of the binding should be extended down, at least partially into the snow.
- Tap your ski boots against each other, to dislodge snow on the sole before stepping into the binding. If needed, remove excess snow from the binding, especially the toe, with a ski pole.
- Step into the bottom ski -closest to the downhill- toe first, then firmly click your heel into the rear binding bracket and feel it snap shut. Repeat for the other ski and you’re done.
Use your poles for balance. Be sure to slip your hand in through the bottom of the strap in order to grab the pole. That way, if you fall, the pole will dangle from your wrist and not put you in an awkward, dangerous position.
We guarantee that at night your legs will feel their first day of skiing. Lots of different muscles are being used in lots of different ways.
Before heading down the slope, it’s always a good idea to do some warm-up exercises and a little stretching, so you only have soreness, not injuries, at the end of the day. You’ll warm up quickly in your ski gear, don’t worry.
Classic warm-up exercises:
- Arm rotations
- Hip rotations
- Forward lunges
Leg and hip muscle stretches are particularly beneficial. No need to overdo it, just go till you feel the stretch. Here are some good suggestions:
- Stand on one leg, and pull the heel of your other leg up towards your rear, hold, then release and switch legs.
- Do a forward lunge then stretch the back leg all the way out rearwards. Switch legs.
- Splay one leg way out to the side, place hands on hips, then lean the upper body in the same direction. Hold ten seconds, then change sides.
Now that you’re warmed up, you’re ready to go. Skiing is ultimately just gliding along, distributing your weight so that it makes the skis move the way you want. That may sound overly simple, but with our step-by-step exercises it really will be easy. For now, you won’t need your poles. Set them aside so you can concentrate on the essentials and improve your balance.
1. On the level
No need to start the first lesson with a faceful of snow, so start on relatively level ground. It’ll be a little like cross-country skiing on Alpine skis. Get a feel for your skis by sliding around, jumping a bit to test your balance, pivoting your knees and hips, even practice standing on just one leg.
Another exercise is to move like you’re on a push scooter, by taking off one ski and using that leg to propel you forward and glide on the other ski. This is also a good chance to practice stepping out of your bindings. Simply push on the small divot in the raised lever behind your heel. The lever will move down until the binding’s heel springs open.
In general, work on your balance and your feel for skiing by holding both legs and feet together and gliding along whenevr you have some open space. Beginners should focus on not letting their center of balance be too far back. It’s common for them to spend a lot of time unexpectedly sitting in the snow…
2. Give yourself a brake
For everyone’s safety, learning to brake has to be mastered quickly.
Always feel like you’re in control of your speed. The best method for stopping at this point is the snowplow technique. Just flare out the tails of your skis as you bring the tips closer together and dip the inner edges down. Squat slightly to bring more force to bear, and keep your hands at hip level, with the poles pointed backward if you have them, for a low center of gravity. Be careful not to cross your ski tips over each other.
Practice this technique while simply standing, using your poles to stabilize you. Point your toes and knees inward, with your upper legs and hips spread out. When you’re set, launch into motion in the snowplow position.
When you feel comfortable with these basics, it’s time to head downhill. Square your shoulders so you’re looking at the base of the slope and get in a moderate snowplow position. Push off with your poles, glide downhill a bit, then go into a full snowplow position and come to a stop. Keep your shoulders squared to the slope the whole time.
3. Straight downhill
The next step requires some boldness. It’s skiing straight down without stopping. You’ll probably pick up a little speed on this one, so find a slope that’s not steep and, ideally, has an open area, even a slight rise, for stopping at the bottom.
Go uphill to your starting poimt with a sidestepping maneuver. Stand with both skis parallel together, perpendicular to the hill so there’s no sliding down. Lift the uphill ski first, with your weight on the downhill ski. Plant your uphill ski, shift your weight to it, then lift your lower ski up to be alongside your uphill ski.
Repeat this stepping maneuver till you reach your chosen starting point, then angle your skis down the slope. Position them hip width apart, bend the knees slightly so your shins press against your boots. Put your hands on your knees to lean slightly forward in an alert, prepared stance. Keep the upper body slightly forward, feeling balanced, and descend.
If you feel you’re going too fast, you know snowplowing will slow you down. Tap the brakes every so often to be sure you feel in control overall. Later, as you feel more confident, you can raise one ski slightly or do low jumps, to build up your balance and feel for the hill.
4. Taking turns
The snowplow also helps you learn to take turns. It’s a demanding technique, but effective in maintaining control in a turn. Find an area steep enough to generate moderate speed, and wide enough to execute large, gradual turns.
When taking a left turn, feet, knees, and hips dip to the left. The torso remains mostly upright. Weight is placed over the downhill- the right- ski, and the inside edge of the right ski is tilted to bite into the snow.
As a guide to be sure the upper body’s center of balance is positioned correctly, you should be able to place your hand on your right knee. Or hold your poles together in both outstretched hands, and they should be parallel to your path as you begin your turn.
If you’re taking the turn correctly you should be able to lift the upper- the left- ski off the ground as you turn. Practice turning like this till you feel confident. Gradually it will come naturally to bring your skis back together, parallel, between turns.
No one’s scared of skiing, they’re scared of crashing. You have to accept with a smile that you’ll fall at some point, probably sooner rather than later. It’s almost as important to learn how to fall and recover as it is to learn how to ski.
When you fall on the slope, wait till you stop sliding and feel stable, then reach out with your pole and release your bindings if needed. It’s safer not to be tangled up in your own skis. When you stand, kick your toes into the snow to prevent continuing your slide all the way to the bottom of the hill.
If your skis are still on, put them parallel together, downhill from you, perpendicular to the slope so you don’t immediately start to slide. Lying mostly on your side, force both poles into the snow and use them to raise yourself onto your skis.
Falling is OK. Causing other er to fall, because you aren’t paying attention or are unaware of the rules, is not. A list of the most important rules is here.
How about a lift?
The first few times climbing onto a lift can be a little tricky. Watch the skiers in line ahead of you, and pay attention to when those next to you react. You’ll be fine.
The gondolas, where you remove your skis beforehand and place them in carriers outside the gondola, have their own set of challenges, but you’ll have almost unlimited opportunities to learn by watching the skiers in front of you. You’ll be fine.
The smaller chair lifts and tow ropes can be even trickier. Stay calm and focused. Plant yourself securely in the seat and be sure your skis are free of the ground and the footrest.
The tow bar pulls two people at a time. The bar itself is divided in two, for one person per side to slide the tow bar behind their rear, with both poles in their outside hand. The tow rope has an uneven rhythm of pulling you, then relaxing, then pulling you again. Hold on tightly, keep your skis beneath you, and don’t be surprised by a sudden pull.
There is a similar lift, called a button lift, with a disc-shaped seat hanging from a line. Simply place the disc between your legs and use it as a seat as it carries you up the hill.
At the top you’ll be directed when to leave the lift and which way to go. Go straight ahead at first to clear the area, then go off to one side. With the bar or disc, simply pull it away from your body and let it loose.
The perfect setting for beginners
Ski areas have color coded trails so you know how steep and difficult they are. Black routes are the hardest, red routes are an intermediate difficulty level, and blue routes are the most conservative, with a maximum slope of 25%.
There is also a kids’ and beginner’s area. Beginners of any age should always go there to practice. When selecting a ski destination, a mountain with a lot of blue routes makes sense for beginners who want to eventually move up a level.
How long to learn?
There’s no easy answer as to when you’ll feel confident and have good basic technique. You can definitely make tremendous progress in one day, though, and be at the point where you’re really skiing and really having fun.
Do yourself a favor and be sure you’re physically prepared, That’s the best way to set yourself up for success before you’re anywhere close to a mountain. Better physical condition is always a good idea, and focusing on increasing leg strength will pay off on your first day on the snow.