How to Ski – A Beginner’s Intro

A beginner’s intro on how to ski and getting started may be all you need to introduce yourself to the exciting sport of skiing. How does one go about becoming a skier and what information should you consider? With a few simple tips on how to get started, skiing can open up a whole new world. Just imagine skiing down the slope with your buddies for the first time and experiencing the cool wind in your face the powdery soft snow under your feet. It’s a blue bird day and you’re wondering why you didn’t try skiing sooner.

There’s nothing quite as exiting as skiing for the first time and making it down to the bottom of the hill in one piece. “I controlled my speed, managed to turn on demand, and kicked up some snow. “I did it !”


How To Get Started

If you’re just starting out, you probably have a few questions and concerns about how to get started. Before venturing down to your local ski shop, you might want to consider what to wear.

What To Wear

To make your first day on the slopes a good experience, you should include items such as a good pair of ski socks, comfy longjohns, and a zip-turtle neck as undergarments. You’ll need a good pair of gloves or mitts. Most of these clothing items will have to be purchased, borrowed or stolen from your big brother’s closet. Your outer-wear should include a ski jacket and pants – keep it simple. Be sure to layer your jacket and inner vest and not over dress. Keep it simple: Vest, Jacket, Ski pants, good gloves, helmet & goggles.

What Equipment Do I Need?

Now, when it comes to equipment, the resort can guide you on this. Almost all your hard goods can be rented right at the resort. Resorts today are setup like a well oiled machine to provide good equipment. Long gone are the days where they provide smelly old boots and worn out ski poles. Today’s ski resort rental shops provide a huge array of boots, skis, poles, and helmets.

Equipment Choices
Photo by Valentin B. Kremer

I’m 5’10” and 180 pounds. What ski length should I rent?

Today’s ski technology has dramatically improved from years ago. Ski technology have a shape to them and actually make it more fun to turn on the slopes. Picking the right length can be seen here, but most rental shops at the resorts have a chart to assist you with that decision. It’s based on height, weight, and ability. Rental Shop Pros will know what size and what your bindings should be set at.

Skier Height (Ft & in)Skier Height (cm)Beginner to Intermediate Length (cm)Advanced to Expert Length (cm)
4’4″132115-125125-133
4’6″137125-132132-137
4’8″142130-139137-143
4’10”147137-142142-148
5’0″152139-145145-153
5’2″157145-152152-157
5’4″162147-153153-162
5’6″167153-160160-167
5’8″172157-164164-173
5’10”177163-173170-178
6’0″182165-175175-183
6’2″187170-179179-188
6’4″192177-185185-193
Quick Ski Length Chart
Head Skis
A Quiver of Skis

What To Expect

The Resort

Most resorts are so dialled in with signage that they make it somewhat easy to find what you’re looking for. Parking, Restaurants, Rental Shop, Lift Tickets and more. It’s always a good idea to call ahead to confirm hours of operation and available services such as rentals. When you first arrive, remember where you parked. Get your bearings on where you are in the parking lot so it doesn’t become a process at the end of your day. I’ve seen many people wondering the parking lot at the end of the day searching for their SUV.

Whether you’re renting or have your own equipment, one recommended approach is to make sure you bring your skis and poles to the slope side of the resort. Lock them in the ski racks and then go inside with your gear. Once inside, find your lift ticket booth to purchase your tickets for the day and familiarize yourself with the resort chalet. Find a comfy place to change into your ski boots and close to lockers or storage cubby hole.

Ski racks
Photo by Madison Olling 

One you attach your lift ticket to your jacket (I always try to attach it to my pant pocket incase I want to change jackets), and your gear is on (boots, jacket, helmet, goggles), you’re on your way.

Before jumping on the first chairlift, look for the area map and trail map. It takes 2 minutes to familiarize yourself with the resort, the runs, and the lifts. Pick a meeting spot incase anyone in your group gets separated.

“Let’s meet back at the bottom of the beginner lift at 11:30am” or “If we get lost, wait for each other inside next to the large double doors next to the water fountain.” – Have a Plan !

Some recommended services would be the Rental shop of course, along with the Snow School. The Snow School is a place to book your ski lessons (especially if it’s your first time) for the morning or afternoon. You would be amazed how many tips you can get in a 1-2 hour lesson. It will save you so much time and energy not only with your skiing skills, but resort information.

You wouldn’t go scuba diving without a lesson would you?
So , why not skiing?

Available Services

  • Lift Ticket Office
  • Patrol Hut
  • Rental Shop
  • Restaurants
  • Snow School for your first lessons
  • Rope Tows, Poma Lift, J-Bar (No, not a place to get a Jack Daniels Shot), T-Bar, Chair Lifts and more.

Make a note: If you’re unfamiliar with ANY ChairLift or other type of lift up the hill, PLEASE Ask the Lift Attendant to Slow the Chair or ASK for Assistance in getting on the lift… They are more than happy to help you experience a safe and enjoying lift up the slope.

How We Learn

Ski Instructing
First Timer

 How we develop a new skill – At most stages of skill development, someone who is trying to improve a skill can go through several different approaches to learning.

In most cases when learning a new skill, most of us just jump right in and start trying it. It all depends on what learning style you use to develop a skill.

Over the years, here’s what I’ve discovered to be a practical method in learning, and applying a new skill. After teaching skiing for over 30 years, I’ve come to understand people learn in three different stages:

  • Try it (By doing)
  • Understand it (By educating)
  • Master it (by guided practice)

My first experience on learning how to ski was at a very small local ski hill with two rope tows and two Poma lifts. No lessons, just my “good” buddies dragging me to the hill with limited resources. The very first thing we did is caught the lift to the top of the hill, and made our way over the the biggest run they could find. I asked: “ok, now what?” and they just pushed me down the hill to start. WHAT? As I started sliding down the hill on wobbling skis, I picked up enough speed to peel off my sunglasses. Hmm? With about 100 feet covered to this point, I realized potential terminal velocity was not something I wanted to experience. My first instinct was to tuck and roll. I started skiing back in 1981 (Yes, I know, a long time ago) and at the time, we had ‘ski straps” (no ski breaks at the time). When I fell, ski skis came off BUT stayed with me because of the straps. The tumble caused my skis to slap me across my face as a reminder of how quickly I wanted to quit this ridiculous sport. Forty years later, I’m still at it and now teaching others how NOT to start off their skiing adventures.

Andrew Elsdon

What learning style do you use?

It’s good to be aware of how you learn. Some people are physical learners (Kinesthetic) and some are very detailed and like to talk about it in detail (Logical/analytical). Most good ski instructors can pick up your style of learning either by simply asking you or by their years of experience of teaching students. Either way, it may help you in understanding how to accelerate your skill development.

Your learning style is very important because it dictates the way you internally process your experiences, the way in which you recall information, and even the words you choose. Research shows us that each learning style uses different parts of your brain and the more areas of the brain we tap into, the more you can retain.

The 7 Styles of Learning

  • Visual (spatial):You prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
  • Aural (auditory-musical): You prefer using sound and music.
  • Verbal (linguistic): You prefer using words, both in speech and writing.
  • Physical (kinesthetic): You prefer using your body, hands and sense of touch.
  • Logical (mathematical): You prefer using logic, reasoning and systems.
  • Social (interpersonal): You prefer to learn in groups or with other people.
  • Solitary (intrapersonal): You prefer to work alone and use self-study.

To begin skiing, most people can learn quickly and easily by TRYING IT and not analyzing it too much. Physical (kinesthetic) learning where you prefer not talking about it and just trying it. “Show me and let me try it!”

Chairlift

Skiing Progression

Steps

The Quick Answer: Stand on the outside foot, steer both feet, and use all joints to remain in balance. DONE !

Simple Simon

For those of us more detail oriented…

The goal is to get comfortable on your skis and become self-reliant or skiing on your own. We want to be able to go up the lifts safely and come down the slope under control and turning at will. To start off as a beginner skier, you’re probably going to want to start sliding as soon as possible. We break down the progression of skiing into four steps:

  • Mobility
  • Gliding
  • Speed Management
  • Changing Direction

Approaches

When it comes to approaches or methods to become a better ski, we often refer to two different approaches: A tactical approach, and a technical approach. Most people just starting out mistakingly miss the tactical approach because they’re anxious to get started. Oops ! The tactical approach focuses more on the terrain choice and the turn shape. The technical approach refers more how to move the body.

  • Tactical
  • Technical

The first step in beginning skiing is choosing the right terrain (Tactical). Can’t stress this point enough. The terrain should be FLAT, not too busy, and have a concave shape to it with a natural rise in the outrun. How many times have we seen someone coming straight down the slope out of control? They were on the wrong slope.


Mobility – Tactics

  • Terrain = Flat area
  • Quiet, not busy area
  • Turn Shape = Straight
  • Rule of thumb: Minimum terrain, maximum speed

Mobility – Technique

  • Mobility is the key
  • Practice walking without skis getting familiar with your equipment
  • Click in and out of bindings
  • Turn the foot inward without skis on
  • Climb sideways or herringbone up the hill
  • Use poles & pole straps properly (“Up thru the hole, grab the pole”)
  • Know how to get up from ground. (both pole – one hand above basket and one hand half way on poles. Place pole in snow beside your butt and push off snow using both hands)
Beginner Mobility

Gliding – Tactics

  • Terrain = Flat, gentle slope
  • Concave or slight rise in outrun
  • Turn Shape = Straight

Gliding – Technique

  • Start with athletic stance (“ready”) – balance over both feet
  • Feeling in foot (shins on tongues, weight in middle of each foot)
  • Maintain balance by using all joints (ankle, knee, hip), look forward, hands forward & relaxed
  • Try hopping as you glide to use all joints
  • Lift legs independently to feel left & right balance

Speed Management – Tactics

  • Terrain =Flat, gentle slope
  • Concave or slight rise in outrun
  • Turn shape = straight to start, then slight ‘snake like’ turns
  • Turn Frequency = a few
  • Wedge Size = Vary the width, not too wide.
  • Vary quickness and amount of movement for speed management and control

Speed Management – Technique

  • Medium stance in wedge to start
  • Stationary feeling of turning the foot from centre of foot
  • Jump into snowplow stance
  • Glide then turn legs so ski tips come closer together 
  • Turn legs inward (not heels out) to create wedge
  • Feel balance over the outside foot
  • Practice small and medium sized wedge
  • Practice stopping on gentle slope by turn ski tips IN

Speed Management

Change in Direction – Tactics

  • Terrain: Gently sloping with space
  • Space is clear of any hazards
  • Allow for momentum
  • Turn Shape = Linked Round

Change in Direction- Technique

  • Why we can change direction (Forces created by body & ski design)
  • Narrow snowplow
  • Straight snowplow then one side more than other
  • Turning is led by the lower body and the ski design
  • Rotate femur of outside ski to lighten inside foot (Not upper body)
  • Balance over outside ski
  • Change of Balance:
    • As both feet turn, feel weight transfer from one ski to the next
    • Rotate femur, add angulation and balance on outside ski = turn
    • Release edge and rotational effort to release from turn = turn linking
    • Turn by turning foot inward (not heels out)
    • Femur rotation + tilted ski (edging) = forces that change your direction
    • As balance moves to new outside foot, roll and turn new leg to maintain momentum

Recap

  • Steps
    • Mobility
    • Gliding
    • Speed Management
    • Changing Direction
  • Approaches
    • Tactical
    • Technical
Happy Students

You know you’ve set up a good learning environment when your students are smiling.

Sophia – Ski Instructor

What To Look For In A Beginner Lesson

  • A fun relatable ski instructor
  • The right terrain choice
  • A safe and friendly environment free of any hazards or distractions
  • Proper assessment of your ability
  • A clear goal for the lesson
  • Feedback and proper evaluation
  • Easy to duplicatable solutions
  • Plenty of skiing to practice new skill

Summary

Learning to ski for the first time can be hit and miss. If you rush in to it, you may become frustrated and turned off the sport. If you take a few easy-to-follow steps, your skiing adventure could last a lifetime.


Resources

  • Canadian Ski Instructors’ Alliance
DOWNLOAD: How To Ski - A Beginner's Guide
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