As snow begins to fall and mountain resorts open for the season, you may start thinking about learning how to ski. Not only is skiing a great physical workout, but it also allows you to experience the beauty of a world covered in snow. It’s no wonder that so many people are passionate about the sport.
Ready to get started? Aren’t sure how to get started? Our detailed guide will help. We’ll walk you through everything you should know before skiing for the first time including must-have equipment and signing-up for ski lessons.
Skiing can be traced back for almost five millennia with some evidence suggesting that Ancient Chinese practised the sport. Modern skiing, as we know it, evolved from Scandinavian traditions. Finnish and Swedish people traditionally used skiing as a way to get around and it wasn’t until the mid-19th century that it became a hobby rather than a necessity.
Ski resorts began appearing on the scene about 100 years ago and downhill skiing has gradually become one of the world’s top winter sports.
There are four main types of skiing: Alpine, Nordic, Telemark and Ski touring.
- Alpine skiing. Alpine skiing (the main subject of this article) involves skiing downhill on groomed slopes at a ski resort. Freeriders or all-mountain skiers still ski at resorts but explore the uncharted, ungroomed areas of the resort. Alpine skis have fixed-heel bindings that attach at both the skier's toe and heel. Since alpine ski equipment is relatively challenging to walk in, skiers access the slopes via a ski lift.
- Nordic Skiing. Also known as cross-country skiing, Nordic skiing involves skiing across mostly flat ground, so groomed trails are not necessary. You can cross-country ski in undeveloped backcountry areas as well as on designated cross-country trails. Unlike alpine ski equipment, Nordic ski equipment uses bindings that only attach at the skiers’ toe.
- Telemark. A cross between Nordic and downhill skiing, telemark skiing is typically only done by more advanced skiers. It uses equipment similar to Nordic skiing as the bindings attach only at the skier’s toe. However, like downhill skiing, telemark skiing is done on groomed downhill slopes at a ski resort.
- Touring. Ski touring incorporates elements of alpine and nordic skiing. With ski touring, skins attach to the bottom of your skis to allow you to hike up the mountain using movements similar to nordic skiing. Once you get to the top, you clip in your heel and ski down like you would on alpine skis. You can ski tour anywhere with enough snow and incline and some ski resorts have designated areas.
At the ski resort, you’ll have a variety of options for terrain types. Each trail is colour-coded according to its level of difficulty. In Europe, trails have four different classes:
- Green Trails (Beginner). As a beginner, you’ll want to ski on green trails as they’re the easiest.
- Blue Trails (Intermediate). Once you master the basics, you can progress to blue trails as these are suited for intermediate skiers.
- Red Trails (Intermediate/Advanced). Red slopes are slightly more difficult than blue trails as they have a steeper gradient (typically between 30 to 40%).
- Black Trails (Advanced). Only suitable for the most advanced skiers, black trails have steep slopes and you should know how to carve before taking one on.
This ranking system is only a guide. The difficulty level of a trail can vary within a category and if you’re only just graduated to the next level, it may be a good idea to ask someone who works at the resort whether your intended run is suitable. There’s nothing worse than finding yourself on a slope that’s too challenging.
We always recommend that beginner skiers take a ski lesson with an instructor. Ski instructors are experts at teaching people how to ski. They’ll show you about the correct techniques to make sure you start with good fundamental skills. As a new skier, you’ll progress quicker with a ski lesson than you would otherwise.
During your first lesson, your instructor will teach you the basic techniques. At this point, you’ll use a snowplough, also known as a pizza, to navigate down green slopes. The snowplough allows you to control your speed and can be used for turning as well as stopping. You’ll need to be able to make turns across the length of the slope using a snow plough before you can progress to parallel turns. It’ll take a while before you’re a pro, but with a bit of practice you’ll soon be carving up the black slopes.
When you’re on the mountain, there’s a code of conduct that all skiers must follow. All levels of skiers, from beginners to advanced, use the same slopes, so it’s important to be vigilant and pay attention to your surroundings. The skiers in front of you always have the right away and it’s your job not to get too close to them. Your ski instructor will teach you about the code of conduct to make sure you have a trouble-free day skiing.
Alpine skis are short and relatively narrow with waxed bottoms and steel edges. This design helps you to get a good grip on the snow and carve into the slope.
We often get asked for advice on how to determine the correct length of the ski. Ski length can influence the way a ski performs. For example, shorter skis are often easier to manoeuvre and control at slower speeds, while longer skis have a bigger turn radius which means that they’re more stable at faster speeds. As a beginner, you’ll probably feel more comfortable on a shorter ski. When you rent ski equipment, the ski technicians can advise you on the best type of ski for your body type and experience level.
Alpine ski boots are stiffer and more rigid than cross-country boots. The exact degree of stiffness depends on your skill level and is measured using an index called Flex. The higher the flex, the more rigid the boot and the more rigid the boot, the better the precision and control. As a result, advanced skiers typically prefer a boot with a higher Flex while beginners should opt for one with a lower Flex.
We generally recommend that beginners leave their ski poles behind. More advanced skiers use ski poles to make pole plants for clean turns and to assist them in navigating moguls. As a beginner skier, ski poles are more likely to get in your way and distract you from mastering the basics.
Also known as a brain bucket, a helmet helps protect your head should you have an accident. Skiing can be dangerous and accidents can happen to anyone. Regardless of your skill level, you should always wear a helmet.
You need to wear proper clothing as you'll be spending most of the day outside. After all, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.
The three layer system will keep you warm and toasty when on the slopes, which includes the baselayer, midlayer and outer layer. The base layer regulates your body temperature and wicks away sweat while the midlayer traps body heat and the outer layer serves as a protective layer against the wind and snow.
You're more likely to have fun on your first day if you're using the three layer system and wearing warm, waterproof clothing.
- Ski Gloves. A pair of waterproof ski gloves is essential. Unlike mittens, gloves are more practical for carrying your skis, getting on the chairlift, and much more. Most ski gloves have an inner layer of plastic to keep your hands from getting wet.
- Ski Jacket & Trousers. A ski jacket and trousers keep you warm and dry. As a beginner, you’ll probably spend a lot of time sitting and ski trousers add an extra layer of protection from the wet snow.
- Thermal Underwear. Under your ski jacket and pants, you’ll want to dress in layers as layers trap warm air to help you stay warm and wick away sweat.
- Neckwarmer. When the weather is very cold, you’ll want to protect your face from frostbite by wearing a neckwarmer. Neckwarmers tuck into your ski jacket so warm air stays trapped inside your clothing.
- Socks. A good pair of thick ski socks is essential for making sure your toes don’t get too cold when you’re hitting the slopes.
Now that you’ve read our awesome guide, you’re ready to hit the slopes. Happy skiing!