I’m that person that people refer to when they say, ‘If so-and-so can do it, then so can you!‘ in regards to anything athletic, so if I survived my first ski holiday, I’m positive you can, too. And hopefully these tips for first-time skiers that I’ve gathered from veteran skiers, qualified instructors, and from my own (humbling) personal experience will help you out a bit, too!
Before You Go
Decide What Kind of Holiday You’re After
Do you want an all-inclusive resort with all the bells and whistles, or will you be fine staying in a self-service apartment? Do your research and read as many reviews as you can and then…
Book Your Trip Early
This is especially important if your holiday falls over a school break. Resorts and inns fill up quickly, sometimes a year in advance due to annual recurring visitors, so the earlier you can make preparations the better!
Don’t Buy Professional-Grade Gear
You’ll need up to three layers of clothing on the slopes – a base layer, a mid layer, and a waterproof jacket and trousers – plus a scarf, hat, helmet, goggles, ski gloves, and tall socks. You’d be crazy to go out and buy all of that for your first time. Just use what you already have, borrow things from friends, and then buy whatever is left over. (This does not apply to skis, boots, and poles – rent those, don’t borrow them!)
Get in Shape
You don’t need six pack abs, but skiing is hard – if you’re not in good shape, you’re not going to last very long on the slopes, especially as a beginner.
Book a Ski Class for at Least Your First Day
They’re not just for kids! I know it’s expensive, especially after you’ve already paid for equipment rentals and lift passes, but I also know from experience, you will waste a lot of time on the slopes if you try to teach yourself. You don’t want to spend all this money on your perfect ski holiday just to spend half of it on your back in the snow. Save yourself the headache and book the class.
When You Arrive
Rent Your Equipment from a Reputable Service
This includes skis, boots, poles, and a helmet if you didn’t bring your own. Here is an excellent guide that will help you make sure you’re properly fitted for your ski gear. Don’t leave until you’re satisfied!
Eat a Good Meal and Go to Bed Early
Maybe this is a little too obvious of a tip, but the temptation is definitely there to stay up late by the fireside chatting with others in the resort. Go to bed early and you’ll feel a lot better the next morning!
What to Wear
A Base Layer
Nothing made of cotton since it’s the layer next to your skin and it won’t be able to keep you dry. We used moisture wicking running clothes we already had and those were perfect. I personally use moisture wicking long sleeve tops from Joe’s USA. They’re cheap, comfortable, and come in lots of fun colors. Joe’s USA also makes moisture wicking leggings for women that make a perfect base layer, but for men you’ll probably want to go with something like these from Adidas.
A Mid Layer
This could be anything that’ll keep you warm. I just used my running jacket. A fleece pullover would work, too, as long as your outer layer is waterproof. Chances are, you have something in your closet that will work as a thermal mid layer, but if you don’t, fleece jackets and pullovers from Columbia look just as good off the slopes, so you can wear them long after your trip is over. As for bottoms, if you buy an insulated outer layer (most ski trousers are), you can skip a mid layer on your legs.
An Outer Layer
This is your waterproof jacket and trousers. You could spend a lot of money on a jacket, but you don’t have to. You’re just going to look big and bulky like everyone else, so you might as well save some cash and buy cheap. Wantdo makes good quality waterproof ski jackets for the whole family, and they won’t cost you an arm and a leg. (Which is important, because you’ll need both of those to ski.)
Good Ski Trousers That Vent
Besides goggles, ski gloves, and socks, nice ski trousers were the only thing we didn’t already have prior to our trip. We bought ours from a discount store to save a little cash, but you can also find good deals online. Your ski trousers need to be waterproof and insulated (especially if you don’t have a mid layer for your legs), and if you can, I suggest buying ones that vent. It ended up being warmer on the mountain than we expected and I was so grateful for the zippers on the inside legs of my pants that allowed some air in. It’s easy to take your top layers off, but your trousers? Not so much.
Waterproof. Insulated. Venting. Plus you want them to fit comfortably so you can, you know, ski. That’s a lot of boxes to tick, so of all the things on this list, you’ll probably spend the most on your ski trousers. The budget-friendly choice is to go with Wantdo again, but I don’t think they make trousers that vent. If that’s important to you, I recommend springing for a good brand like The North Face. They’re more expensive, but they last forever. (My husband has been wearing his North Face jacket for 15 years now!)
Hat and Neckwarmer
Make sure your hat fits close to your head and bring it with you when you get fitted for your helmet. A scarf is all you need to keep your neck warm. Also, if you’ve got long hair, bring something to tie it back with. I left my hair down the first day and ended up swallowing more strands than I cared to. After that, I started putting it in a side braid. It kept it out of my face, and it looked cute. (Most important part, right?)
Even if you’re skiing at a snail’s pace and you’re not leaving the bunny hill, someone else could be reckless and plow into you. Like your momma always said, ‘Better safe than sorry!’
Goggles or Sunglasses
Or maybe both! On a sunny day without a lot of wind, you’d be fine with sunglasses that wrap tightly around your face. I didn’t care for skiing with goggles because I felt like I had limited peripheral vision with them, but they were absolutely necessary when it was snowing hard! The particular brand of unisex ski goggles we bought aren’t on Amazon anymore, but these by Bolle are highly recommended and well-priced.
Or any tall, thick socks. They’ll make your boots feel more comfortable around your feet and on your calf where the boot presses into your leg. Wigwam makes good ones for both men and women (and kids).
Gloves, the Proper Ski Kind
This tip comes from my helpful instructor, Hans. He told me I could ski in a bikini if I wanted to, but to never take off my gloves. The edges of your skis are sharp, and he’s seen fingers sliced right off in a fall. Thick ski gloves will help prevent that.
Regular Gloves Under Your Ski Gloves
The ski gloves are big and bulky. When you’re not skiing, like say at lunch at the ski bar, you’ll want something covering your hands, but you’ll still want to be able to pick up your food. Regular gloves will come in handy!
Or a balaclava if it’ll be cold enough to wear one. You just need something to protect your skin from the sun that reflects off the snow. I saw a lot of sunburned faces in Alpbach!
On the Slopes
Try to Get on the Mountain Early
The less crowded the slopes are, the more confident you’ll feel. Plus, if you look like an idiot, less people will be around to see it. :)
Always Underestimate Your Abilities
You don’t want to get partway down a piste you can’t handle, because there’s no going back after you get started. Stick with the beginner slopes until you’re confident enough to move on. No one’s judging you!
Never Go Off on Your Own
I know you’re smarter than that, but I still needed to mention it. Always have at least one other person with you, just in case.
Know Your Signage
In Europe, greens are for beginners, blues are for novices, red are for intermediates, and blacks are for experts. In North America, it’s slightly different and also incorporates shapes. The point is, know how to read the signs.
Bring a Backpack
You may need to shed layers, and you’ll need somewhere to keep them. It’s also smart to bring a few snacks – skiing burns a lot of calories! Alternatively, if you don’t want the bother of extra weight, you could rent a locker, if available, from the ski station.
Bring a Map
For two reasons – first, you won’t get lost. Second, knock on wood, if you do have an accident, you’ll be able to mark where you are on the map and whoever you’re skiing with can take the map to the nearest ski patrol. They’ll have an easier time finding you if they know your exact location.
We were so thirsty all the time! I think skiing makes me more dehydrated than running does. Bring a couple water bottles in your backpack and then you can keep filling them up at the ski stations or restaurants.
And a bonus 26th tip – Have fun, and don’t give up. You’re going to fall down. You’re going to do it in front of other people. And then you’re going to stand up and laugh it off. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Everyone you see skiing on the slopes started just like you did. You will get better!
If you’re nerdy like me, when you fall down you can use the opportunity to take a selfie. Although, if I’m not aimlessly looking off into the distance or raising a sassy eyebrow, does it really count as a selfie?!
Any other tips for first-time skiers I missed? Leave them in the comment section below! And if you want to read about my (somewhat embarrassing) experience as a beginner skier in the Alps, just click on the link!
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