As I said last time, winter is creeping closer for many of us. In Minnesota it’s already here, with snow on the ground as of yesterday! But let’s not complain about it, after all the winter season does have positives. For one is that it’s season of snow sports: skiing and snowboarding! I’m far from an avid skier these days, but I spent a good amount of my teenage years hitting the slopes and working at the nearby ski resort. I have a goal this winter to get out and ski more than I have in recent years, and you could too!
It may be surprising, but skiing is not hard to try out casually. The advance preparation is minimal: you don’t need special knowledge, to be in amazing shape, or own any dedicated gear. The biggest obstacle for many of us is finding a nearby ski lodge, but if you’re itching to get started this obstacle is easily overcome.
If you’ve never gone skiing or snowboarding, this guide is for you! I want to explore what is necessary to get started and what isn’t, and get rid of the intimidation of your first day out on the mountain*! For the purposes of this guide, I am going to focus on skiing because that is what I am most familiar with. However, to my knowledge everything I talk about should apply equally to both skiing and snowboarding. Let’s begin!
STEP #1: MAKE A DAY OF IT
Embrace the time and travel commitment. The hardest part about skiing is taking the time to go to the nearest lodge, which for some could be hundreds of miles away. If this applies to you, I highly recommend devoting a whole day or even weekend to you first endeavor. Otherwise, most of your trip is driving or on an airplane, and that’s not nearly as fun.
Even if you do live near one or more resorts, lift tickets and rentals are often a bit pricey. It's worthwhile to commit to a whole day or weekend on the slopes to “get your money’s worth”. If it’s your first time skiing, you’ll need a few hours practice before hitting the bigger routes. With an entire day you’ll feel like an expert by nightfall.
Plan a multifaceted trip. If a long drive or flight is required, try planning an extended weekend trip to try out skiing. Spend one day on the mountain, and the rest of the trip:
Visiting family or friends
Seeing a new city
Going for winter hikes in the surrounding area
Hanging out in the ski lodge, cozy!
STEP #2: FIND THE BEST LOCATION FOR YOU
Find a smaller resort for your first trip. As I stated above, you’re going to need some warm up time on your first trip to get used to your skis and build your confidence. It will most likely take a few hours before you’re comfortable enough to start zipping down the routes with any speed.
Simply put, a smaller resort will keep you plenty entertained on your first trip and be much cheaper. Don’t be discouraged at starting slow, skiing is a lot like learning to ride a bike in that you won't forget how once you learn. By the end of the day you’ll likely already be hitting challenging routes. There’s few sports that you can progress that quickly!
Look for a cheap(er) resort. For a beginner, a cheap resort will still get you a great experience. It’d be very hard to find a place so discounted that you’d have a bad time, as even small resorts usually try to be fancy and replicate the “big mountain lodge” feel. Make sure to factor in both the lift ticket and rental price when comparing resort prices.
Try going during off hours, if you don’t want to commit for a whole day. Many resorts have discount nights, where it will significantly cheaper for evening-only lift tickets. This is a great option if you live near the resort and are able to make a quick trip there. Just remember to go back a second night to hit the challenging routes!
STEP #3: EVALUATE YOUR WINTER CLOTHING SITUATION
You don’t need special winter gear for skiing, but you do need clothing that will keep you warm (and hopefully dry). Remember that with the wind hitting you as you go down the route it may feel colder than you expect, layer more than you think you need to. Let’s go top to bottom:
Required: Any beanie or winter hat you have, make sure your ears are covered.
Extra comfort: A balaclava is nice once you start getting some speed and having the wind hit your face. This may even be necessary in very low temperatures.
Minimum: Nothing for your first trip. At low speeds you shouldn’t need goggles, but you will need something as you pick up speed. If skiing during the day I find that cheap sunglasses do a decent job at blocking the wind and not fogging up. However, if your vision is at all impaired, please go to the lodge buy some cheap ski goggles. Not being able to see can be dangerous.
Extra comfort: Ski goggles get expensive very quickly, but they will be needed eventually. If you can borrow or rent that is the best option for your first few trips if possible. Otherwise, buy very cheap until you’re sure you will use them**.
Minimum: A base layer (t-shirt), a mid layer (flannel shirt or light coat), and outer layer (any winter coat or rain jacket). Most people should be able to find all of this among the clothes they already own.
Extra comfort: An outer layer with a hard shell will prevent you from getting wet and provide more wind protection. If you don’t have a ski jacket, a rain jacket will work if you can layer sufficiently underneath.
Minimum: Any gloves or mittens you own that will keep you warm in a cold wind.
Extra comfort: A harder shell on your gloves will provide more water resistance and wind protection.
Minimum: Long underwear and any old pants you have. They will likely get wet eventually if you fall over much, but you can take a break in the lodge to dry off.
Extra comfort: Snow pants, even if they are the discount pair that you’ve had since you were 12. If you need to buy a new pair, look for ones that have a hard shell or waterproofing.
Minimum: Any socks that will keep your feet warm. Remember, you’ll be renting ski boots and not wearing your own shoes while skiing.
Extra comfort: Long, thick, padded socks. This is less about warmth, and more for comfort in the ski boots, which are meant to be tight fitting. Cheaper ones can sometimes pinch or be uncomfortable, and having thick socks will help prevent this.
STEP #4: DON’T BUY SKI GEAR
This isn’t really a step, but it’s worth calling out separately. Perhaps you’re really excited to start skiing, and you start looking through the fancy skis, poles, boots, and start drooling.
Stop! Don’t give into the temptation! I’m also guilty of excitedly throwing myself all into a new hobby, but it too often leads into impulse buying a lot of stuff. Skiing is one of the worst hobbies to do this with, the gear is limited in function and expensive. For example, hiking pants can be used during climbing, yard work, or even errands around town if you want to look extra fashionable. A bicycle can be used for recreation, racing, commuting and more. Skis can only be used while skiing, and will usually cost $200 at an absolute minimum (nicer options will be much more). This price doesn’t include the boots or poles, which are also single function items.
Additionally, the activity itself also requires a bigger commitment to go out and do, compared with an activity like hiking, which makes it hard to go frequently enough to utilize your expensive gear. I’m a prime example: I love skiing, but haven’t gone in almost five years!
I acknowledge that rental equipment isn’t going to be premium quality, but that is OK. When starting out none of us can even tell the difference. Be patient, and develop your skiing chops before dropping $1000 on gear. Once you’re planning trips to Aspen, hitting double black diamond runs, and buying a season pass at your local resort, you can then consider buying your own gear!
STEP #5: HIT THE SLOPES!
That’s it! You’ve prepared as much as you can! Here’s some final tips for when you arrive:
Remember to take it slow at first, get used to riding around on the snow and braking. Start with the “bunny” (beginner) hill, and stick to that until it gets boring.
Take a free class if you’re at all nervous. Most resorts offer a short free introductory class several times throughout the day. During this they’ll go over the basics such as braking and boarding the lifts.
Take breaks at the lodge. As I said before, most places try very hard to recreate the experience of big lodges in Colorado, Switzerland, etc. Don’t pass up the chance to hang out there, either with friends (hit the bar) or solo (read a book…. and hit the bar), the ambiance should be great!