Flying down a slope in the cold, swinging those hips, bundled like a sophisticated ski bunny. Yeah, that wouldn’t be me. In fact, I was pretty sure that skiing was something other people did–people born with some kind of special talent that makes this sport look like it’s second nature. I’m not just being insecure about my skill, either. My first attempt on skis was a complete disaster, beginning with me hanging upside down from a ski lift (due to an uncooperative sweater) and ending with a terrifying, uncontrolled descent down the side of a mountain. Ski 101: 5 Things to Remember Before You Hit the Slopes

It would be 20 years before I finally mustered the nerve to strap into skis again. Fortunately, this time, it was a very different experience, and now despite myself, skiing is an activity I enjoy on a semi-regular basis. So I want to spread the love. Thinking about taking up the sport? Here’s what I learned—apart from never, ever wearing a knitted sweater on the slopes.


Take Lessons

No matter what they say, don’t let anyone convince you that lessons are a waste. Friends and family, unless they’re certified instructors, aren’t the best people to teach you the basics. It won’t be long before they’re bored by the bunny hill and either abandon you or persuade you to have a go at near-death runs. Sure, some skiers learn by somersaulting down the mountain just as some swimmers learn by being thrown in the deep end. But it’s a recipe for injury, and more likely to turn you off skiing for good, or at least a good couple of decades.

Great ski instruction takes the fear out of learning. Look for programs that offer small groups and split participants according to levels like those offered at Smuggler’s Notch Ski Resort in Vermont. The instructors at this award-winning ski school work with different learning styles and comfort levels, aiming for gradual progression. Once you’ve learned to snow plow and turn, the slopes are yours to enjoy (well, the beginner runs anyway).

Hold Off on Equipment

Yes, it’s tempting to get the latest, greatest gear so you look the part on the slopes, but money is better spent on lessons (see tip #1). When equipping yourself, accept help from family or friends by borrowing what you can because there’s a lot of stuff you need.

Here’s a checklist:

  • Skis (including bindings)
  • Boots
  • Poles (though it’s easier to ski without them at the beginning)
  • Ski jacket and pants
  • Socks (wool or synthetic NEVER cotton)
  • Layers (a thin base layer, preferable made of polypropylene so it will wick away the sweat and a mid-layer, perhaps a fleece jacket)
  • Gloves (water proof and well-insulated)
  • Hat
  • Goggles
  • Helmet
  • Sunscreen

If you can’t borrow, keep in mind that many resorts have special sales for beginners. At Mont-Tremblant in Quebec, learn-to-ski packages that include lift tickets, equipment rentals and lessons start at $99 a day.

Shape Up First

Even schlepping equipment around is tiring if you’re not used to it. People who have always skied make it look effortless, but just walking in ski boots can feel like you have cement blocks on your feet. Then there’s the fine art of balancing skis on your shoulders while juggling all the bulky apparatus. The first few times, I was exhausted before I reached the hills. Plus, keeping your balance with your knees bent and snowplowing down the slopes again and again uses muscles you didn’t know existed. So before you head off on your ski holiday, try to fit in a couple of extra workouts. Think cardio and legs especially. Working out is not required, but it will be make it easier to get out of bed the next morning.

Be Confident

Winters are long, and you can only watch so much Netflix (really). Skiing gets you outdoors and out of the city, where you’ll be surprised just how white the snow is, and how beautiful it looks when you’re not shovelling it. You’ll appreciate this winter wonderland more if you’re slowly gliding the slopes rather than careening down it at full speed. And then there are the mountains themselves, which never fail to inspire with their grandeur and majesty. Beginners won’t be stuck on the bunny hills for long. The bigger the mountains, the longer and more scenic the green beginner runs are. In Whistler, BC, the high altitude Burnt Stew Trail starts at 6,939 feet above ground and you can admire the breathtaking views all the way down one of the biggest mountains in the country as you ski to the village. In the east, Killington Resort in Vermont has one of longest beginner trails, the Great Eastern—3.3 miles long with a 3000-foot vertical drop that winds its way through scenic forest.

Vive the Après Ski

Ski resorts and the villages that cater to them are fun spots to spend vacation time even if you don’t spend a lot of time on skis. Whether it’s soaking in an outdoor hot tub while gazing at the stars, dancing to live music, hiking by moonlight on snowshoes or savouring local specialties, there are many adventures to be had. You can even learn to surf. At Jay Peak Resort in Vermont, visitors can hit the waves on a surf stimulator, just one of features of their massive indoor waterpark.

SHARE: Where’s your favourite place to ski?  

About the author

Jennifer Merrick

Lover of coffee, wine, chocolate, Filipino breakfasts, massage, Netflix, autumn, hiking and travel. Especially travel.

Originally from Sudbury, Ontario, she taught English as a Second Language in Hungary, Ukraine, Egypt and Singapore before ‘settling down’ in Toronto, where she teaches ESL to new immigrants. She travels as often as she can, writing about her adventures in print and online publications including, Buffalo News, Via Destinations, Canadian World Traveller, Latitudes, Virgin Atlantic and Forever Young WNY.

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