6 Steps for a Successful First Day of Skiing
So, you've decided to try skiing? Awesome! With a little preparation and understanding, you can make sure that your first day on the slopes is the best it can be.
Welcome to the first day of (hopefully) your newest obsession!
At some point in every skier's life, they make the leap and willingly choose to strap two boards to their feet and hurl themselves down a mountain. It might seem a little precarious at first, but trust the roughly 60 million ski resort visitors who hit the slopes last year—it's freakin' awesome.
But just because it's awesome, doesn't mean it's easy to get out there. With a little prep and a little planning, you can go a long way toward making your first day memorable and one that will keep you coming back for more.
Step One: Where Do You Want to Ski?
Alright, an easy one here: where do you live and where do you want to ski?
While it's easy to dream of schussing down the wide-open runs in Breckenridge, Colorado, or the manicured slopes of Deer Valley (plus, hot chocolate chip cookies!), more often than not, one of the best places to learn is close to home.
Smaller, local resorts are typically much more affordable; lift tickets, lessons, and gear rentals may be cheaper there than at huge ski resorts (though not always). These resorts also typically offer an atmosphere much better for beginners, with fewer crowds and less gnarly terrain to 'accidentally' find yourself on.
If you're in a state that gets snow, chances are you're in luck and should be able to find one of the 470 resorts in the U.S. within a couple-hour drive (and more in Canada and across the globe).
Sure, there are a few states which don't have any official resorts, such as Arkansas, Texas, Hawaii, and more, so for residents of those states, you might be better off taking a longer road trip or a short flight to a ski location. Regardless, the tips below still apply and will get you going in no time.
In general, your first big ski vacation will be a heck of a lot more fun if you've already got some skiing under your belt. This isn't a hard and fast rule, but keep it in mind before shelling out big bucks for a chalet in Montana (though, that does sound awesome)!
Once you've chosen where you'll ski, you also need to be aware of where to ski—you read that right!
Generally in the U.S. and Canada, the trail system is as follows:
- Easy: Green Circle Marker
- Medium: Blue Square Marker
- Advanced: Black Diamond Marker
- Expert: Double Black Diamond Marker
You will see these ratings and markers listed on a resort's trail map, which is a map of all the skiable terrain there. For your first day, you'll spend most of your time on Green runs, and after a day or two, may inch up to Blues.
It will be a number of days before you should attempt Black Diamond runs, for both your safety and those around you, so take it easy and don't rush it. It's a marathon, not a sprint!
Also note that, while the markers are the same across resorts, in general, a Black Diamond at a small, local resort, will not be as difficult as one, say, at Big Sky, Montana, or other big ski resorts. For an in-depth explanation of the trail rating system, check out Ski Slope Ratings Explained.
Step Two: How Do You Ski?
The 'how' in skiing is one of those things which can truly only be learned and appreciated by 'doing.'
There are plenty of free resources on YouTube that, if you have the time, by all means, will offer some good tips and mental cues for your first day of skiing.
But above all else, on your first day of skiing, plan to get some lessons. A certified ski instructor is practiced in helping first-time skiers with no experience get up and running, and you can rest easy knowing that they will align their coaching with your skill level and overall athletic ability.
Group vs. Private Lessons
There are typically two options for ski lessons: group lessons and private lessons. Both of which are exactly what they sound like—lessons with a group of people or one-on-one (or two-on-two, etc. if it's you and a friend or family member).
Private lessons are great because the instructor can stay dialed in on your progression, and if you need to spend some time learning something in particular, you have the flexibility to do that. The trade-off here is cost, as private lessons are typically more expensive.
Group lessons, on the other hand, are a more affordable option. However, you'll be in a group with other adults and kids you don't know, who may pick things up quicker or slower than you, which can hinder the overall pace at which the class is able to progress and try new things on the hill.
Regardless of the lesson type you choose, you'll purchase it as an "add-on" to your lift ticket at a resort's ski school. Paying for a lesson usually does not include a daily lift ticket, except for some very beginner-oriented lessons in certain cases, so make sure you double-check.
Step Three: Where Do I Get Skis?
Do not buy skis for your first time skiing! Skis, boots, poles, etc., in many cases, are a significant investment, and an area where you'll want to make an informed decision.
As you learn to ski and progress to new types of terrain and areas of the mountain, you'll naturally find a style that you prefer. You may be drawn to skiing fast, carving wide slalom turns, hitting tree runs, or more.
Different skis will excel in different areas (yes, even "all-mountain" skis have weaknesses), so once you have a few days under your belt, come back and talk to a Curated Ski Expert about what gear to put in your setup.
Rent for a While
For your first [many] times skiing, it usually makes the most sense to rent skis. Many beginner skiers find that rental skis, which are less aggressive than more advanced pairs, help them facilitate quicker progression (which basically means more fun, quicker!).
By renting skis, you also are limiting your overall investment, should you decide skiing isn't the sport for you, or even if you decide you'd rather snowboard. Most ski resorts have rental shops in their base areas to make the process relatively painless. It can, however, take the better part of an hour to get fitted and fill out all the needed paperwork to rent skis, so keep that in mind.
There's also an emerging trend for season-long rentals, which once you decide you'd like to ski more frequently but don't want to buy a whole setup, may be a good option. Many local ski shops will offer this service, as will some online stores.
This probably isn't a good long-term plan, as you'll pretty quickly spend more on rentals than you would on your own setup, but will buy you some time to learn what you want in a ski.
Step Four: What's a "Lift Ticket" and Where Do I Get One?
A lift ticket is your cost of daily admission to the ski resort. Prices here run the gamut, from under $50 at many local resorts across the country to over $200 at places like Vail, Park City, etc.
Buying lift tickets online in advance will generally get you the best price, though some tickets are date-specific, so make sure you read the fine print before purchasing. Some resorts will also offer a multi-ticket pack, which can be an attractive option if you know you'll go multiple times in one season.
At this stage, unless you're ready to fully commit, you'll probably want to steer clear of season passes, which will let you ski as much as you want at a particular ski resort.
Step Five: What Do I Wear?
For your first ski trip or day on the snow, you don't need to rush out and buy a whole new wardrobe. Chances are good you can make do with what you've got, at least for a little while.
The general skiing wardrobe includes:
- Helmet (usually included with equipment rentals or for a nominal charge)
- Ski Goggles
- Face Covering (Balaclava, scarf, mask, etc.)
- Ski Jacket
- Snow Pants/Ski Pants
- Ski Boots (included with ski rentals)
- Gloves or Mittens
- Mid and Base Layers:
- Thermals / Base Layers (shirts, pants, etc.)
- Fleece Sweaters or Some Sort of Insulated Mid Layer (if needed)
- Ski Socks (typically a wool pair of socks is best or some sort of thick socks)
In general, ski boots and helmets are the only things that can be rented from a resort or a ski shop, meaning you'll need to bring the rest of the ski gear listed above.
But before you rush out and buy new gear, know that your daily winter jacket, gloves, snow pants, etc., will usually more than suffice for your first day of skiing.
Over time, you'll learn how warm or cold you are in certain temperatures; how many pockets you’ll need to fit your phone, wallet, snacks, etc.; whether you prefer gloves or mittens; etc.
As you keep skiing, it's usually the best idea to slowly upgrade as you deem necessary—this helps you keep your kit dialed-in while making sure it works for you!
Step Six: What Do I Need to Bring?
So, we've covered how to get lift tickets, rental equipment, and what to wear—what's left that you need to bring?
First, a good attitude. You're going to fall a lot, and being on skis for the first time is literally like walking on an ice rink in flip-flops. But you'll get the hang of it quickly!
In general, it takes a full day or two of ski lessons and skiing to begin feeling comfortable enough to step up to more advanced terrain. You'll see and feel what I mean.
(Oh, and your post-skiing sore muscles will tell you where you should put your focus in the gym, too!)
Beyond that, plan on bringing a few miscellaneous items, such as:
- Lip Balm
- Sunscreen (depending on elevation and sun)
- Snacks (granola bars, etc. - anything portable)
- Extra Layers/Change of Clothes for After
- Comfy Shoes for After (the feeling of taking off ski boots after a day is darn near magical)
This isn't a comprehensive list, but it should get you started. It's worth taking mental notes about what works and what could be improved each time you go skiing to keep improving your experience.
Bonus Step: Ok, I'm Hooked. How Do I Get Really Good?
Let's go! I’m glad you're hooked; I know I sure am.
How do you get better? Well, like most things in life, practice, practice, practice.
The more you ski, and the more you push yourself, the better you'll get. Just always remember to be smart, because nothing hinders progression (and fun) like an injury.
In no time, you'll find that skiing becomes second nature. It may not feel like it on your first day, but there will be a time when it just 'clicks,' and at that point, there's no turning back—you'll see!
If you have any questions about getting prepped for your first day or want to find some gear of your own, reach out to a Ski Expert here on Curated!