How to Ski - The Basics

Looking to get into skiing but not sure how to go about it? Ski expert Thomas Harari shares insider tips and tricks on making the best of your first day on the slopes!

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Here at Curated we’d love to provide you with some insider ski tips and tricks for both on and off the hill to make the best of your first day out on the slopes!

Get the Gear

A pair of snow-dusted skis leaning against an empty ski rack.

There’s a ton of ski gear to choose from, but there are a lot of things you don’t necessarily need for your first time on the hill.

Skis, Boots, Poles

Rental skis are specifically designed to be easy to learn on right off the bat. These will be your best bet for a successful first day. If you rent gear from a ski resort or a local shop, they will help get you fitted with the right size and adjust the bindings to fit the boots correctly. Be wary of borrowing skis and boots from a friend or using the ones that have spent the last 20 years in your grandparents’ basement. Ski bindings are meant to be adjusted to your ability level so that they release in case of a fall, protecting you from injury. Your friend’s skis are likely set up for a more advanced skier which could be dangerous for you, and technology has changed a lot since your grandpa tucked them in the corner.

Pro Tip: Find a local shop that you can rent skis from. They will let you pick your gear up the night before and drop it off on the way home from skiing. This saves a lot of time and hassle in the morning at the resort when you are itching to “shred”, but waiting in line to get your gear.

Helmet

Believe it or not, helmets are cool! As an experienced skier, it actually looks a bit off when you see a skier without one. A solid helmet with goggles does a great job of keeping the weather out! The rental shop will have these for rent as well - do it, it’s a good investment.

What to Wear

A skier - wearing black snow pants, a black hooded winter jacket, and bright red ski goggles - trekking through deep powder snow.

Regardless of whether it’s going to be snowy or sunny, you are going to want to be wearing a waterproof jacket and pants. Remember that when you ski you will be exerting yourself, and as a beginner, you won’t be overly efficient with your energy, meaning that you will likely get really hot! While cheaper outwear will work, many inexpensive options are waterproof but not breathable, which means that you may get very hot and sweaty easily. Any sort of cotton clothing is not good for skiing, as when it gets wet, it stays wet.

For the average person, you can put an alright ski outfit together from the things you already have as long as you have snow pants. If you don’t have a snow jacket, a rain jacket or shell will work! For a base layer, you’ll want to wear a synthetic material or wool that wicks moisture away from your skin, keeping you warm. For a midlayer, some sort of fleece or down jacket is ideal. If it gets warm and you want to shed a layer, remove the midlayer, not the waterproof jacket you are wearing on the outside.

Take a “Lesson” If You Can

It will be extremely helpful for you to have some sort of more experienced skier give you advice along the way. Ideally this is a trained ski instructor in an individual or group lesson, but it could be another experienced skier, or just a friend that has been skiing a few times. Anyone more experienced than you will be able to give you some pointers along the way!

Be Patient

A skier jumping up on the back of his skis on the white summit of a snowy peak.

I hate to break the news, but you will not become a good skier on your first day. You likely won’t become an intermediate skier. Skiing takes a lot of practice and a lot of time to become advanced. Even professional skiers are constantly working on their form and their ability to ski new terrain. Will you get to take some fun runs and feel some solid improvement? Absolutely. Talk to anyone who has fallen in love with skiing and they will let you know that one of best parts about skiing is the learning process and seeing yourself make small steps towards becoming a better skier.

Choosing the Right Runs

A ski lift against a bright blue sky.

Talk to anyone who works for the ski resort, let them know it is your first day, and ask what runs would be best for you. If the resort has a true “bunny slope”, I would highly recommend getting comfortable there before exploring elsewhere. Beginner slopes are classified by a green circle and sometimes known as “Green Runs”. Once you graduate from the bunny slope, most of these green runs aren’t necessarily harder or steeper, they are just much longer gentle slopes, so you have more time and space to learn to ski before getting on the lift again.

Understanding Edges and Gravity - These Ain’t No Rollerblades

If you’ve ever rollerbladed, skateboarded, or ridden a bike, you’ll know that the vehicle only rolls in the direction that the wheels are pointing. Skiing does not work this way. Gravity will take the skis downhill no matter which way they are pointing, which can be a shock to many! To give you the ability to control your skis, the skis have metal edges that dig into the snow and allow you to steer. To dig these edges in, you’ll need to lean the ski over. Which edge do you dig in? Always the edge that is closer to the uphill. This means to turn left, lean your skis to the left, to turn right, lean them to the right!

Stance

A woman skiing down a groomed slope.

You’ll find that your ski boots don’t allow you to stand up fully straight. This is for a reason! Your skis are designed to be skied with a bit of pressure on the tips. This allows for easier turning and keeps your knees in a safer position in case of a crash. It is very common for new skiers to lean back with their body weight, not wanting to feel like they are diving head first down the hill. This makes it significantly harder to turn your skis. Trust the boots, keep your knees slightly bent and your feet shoulder width apart, and put a bit of pressure on the tongues with your shins. Keep your upper body square with your shoulders pointed forward - no need to be twisting your upper body.

The Wedge

Snowplow, pizza, wedge - it’s all the same thing. To make a wedge, turn your toes in towards each other and spread your heels apart (like a slice of pizza). This allows you to dig your edges into the snow and slow down. While this is a good way to learn to control your speed, this is not a habit you want to pick up.

Linking Wedge Turns

While in a wedge position, twist both skis in the direction you want to turn. Make sure you are maintaining the forward pressure on your boots, or you may find it tough to finish a turn. Leaning back in a turn will make it very hard to swing the tails of the skis all the way around. To make a right turn, you may find it helps to put just a small amount of weight on your left ski, drawing it downhill and vice versa for a left turn.

Try and make lots of successive turns, never going straight down the hill. The more short turns you make, the slower you go and the more in control you are. As you begin to get more comfortable, you can create more space between turns and gain a bit more speed!

Parallel Turns

A skier in a blue jacket and black snow pants ripping down a snowy slope.

This is the ultimate end goal, where you are able to make controlled turns while your skis are parallel (french fries) rather than in the pizza position. This provides you with better control and will allow you to ski faster and in more challenging terrain in the future. As you begin to learn parallel turns, remember to keep that forward pressure on your boots! This is imperative to making a good parallel turn! Begin your turns as you would in a pizza, but start putting more weight on your downhill ski so you can slide your inside ski around to remain parallel. If you feel that the tail of your ski is getting stuck or you notice that you are digging a small trench with your inside ski on each turn, you’re probably leaning back! As you feel more and more comfortable with parallel turns, move to slightly steeper slopes and try it again!

With the right gear, an understanding of the basics, and lots of practice and patience, you’ll be progressing on the slopes in no time!

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Written By
I work with college students at Montana State University in Bozeman Montana - just minutes away from Bridger Bowl, Big Sky, and countless backcountry opportunities. With so many new students needing gear each year, I have become a go-to-guy for help buying that first pair of skis or a specific upgra...

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