Watch out for the snow bunnies.
January 11, 2011 5:05 AM   Subscribe

Skiing/Snowboarding advice for a novice. I'm going to Saint Jean de Sixt in the Aravis Range of the French alps. I have no gear and no experience. Help!?

1. What do I need to take? do I need to buy some Ski-clothing? or can you Hire? Is hiring stuff cost effective?

2. Skiing or Snowboarding? - I used to skateboard a lot, like really a lot when i was teens to mid-20s so I'm tempted to go with a snowboard but others have suggested Skis. my Girlfriend will be skiing.

3. How cold do you get whilst skiing? this weeks forecasts are around zero +/- 5C

we are only going for 4-5 nights. so with travel time I think that will only be 3 days of possible skiing. Staying in a chalet there somewhere with a large group. (mostly people I've not met)
posted by mary8nne to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Dress as warm as you possibly can -- this means long underwear, thermal undershirt, glove liners, heavy gloves, winter hat (or, better yet, snow helmet), goggles, neck warmer, maybe a balaklava, and ski socks.

Also, proper snow pants and a snow jacket are essential -- you will be miserable without them. You are going to spend more time falling down and sitting in the snow than you are going to spend standing on your board cruising down the mountain, dress accordingly.
posted by TurkishGolds at 5:17 AM on January 11, 2011

Best answer: 1.

I have seen people hiring one piece snow suits - in Le Grand Bornand which is exactly where you will be learning. Don't know how much it cost. They were not the most stylish of ski gear.

If you're staying in Chalet Pre Fleuri say hi to the owners from me!


On skis, you will learn quicker and get off the beginner slope quicker than you would on a snowboard. On a week's holiday this could make quite a difference to how much of the mountain you see.

As a beginner, on a snowboard you will fall over and bruise your knees and butt a lot while you learn. On skis you should fall over much less.

Given that you used to skateboard, I'd say _if_ you are fit and active and naturally a quick learner of physical skills, then that will outweigh a lot of the disadvantages of beginner snowboarding and you'll probably be much happier going sideways.

In the long run, hitting the mountain in a mixed skier/snowboarder group can be annoying. Snowboarders spend ages at the top of the hill doing up their bindings, and they get stuck on flatter sections and have to walk. Skiers can get quite a lot more speed up than snowboarders (depending on ability). So they end up spending a lot of their time waiting around for you.

If you do snowboard, get some knee pads and crash pants.


At zero you won't get very cold. You will be incredibly well bundled up and if it's sunny you'll be wondering how to cool down rather than how to warm up. As a novice, you'll likely be well sheltered from any wind - you won't be up on ridges. You WILL need sun cream and sunglasses or goggles.
posted by emilyw at 5:21 AM on January 11, 2011

If you want to actually enjoy the snowboarding or skiing aspect, I highly recommend taking a full day lesson the first day you are on the slopes.

And personally, I think that it is actually easier to become "adequate" at snowboarding than skiing in a short time. Especially since you're a former skateboarder, I would recommend snowboarding, unless absolutely everyone else in the group is skiing, in which case you may want to ski so others can help you out after your lesson, and you won't be slowing the group down tremendously (snowboarders are really slow, I'm sure some snowboarders will come in and defend themselves but I'm sorry, it's just the truth. I say this as someone who can both ski and snowboard quite well).
posted by Grither at 5:39 AM on January 11, 2011

Best answer: 1.
Snow jacket, snow pants - Proper ones, don't try to get away with track pants or jeans. Some beginners I know have gotten them for pretty cheap at Asda, and they fared well for a trip like yours. Lasted them two seasons of two 5 day trips and lots of falling.

Goggles - I know some people wear sunglasses, but not if you're planning to fall

Thermals - I have Helly Hansens, which can get pricey but much better than wearing a cotton shirt which will just get wet with sweat and then freezing.

Snowboard/ski Boot Socks - NOT cotton, you want at least a wool blend and go high up to cover your shins. 3 pairs so you wear a fresh pair everyday. This is seperate from your normal socks that you also want to bring one for each day. The BEST feeling in the world is pulling on fresh socks after a day of boarding!

Beanie - My ears get cold easily and ache in the wind, thus the beanie but you might be ok with the relatively warm weather you posted. I don't think it's cold enough to think about a balaclava.

Neckwarmer - You don't want to wear a scarf skiing/snowboarding

Boots and Board/skis - Totally rentable. Find out who else in your group is renting and when they are planning to pick them up so you can tag along.

If you are still pretty fit I would think about snowboarding. However, if nobody else is snowboarding, probably not. Or if the others are pretty seasoned boarders probably not. If it's just your girlfriend on skis, up to you. It might be a nice way for you to get to know some other newbie boarders since you say you don't know the others. You can always meet up with her for lunch and do some exploring together on the last day when your confidence is up. Either way, I would look into a day or half day lesson on your first day. I think it makes a huge difference.

I don't know about skiing, but first time boarders tend to get hot. It's a lot of hard work, pushing, pulling, crawling, carrying, climbing. -5 is not that cold, especially when you're layered up and moving a lot.
posted by like_neon at 5:48 AM on January 11, 2011

Oh I forgot, gloves! You also want to buy gloves.
posted by like_neon at 5:50 AM on January 11, 2011

Response by poster: That's what I was thinking at around 0C it shouldn't be that cold when you are active. I know I'm not when cycling around London at that temperature.

I have skiied once when i was about 16 and found it not too difficult to stay up after a day or so. ie not fall over. I am leaning towards Skiing if everyone else is skiing as I think the 'group' experience would be more fun than being the lonely snowboarder.

Anyone in London know where I can get some cheap Ski-gear then?
posted by mary8nne at 5:56 AM on January 11, 2011

And personally, I think that it is actually easier to become "adequate" at snowboarding than skiing in a short time

It depends what kind of short time you're talking about :-)

In say three to five weeks on the snow (done by many holidaymakers over three to five years) a snowboarder is likely to become adequate faster than a skier - by which I mean, getting to the stage where they can really enjoy themselves on the snow safely on most of the available runs.

But in the short term, most skiers can learn the snowplough (or "beginner's cheating technique for stopping") and be able to control their speed in an hour or two.

Because snowboarders can't "cheat" this way, it's much more likely for a beginner snowboarder to find themselves stuck on the baby slopes for a really long time while they learn to turn properly. And the longer it takes, the more tired and bruised the learner gets, making it even harder to learn proper speed control in time to be useful on a very short holiday. Particularly in the case of less confident or less fit learners.

Oh, and T K Maxx sometimes has bargain basement ski wear.
posted by emilyw at 5:56 AM on January 11, 2011

Ah, you're assuming snowboarders want to turn! The snowplow of the snowboarding world is called the "falling leaf", and if you have decent balance, you can learn it in an hour or two as well. Though you'll certainly be spending way more time sitting on the snow if you snowboard than if you ski, but even pro snowboarders spend a lot of time sitting on the snow.
posted by Grither at 6:00 AM on January 11, 2011

Best answer: Opinions about skiing are like arseholes ... everyone has got one. Here is mine!

I would point you to this previous question and look at the best answers.

I would also suggest you PM any questions to opposite george and [expletive deleted] from the link.

Me, since the question linked, I can ski well ... like really well ...

My advice ... buy your own clothes, rent skis and boots from the local performance hire place (not the one the hotel recommends, they suck), get skiing lessons, private lessons, from an english speaking instructor ... make it known if you are really happy there is a serious tip involved. Tell him/her you want to be real good ASAP and you will meet them, suited up, at the lift when it opens each morning. Eat a light lunch (soup) as a heavy lunch will end your skiing for the day. Don't party after 12. Your target is parallel skiing on red runs after 3 days of full on instruction (it is possible! but a lot of work for YOU)

Yes, private lessons are costly ... but the value is amazing ... just pay the price and cringe after the holiday. (and if your instructor has a hangover ask for someone else ... professional instructors don't turn up to lessons hung over)

Boarding might be fun if you are with other boarders ... but if your GF is a skier stick with skis ... on piste boards are crap.

If you are active you won't get cold with standard gear. Wear layers.
And, get ski-fit ... start doing squats ... trust me, you will need the exercise.

Welcome to the world's most expensive (but fun) hobby.
posted by jannw at 6:02 AM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and that said, if you have tried skiing before, you may as well stick with it! (I'd much rather have another skier on the slopes than another snowboarder, too! :-)

Enjoy your trip!
posted by Grither at 6:06 AM on January 11, 2011

Response by poster: Oh and regarding the pre-skiing exercise / training. um well I leave in just two weeks. - is it too late for 'training'?
posted by mary8nne at 6:19 AM on January 11, 2011

I'm leaving tonight for Utah, and last week I did some squats. Then on Friday I did a whole bunch of lunges. I was sore as heck Saturday and Sunday, and today I'm kinda back to normal feeling in my legs, and I think even that little amount will really help me survive 5 days of skiing this week, even though I haven't skied in over two years.

tl;dr Not too late! Get working on those legs!
posted by Grither at 6:21 AM on January 11, 2011

It's never too late to train, and it's never to late to bum extra ski gear off of your friends/family. Ask around, odds are someone has an extra pair of snow pants, extra gloves etc. The only things you truly need to show up are 1. your own thermals/socks and 2. a good sense of humor about the whole thing. You will be falling, you will be looking like an idiot, but at the end of the first day hopefully you'll be have a spectacular time in the Alps.

Make sure to get a full day (english) lesson your first day, make it a private lesson if you can swing it. It will allow the rest of your week to be significantly more pleasant.

I vote for skiing, I'm biased, as the rest of your group will be skiiers, and they'll be more willing to hang with a beginner skiier than a beginner boarder.
posted by larthegreat at 6:35 AM on January 11, 2011

*be having. The caffeine has not kicked in yet apparently.
posted by larthegreat at 6:36 AM on January 11, 2011

If you're feeling really ambitious, there are a bunch of small indoor ski slopes in the UK, where one could presumably go to have a first lesson or two.

That way, you know better what to expect, and won't "waste" your first day or two in the alps.
posted by schmod at 6:38 AM on January 11, 2011

As one of my friends who's done both put it: when you're skiing, you realize you're going to fall and you're able to get low enough to make your fall painless. When you're snowboarding, "it's like someone just runs out and kicks your feet out from underneath you without warning". Having recently tried snowboarding for the first time (in my 40s because I'm an idiot), I'd call that an apt description and warn you that you'll probably spend the trip home sore and aching if you elect to go that way.
posted by JaredSeth at 8:48 AM on January 11, 2011

I've been learning snowboarding, and I'd agree that the initial ramp-up is longer than skiing. Yes, you can falling leaf down after probably a couple hours, but it's exhausting and slow, and really not too much fun.

Learning to do turns, link your turns, control your speed, etc is hard and involves a lot of practice and falling. Of course, your general athleticism may matter here (I'm in decent shape but not a very sports-oriented person).

Either way a lesson is the way to go --- not only will you learn faster, but it should avoid you getting any truly horrible habits (I missed my lesson the very first day I went boarding, figured out a kind of half-assed way to get down the hill that I just had to unlearn the next day).

For clothing, remember layers. A single one-piece big heavy thing is going to be a problem. While you will warm up going downhill (thanks to exertion), you will get MUCH colder on the lifts (especially with wind / snowfall). And then you will melt if you step inside somewhere for a drink or something. And a waterproof outer layer (neck to toe, comprised of pieces that ideally have tight cuffs / openings) means you can fall all you want without issue (for snowboarding this is particularly ideal!).
posted by wildcrdj at 12:12 PM on January 11, 2011

One more thing.

The French ski instructor training is very rigorous - the requirements to teach legally there are some of the highest in the world. There are MANY MANY weeks of training involved over a number of years.

To teach snowboarding under the French scheme, you can become a qualified ski instructor and do a week's conversion course. Many of the French instructors seem to teach snowboard techniques that are pretty dubious.

On the other hand, the British instructor training program is extremely rigorous for both skiers and snowboarders and treats both disciplines equally seriously.

Therefore, if you're going to learn to snowboard in France I'd recommend finding a BASI-qualified teacher, which often means going through a British school, although I'm not sure there is one where you're going.
posted by emilyw at 1:47 AM on January 12, 2011

Response by poster: Another question on Gear: Do I really need "proper wicking base layer" gear - or can you just wear normal thermals / long johns under your ski gear?
posted by mary8nne at 6:54 AM on January 12, 2011

If it's really only just freezing you can probably get away with no thermals or base layer at all. I've been to that resort a couple of times and spent the week in ski pants, a normal t-shirt and a ski jacket (plus gloves and a helmet of course).

I wouldn't worry about normal thermals on a short beginner holiday. If you wear them and get too hot and sweaty one day then just leave them off the next day. Or take them off in a bathroom somewhere and shove them in a jacket pocket.
posted by emilyw at 7:07 AM on January 12, 2011

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