When is the right time to ski my first blue run?
December 14, 2011 8:48 PM   Subscribe

I'm a beginner skier. I want to go on my first blue run soon. When is the right time?

I skied for the first time on early 2011 and I loved it. By the end of the season, I was getting bored with the green slopes, but not feeling confident enough to go on the blue ones.

I can (mostly) ski parallel, and I understand the concept well. I can do some linked parallel turns, but it requires effort and concentration - it doesn't come naturally yet. Every once in a while I will make a bad turn, pick up too much speed, panic a little bit and fallback to the snowplow to regain control, before going back to linked parallel turns. I still fall on occasion, but not a lot (the snowplow saves me).

I'd be happy with the green runs, but the problem is the ski resorts I go to don't have a lot of them and I get bored with the same old green runs over and over again. Am I OK to try a blue run at my level? If not, what are the techniques I should absolutely master before going to the next level? I want to avoid the "holy shit I'm stranded please call the ski patrol" scenario.
posted by gertzedek to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (25 answers total)
You should be able to make it down a blue. If you get stuck you can always snowplow or slip down sideways until you hit a patch where you are comfortable again.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:51 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

In my opinion, most blue runs aren't too much more challenging than green runs, except that occasionally they might have a stretch of slightly steeper hills or a few "obstacles" such as small patches of trees or a few bumpy areas that aren't kept groomed as well.

Pick a big, open blue groomed run with lots of space for you to keep to yourself. Ask a lift operator or resort worker to guide you to a run that will fit your intermediate skills, and maybe consider runs that weave in and out of other green runs in order to give you an out if you get tired or overwhelmed. Don't hesitate to stop and look down the hill to make sure you don't accidentally jump into a section that's steeper or bumpier than you'd like. Most of all, don't be ashamed of snow-plowing if it means you're going to be in control and safe.

If you have OPTIONS of places to go, I would recommend a resort like Steamboat Springs in northern Colorado, after they've had a good snow. Adding a little extra fresh powder snow under your skis will help prevent from picking up too much speed and also help you keep better control.
posted by erstwhile at 9:01 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

You could always take a lesson and go with a guide on the blues. Just tell them your skill level and they'll put you with the right group. You'll feel more confident with an instructor and pick up some tips that'll help push you up a level.
posted by amanda at 9:09 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Where are you skiing?

Going from my experience skiing primarily in the northeast US, I think that snow conditions are a HUGE factor here. A relatively tame blue run can become a nightmare of "WHAT AM I DOING" if there's enough ice, or if the mountain has decided to cover it in moguls that weekend. So before you plan what runs you want to take that day, make sure you know what the snow quality is.

That said, anything that's classified as a blue run is going to provide you with flatter sections where you can get your speed under control. I think that as long as you're cautious, and pay attention to whether or not the current conditions on the mountain are forgiving, you should be fine. Just don't let the more advanced skiers make you feel like you have to push yourself further than you're comfortable with. If they're on a blue trail, they know they're going to be sharing the slope with beginners. Don't worry about getting in the way of aggressive skiers up slope of you -- that's their problem!
Just take your time, I really doubt you're find yourself stuck or more than moderately nervous. And if possible, pick a trail where you can switch to a green route if you're really freaking out halfway down.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:09 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

....okay, and please ignore that rogue "if" that somehow snuck into my paragraph break.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:10 PM on December 14, 2011

You're far ahead of where I was when I tried blue runs. Just avoid moguls for now.
posted by deadweightloss at 9:14 PM on December 14, 2011

Don't do it first thing of your day out, get your feet under you first, and feel good about a green run or two. But don't keep at it and get tired out, go on over to the blue run of choice. I like the idea of taking a lesson to have someone go with you. My transition from green to blue was super easy because I was following experienced friends down the blues, and they picked routes that weren't too steep and timed the turns right. It was good to get a feel for how it was supposed to go. If you don't have friends you know, have an instructor you pay, or just stand at the bottom of the run watching till you see somebody competent but not crazy, hop into the lift line near them and follow them down. If it turns out they're moving faster than you want, no worries, just let them go, and you're no worse off than if you'd struck out alone in the first place.
posted by aimedwander at 9:18 PM on December 14, 2011

Do you know how to do a hockey stop? If not, learn how while repeatedly trying it on the green runs.

Also, stop snowplowing. You don't want that to be your brains go to panic reaction.

You don't need to be afraid of speed once you know how to control yourself. The hockey stop will help you get a feel for doing lots of hard quick turns as well.

I'd say do a few green runs and then hit a blue next time you're out no matter your progress on the hockey stop. Just turn more so you don't let your speed ever get out of control.
posted by zephyr_words at 9:49 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

It also matters how crowded the slopes are. Trying new hard things during the busy holiday season is going to be less pleasant than trying it when there aren't so many obstacles around!
posted by nat at 9:56 PM on December 14, 2011

Yeah, I am about your level and I have been skiing blue runs for ages. I only do green ones now to warm up at the start or when it's really icy.

The first time I tried to do a blue I got confused and ended up on a black. Even then I managed bits of it, interspersed with a lot of lying down in the snow beside the trail crying.
posted by lollusc at 10:29 PM on December 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I find the main difference between blues and greens are not that they're much more difficult, but that the steep parts go on for longer. If there's a (slightly) steeper section on a green, it'll be really quick and have more gradual terrain on either side of it, whereas blues tend to give you less of a break between sections. (This is super generalized of course). But I'd say you're definitely ready. Don't get discouraged if some of your technique goes out the window as you focus on getting down the mountain.
posted by sparrow89 at 10:53 PM on December 14, 2011

I perused your history and think that you are on the East Coast of the US. That being said, go on blue runs like crazy. The difference between a blue and green is that the steep sections are usually longer, but they aren't going to challenge you too much. I hit blue runs in my first season without major issue. The big thing is to watch your speed. The blacks aren't really far off for you either, but I'd take it easy on them until you've gotten somewhat comfortable on blue.

The reason I mention the East Coast is that I skied for years in the East and then came out to Oregon. One day on a gnarly mountain will make you realize that maybe you should care a little more about those signs. The blues here make the blues back east look wimpy by comparison. Blacks here typically involve a steep bowl or lots of trees. Double black usually means "do you feel lucky, punk?"
posted by Mister Fabulous at 11:22 PM on December 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with Mister Fabulous that a blue in one place does not equal a blue in another.

Even on the East Coast, there is a big difference between a blue trail on some little local ski hill and a blue trail at one of the actual world class ski resorts in the East, like Jay Peak or Okemo.

Either way I think you'll be able to make it down without calling the ski patrol, but to maximize your chances, ensure that there aren't moguls stretching all the way across the slope at any point (a lot of time on a blue trail they'll do moguls on one side, groomed on the other), and go on a day when there are good conditions, i.e. a small amount of fresh snowfall and it's not going to be a sheet of ice out there. Icy days are much more common on the east coast. Ask someone who's been down the trail before if it's a reasonable blue or a more tough blue, if you're not sure.

But yeah, if you're skiing mostly parallel on the greens, you ought to be fine on the blues generally, because you can always go back to your snowplow/pizza pie formation and go slow. Slipping down sideways as J. Wilson suggested is a good tactic to use on icy patches - ski over to the edge of the trail where there's usually a little bit more snow built up and slip down over there.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 1:18 AM on December 15, 2011

I am a ski instructor, but I am not your ski instructor!

If you're skiing parallel but you're still wary of blue runs, either you're naturally unusually fearful, or else the technique you're using needs a lot of improvement.

Skiing is a very difficult thing to learn well by yourself, so it's quite natural that during a season you would settle into a pattern of skiing using a slightly odd technique that's good enough to get you down a green run but lets you down when you get on something steeper. If that's the case, a lesson or two will sort you out in no time.

If you're naturally lacking in confidence, an instructor will be able find a blue run that suits your ability, given the snow and weather conditions at the time, and talk you down it so you can learn how to ski it comfortably. Once you've had a lesson on that slope you'll probably find it easy to do it on your own.

I'd love to take you on your first trip on a blue run; unfortunately I'm on the wrong side of the planet!
posted by emilyw at 1:55 AM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've never heard of a green run. You'll have no problems on a blue.
posted by devnull at 2:28 AM on December 15, 2011

If you are skiing in the Northeast, hit the blue early in the day, right after the grooming. If you hit it later in the day, it will be much harder, for a few reasons: (1) you're tired; (2) the granular will be skied off and pushed into piles that often resemble moguls and are really sucky if you aren't expecting them; (3) anything that was a little icy in the morning, will be wicked icy by the end of the day due to #2 and melting and refreezing.
posted by chiefthe at 3:17 AM on December 15, 2011

If you're naturally lacking in confidence, an instructor will be able find a blue run that suits your ability.

This. Just because you venture onto a green run you are not going to 1) be hit by an avalanche 2) disturb a sleeping grizzly 3) fall off the mountain, but if you're as nervous as you sound, you might freak out and somehow not be able to make it down alone. Take a friend, or better still an instructor, who can show you how to take each section of the piste with style and confidence.
posted by roofus at 4:58 AM on December 15, 2011

I used to be a ski instructor, and I agree with emilyw--based on your described ability you should definitely be on blue runs.

This worries me a bit:

> I still fall on occasion, but not a lot (the snowplow saves me).

The point is not to avoid falling. Getting to the end of a run without falling is like getting to the end of a music practice session without missing a note--it's great, but if it happens too often it probably means you're not pushing yourself enough to really learn. It's ok to fall!

Go take a green run to warm yourself up. Then take another and deliberately fall 3-4 times to set a baseline where you feel ok falling. Then go get on that blue run!

YMMV if you are 60+ or skiing in some northeast USA resorts, where they call ice-skating on skis "skiing."
posted by _Silky_ at 6:03 AM on December 15, 2011

If you don't want to get an instructor, ask around about which are the easiest blue runs. At any mountain, some will be easier than others. Pro tip: on a big mountain, the blue runs that are near the bunny slopes are generally going to be easier (and shorter, so at least you're done fast) than the blue runs near the black runs.

And it totally, totally depends on the mountain and even the part of the mountain you're on... I've been on blue trails that were hour-plus adventures, and blue trails that were just marginally longer or steeper versions of green trails.
posted by mskyle at 6:09 AM on December 15, 2011

I did my first blue run by accident before I was ready (misread the trail map) and it was almost terrifying *except* I was extremely comfortable side-slipping the entire way down. At no point was I unable to control my descent, although it was miserable and a little scary, I never felt out of control. I got over to the side of the run, checked up hill for fast moving skiiers and very slowly made my way down, regularly checking to stay out of the flow of traffic as much as possible. It was the middle of the week in late February, so it wasn't crowded, which helped.

I'd say if you feel ready and you want to try, ask the ski patrol for a recommendation and try it, just be sure you are capable of making a controlled stop and capable of making your way down without skiing and without obstructing the run. Warm up first!
posted by crush-onastick at 6:21 AM on December 15, 2011

One more thing; if you're a little bit freaked out by the idea of falling over, or you find you lose confidence if you fall, make sure you're wearing a helmet.

Not only can a helmet make the difference between an unpleasant fall and an expensive hospital trip; it can make an unpleasant fall into a hilarious tumble in the snow. You'll find things much easier if you can treat falling over as part of the learning experience rather than some kind of dreadful disaster - as _Silky_ says.

If it seriously worries you that a helmet may look silly, have a look at what the snowboarders wear in the park. Most of those are seriously fashion conscious and wouldn't be seen dead riding without a helmet.
posted by emilyw at 6:33 AM on December 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I agree with everyone else, and having skiied east and west coast US, I agree the only thing you have to worry about is ice on the blues on the east coast, but even that a snow plow will get you through just fine. And honestly the greens tend to be icier because there are more people going down them all together. Ski a green or two first thing, make sure your legs wake up, then pick a blue, go down it a bit slower than you may like the first time if you are feeling worried, but most places have really scaled down the difficulties of the blues (in my opinion).

And definitely don't worry about still falling, my husband and friend seem to make it a competition to see who can fall more times that day and both have been skiing for years. Of course this backfired the one time when my husband had to ski down on one ski with me carrying the broken one behind him, but that was only the once : )
posted by katers890 at 6:35 AM on December 15, 2011

I'd definitely recommend a helmet if you don't have one already. I've been skiing since I was two, and have never worn a helmet. Last January I was out west and took a tumble down the Daly Chutes at Deer Valley, lost a ski (and saw it stick into the snow, or so I thought). When I finally stopped tumbling about 50 feet later, I was already dreading the climb back up to get my lost ski when WHOOSH! it went flying by my face, about two inches away. Scared the bejesus out of me. I won't be skiing without a helmet again! And neither should anyone, really.

But back to your question. I think you'll be fine on the blues, and I agree with the folks above: practice falling. Falling is an even better way out of a sticky situation than the snowplow, if you're doing it right.
posted by Grither at 7:43 AM on December 15, 2011

Oh, and re: "doing it right" basically make sure you lean upslope not downslope when you fall.
posted by Grither at 7:46 AM on December 15, 2011

I think it mostly depends on conditions. If there's a lot of fluffy fresh snow, it's easy to do just about anything. If the slopes have become really compacted or icy, then it can be really dangerous.

On my first ever ski trip we arrived right after huge dump of snow. A buddy gave me a 10 minute primer and we threw ourselves down whatever slopes we could find. It was fantastic! The next morning I started out alone, not appreciating that the lower slopes had developed layer of ice over night and what that could do to my noggin. Hurt.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:48 AM on December 15, 2011

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