Swish! Swish! Stupid Sexy Flanders!
January 14, 2014 11:06 AM   Subscribe

I get to go skiing for the first time ever. Yay! So excited! We'll be driving up to Squaw Valley Superbowl weekend and I have no idea what to expect. Specific questions inside, but all amounts of questions I don't even know to ask exist, so all advice on how to make my ski trip awesome welcome!

Specific questions:
  • Clothes: I will probably just buy snow pants in SF. I have waterproof rain jackets; is one of those plus a sweater layer reasonable?Would I be more comfortable with a real ski jacket?
  • Gear: I can rent gear at the mountain as part of the lesson package or I can rent it in SF at Sports Basement. We will be taking a van so there is room. Where is the gear likely to be better / better fitted?
  • Lesson: The all-day lesson is from 10 to 3:30 and they have a first-timer section. By then end of this, will I be able to actually ski down a hill? I have done other sports and am comfortable with flailing and falling and things on the way to mastery, so I think I know not to get too frustrated at first, but is there anything else to keep in mind?
  • Other fun: Squaw Valley has XC skiing. It has snowshoeing. It has tubing. I have done none of these things ever. Should I plan to just lesson & ski one day and do other things the other days?
I think that's it. Thanks so much!
posted by dame to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (32 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I have never mastered skiing, so I've always found sledding a nice break because it's hard to go terribly wrong. It looks like tubing is basically fool-proof sledding, so even better!
posted by politikitty at 11:12 AM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you're buying snow pants, get bibs. Yeah, a pain to pee in, but will keep snow from going down your pants. Peter Glenn should have good deals this time of year. I always used my Eddie Bauer anorack for skiing, so your jacket should be fine.

Rent at the lodge, that way you don't have to schlep up your stuff, or return it once you get back.

The lesson, yes, after the first lesson, you'll be able to do the bunny slope. You will love it.

Hang loose. The altitude may make you feel woozy the following day. Drink lots of water! Water has oxygen and it will help with the headache etc. As much as you want to, don't drink alcohol. It will hit you like a ton of bricks and the hangover will level you.

If you LOVED skiing, then ski on day two, if you're not quite up to it, do tubing, it's fun and not too much of a hassle. Snowshoeing and X-country are very physical. You may need to rent different gear and that would be more expensive.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:15 AM on January 14, 2014

I have some bad news. Unless something changes pretty drastically there's very little snow. The good news is that few runs that are open all seem to be green runs, so you'll have something to ski on that's at your level. But it's not going to be much of a winter wonderland.

But, there will be something. So:

Sports Basement will be cheaper to rent and will be about the same quality/fitting as at the mountain, especially for a beginner/casual skier. Ski pants are good. Nearly any jacket will be OK, just bring some extra layers so you can adjust for the weather.

At the end of a lesson you'll probably be able to ski, more or less. Skiing is easier to start than snowboarding. Since all the blue & black runs will be closed I suspect you'll have trouble over-doing it, but just remember to take it easy.

Tubing is OK, the run is shortish for an adult, it's more of a kid thing. But it's fine. cross-country is great, but again I'm not sure how much snow there will be. If there's fresh snow, definitely check it out. The rental at Squaw are fine. Snowshoeing is also fun, but really, it's just walking around a snow-covered field. it's not exactly the same excitement as downhill skiing. It depends on what you like and how much you like skiing. If you rent at SB generally you can get several days for the price of a single-day rental on the hill, so if you like skiing you can always buy another lift ticket.

Also, for pants, Sports Basement is currently running a sale at 20% off everything until it snows, so maybe hit there sooner rather than later.
posted by GuyZero at 11:17 AM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

At the end of one lesson I am sure you will be able to go down the easy hills. My 4 year old has had 3, 1 hour lessons ever (1 last year, 2 this year) and he's now able to stop and almost turn. As an adult you'll understand what you are trying to do quicker than he does, and so basic skiing down green hills will be fine. Your legs are going to be super sore though, unless you are in great shape. So you may want a break the next day, or at least a later start. I am a decent skiier and the 2nd day is always hard because my muscles are sore. That said, I love skiing enough to push through any pain and once I get going the muscles warm up pretty well.

As far as the jacket goes, look at the temperature at the base where you will be going. Since you are a beginner, you probably won't be going too high, so you don't have to worry about the peak temperature, but the base temp will give you an idea if your rain coat + sweater will be warm enough. You may want a lighter layer under that too, but you can get by without a true ski jacket. Just go for layers with the outer layer being waterproof and you'll be fine. Once you get good enough to go up higher on the mountain a warmer jacket is going to be key. Snow pants are a necessity though.

As far as gear goes, I usually recommend getting it at the mountain because if you have any problems, you can get it fixed.

Definitely drink more water than you think you need, and if at all possible, go to the hot tub after skiing. Greatest thing ever.
posted by katers890 at 11:20 AM on January 14, 2014

The first thing to know is that, initially, it is a miserable experience. Wearing the appropriate ski gear, including bibs, a parka, and some layers beneath is OK but walking or sliding through snow in ski boots is hard and not much fun. Your muscles are not used to that kind of movement. You till be either too hot or too cold.

Plus, there is no place out on the snow to sit down, so any adjustments to clothing, boots or skis needs to take place whilst standing.

It gets better fast, though, if you make it through the initial clumsy phase. It gets to be really fun, great exercise, and very satisfying while one improves at it.
posted by Danf at 11:28 AM on January 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Make sure you have appropriate ski mittens, hat and face mask too. You may not need it but if you do and don't have it, whoa.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:30 AM on January 14, 2014

I recall being surprisingly sore (legs and hips in particular, but kind of all over) when I was learning to ski, even from just going down the bunny slopes. So bring some Advil or Tylenol and maybe a heating pad.
posted by scody at 11:39 AM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Eye protection. Seriously. Sun off snow can be really painful on the eyes pretty quickly.

the terminology: green runs are easy. Most people should be able to do this. Blue runs: moderate. Black: Hard. Most places have a bunny hill or some such for the very beginners. Be sure not to get on any lift that has no green runs down.

Oh, and my personal opinion is that snowshoe and X-country is way way more work than fun.
posted by Jacen at 11:40 AM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Clothing: I always overheat at Tahoe but I tend to run warm. I rarely wear more than a snow bib over a thin fleece pullover over something like an Underarmor running (wicking) shirt. Don't wear cotton, stick to wool or synthetics as cotton absorbs moisture (your sweat & melted snow) and then holds the chill next to your body. I have a nice ski jacket that I always regret bringing because it ends up tied around my waist all day, I think your rain jacket over layers would be a better solution. If you spend money on anything, get a good pair of ski gloves, the kind that have lots of gussets so your fingers can move freely. A knit hat helps too, more because it really stings when cold ears get smacked with a snow ball. My snow bib cost something like $20 at Sports Authority. It is not whatever color is fashionable this season but I don't care because it is black and thus invisible.

Get dark polarized sunglasses. Bright California sun + white snow = sunburnt ouchy eyes. It's as painful as it sounds. Also bring sunscreen for your face.

I prefer to rent gear at the ski resort so it can be readjusted, repaired or swapped out on the spot when something goes wrong, without me trying to diagnose the problem beyond clopping back to the rental bench. Personally, as a middling/cautious skier who doesn't venture past intermediate slopes, I can't tell the difference between good gear and whatever stuff the rental place has. I'm sure good gear makes a big difference to better skiers on more challenging slopes. Also, after a tiring day of skiing, there's something nice ("There, I'm so done!") about dumping off the rental gear at the lodge rather than having to deal with toting around the gear for the rest of the day or trying to remember which rack outside you left it on or shoving it into your car and coming back to find it in the middle of a giant puddle of dirty meltwater.

XC and snowshoeing are a big workout, I can't do them, they require a far more fit person than me. Tubing is great silly fun and all you have to be able to do is sit down and hang on. Try it at least once.
posted by jamaro at 11:43 AM on January 14, 2014

The beginner lesson will teach you how to snowplow and turn. This is all I've ever taken, and though I don't ski much, I can have a ball day after day on the green slopes and some of the blues.

Goggles or sunglasses, powder pants. Rent wherever because you won't be able to tell the difference.
posted by rhizome at 11:44 AM on January 14, 2014

I too recommend renting there. in addition to easy adjustments if they are needed, many resort on site rentals will store your gear for you overnight so you just go check it out the next day and don't have to lug it back to where you are staying. this is not a big deal if you are staying on the mountain but if you aren't, it is awesome and well worth checking into.

definitely make sure you have the mittens and something to cover your ears. good socks that fit smoothly and don't bunch up, preferably wool or something that wicks away moisture.

it is great you are doing lesson - learn like a kid and let er rip! my oldest, very athletic daughter had a harder time learning to enjoy skiing because she was used to being able to use her inate strength to muscle her way through things. You can't outmuscle a mountain, you kind of have to just let yourself go downhill.

and YES, sunglasses or googles. And sunscreen and chapstick. Sunburned lips hurt.
posted by domino at 11:45 AM on January 14, 2014

Also bring chapstick and hand lotion. The air up there is super dry and your skin will feel like sandpaper after a day of play.
posted by jamaro at 11:47 AM on January 14, 2014

Definitely get your equipment there. I have been with many first timers who had to exchange their stuff for a variety of reasons. Do not forget to rent a helmet!!

Sunglasses, sunscreen (faces burn easily and everyone forgets that it happens in winter esp with the sun reflection on the snow), and good gloves are key. So are actual ski socks. I could not believe the difference in both comfort and warmth and would never go without them again. Well worth the money I paid even though I only go once a year these days.

You will be skiing on a slope by the end of the day and loving it. Enjoy!
posted by maxg94 at 11:50 AM on January 14, 2014

Don't forget to wear sunscreen. On preview, thirded.

Cross country skiing in Tahoe is amazing, usually, but not now. Don't bother.

Let me know if you want any other Truckee suggestions.
posted by carolr at 11:51 AM on January 14, 2014

Rent your gear at the mountain. That way, if the gear fails, or ends up being a poor fit, you can swap it out on the spot. Allow a lot of extra time to get the gear -- preferably, the night before your first day on the slopes.

You don't need a bib for the bunny slopes. Way overkill. Get some snowpants that you can move in -- nothing binding or too loose (e.g., hanging off your rump). High waist + light shell that covers your hips will keep the snow out.

Sunscreen everywhere -- under your nose, hair part if you don't wear a beanie or helmet.

Helmet would be a very good idea -- it'll keep you from getting your bell rung if someone whacks you upside they head with their skis carried over their shoulder (ask me how I know), or if someone lowers the chairlift bar too soon, or if you take a spectacular header (not likely).

Hydration is super duper important. You will want to be drinking a ton of water, so expect to be running to the restroom really often.

Have fun!
posted by nacho fries at 11:54 AM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

The bib is really useful if there is any depth of powder. It sounds like there is no powder there right now, so it may be less useful. But bibs are very useful when you are learning either skiing or snowboarding because you spend a lot more time crashing into the ground, and if the layers you've wearing separate at your waist and snow gets in there, it's frigging freezing and uncomfortable.

I always find that hand and toe warmers can make or break the enjoyment of a ski day for me, but that's in the frigid northeast - you may not need them in a sunnier western ski environment. It's something to keep in mind if you have bad circulation and generally cold hands and feet. Also, mittens are much warmer than gloves (they can be too warm if worn on any day where the temp is above freezing, though).

Please wear a helmet and urge everyone with you to do so as well. I learned skiing as a small child (which contrary to the story above, I think is actually much easier than learning as an adult - I've tried teaching skiing to a lot of first timer adult friends and they seem to find having skis strapped to their feet to be extremely awkward and frustrating more so than I can identify with, having picked it up so long ago). Be aware of how you fall - some common injuries while learning to ski or snowboard are "FOOSH" injuries - falls on an outstretched hand that result in wrist fractures. Even if your butt is getting sore, it's a much safer/padded surface to fall into most of the time.

Renting at the mountain is better for convenience, but you'll find much better deals off mountain if cost is important. There are often online coupons for renting at such places, too.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:10 PM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, and given the shallow snow currently on the runs: you may want to purchase the optional insurance for the skis. That way, if you run over rocks or debris, you won't be out $$$ for potentially thrashed ski bases.

Also: big-city thrift shops can be surprisingly good places to pick up snow clothes. You may have to dig through piles of fluorescent rompers to find something non-hideous, but you can probably scoop up some pants and gloves and maybe even goggles for cheap.
posted by nacho fries at 12:11 PM on January 14, 2014

I think you should decide whether to ski or do something else the other days after you try the first day of skiing rather than now.

But if your goal is to really learn skiing and go down actual bunny slopes rather than just a carpet lift or J/T-lift (which are like the super beginner runs that are even smaller than the bunny slope), doing just one day of it isn't going to be very satisfying so I think you should stick to that to see some actual returns on your lesson investment. And I would take a lesson the other days too (although maybe a shorter lesson like a 1 hour).
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:14 PM on January 14, 2014

From personal experience Tahoe ski slopes are noticeably quieter during the Superbowl game itself (makes sense - especially if the 49er's make it through this year) If you are not watching it, then that can be a much quieter time to get some learning/practice in.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 12:42 PM on January 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

So Mr. Kitty taught me how to ski not that long ago - a few things i desperately needed as a beginner

1.) Get blistex/lip protection. It does miracles to make the day out in the cold more enjoyable
2.) Be prepared for many a bunny hill run. Be prepared for the fact that bunny hills are not the same as a green. It was a shock to my system to be at the top of a mountain as opposed to 50 feet up on a bunny hill.
3.) Prepare yourself emotionally for the fact that 4 year olds will be skiing past you at speeds unsafe for most cars down the green hills (this will be especially true if you go over a weekend)
4.) Bring LOTS of pain killers, your thighs will burn, especially if you are skiing over multiple days

As for gear - it will be more expensive to rent at the lodge (unless they have a package deal discount) - BUT - if there are issues with your bindings/length of skis/etc it is much easier to get the problem fixed than if you rent off mountain. Also, if you get fed up and need to hang out in the lodge for the rest of the day - you aren't stuck with lugging your skis/boots until the group is ready to go.

That being said - learning how to ski is surprisingly easy (especially if you know how to ice skate, since i find a lot of the principles to be the same) and lots of fun when you have successful runs.

posted by Suffocating Kitty at 12:47 PM on January 14, 2014

I'd caution not to overdress. The next 10 days in Squaw Valley are forecast to be in the mid to high 50s. Crappy winter for snow in CA this year!
posted by cecic at 12:55 PM on January 14, 2014

For the first time I recommend to rent there. If you need different size boots or skis or there is a problem with your equipment or whatever, you can go exchange.
posted by radioamy at 1:27 PM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you have ice skating rinks in your area, I'd recommend going out for a free skate (or lessons if they're available dropin).

Skiing and ice skating have a lot in common, the balancing feels the same, they use the same muscles, the turning takes similar weight shifts, and it hurts about the same when you fall over.

It will give you a little sneak preview, and a chance to give your muscles a tiny bit of a workout before hand.
posted by anthill at 1:28 PM on January 14, 2014

Definitely agree that the balance and weight shifting is similar to ice skating. Stopping via a hockey stop is also the same motion. If you are comfortable on skate then you'll fly through your beginner lesson.

Stay warm and dry during the day and you'll be a much happier person. Generally speaking people's extremities are what get coldest first so if you are prone to that make sure you acquire the appropriate hat and gloves.

Others are right that not a lot of terrain is open at Squaw Valley yet but as a first timer you wouldn't have skiied any of that anyways. On the plus side the beginners area is high up on the mountain so you will get to take a spectacular Gondola or Tram ride up to the top and the surrounding mountain peaks will be very scenic.

I've tried Cross Country skiing and it is really a different skillset from downhill skiing. Liking one doesn't imply liking the other. Snowshoeing is essentially going on a hike on a trail that happens to have snow on it. If you like hikes and serenity it can be a good change of pace.
posted by mmascolino at 2:19 PM on January 14, 2014

Nthing wear a helmet.
posted by hush at 2:23 PM on January 14, 2014

I came to say some of what mmascolino says above; Squaw is nice for a novice skier since the beginner slopes are at the top of the mountain (which I think is unique to Squaw among Tahoe resorts). The additional benefit being that it is a very dry winter so far, and there may not be much snow at the lower elevations for some of the other winter activities that are otherwise available.

Yes, rent on-site. Yes, you'll be able to ski down a slope by the end of your lesson day. Bring a variety of socks; to me they are usually the most important article of clothing for skiing.
posted by obloquy at 4:53 PM on January 14, 2014

Hi, it's been a while but I used to ski a lot.

Clothes: I will probably just buy snow pants in SF. I have waterproof rain jackets; is one of those plus a sweater layer reasonable? Would I be more comfortable with a real ski jacket?

Skip the ski jacket, your waterproof jacket is all you need. Use multiple layers. Skiing is odd in that you get warmed up and then sit on a chair lift up in the wind so you cool down. You need to be able to regulate your temperature.

Gear: I can rent gear at the mountain as part of the lesson package or I can rent it in SF at Sports Basement. We will be taking a van so there is room. Where is the gear likely to be better / better fitted?

Rent at the mountain. The local conditions determine what your binding [the part that connects the boot to the ski] setting should be.

Lesson: The all-day lesson is from 10 to 3:30 and they have a first-timer section. By then end of this, will I be able to actually ski down a hill? I have done other sports and am comfortable with flailing and falling and things on the way to mastery, so I think I know not to get too frustrated at first, but is there anything else to keep in mind?

You will be able to ski down a hill. You will flail and fall. 5 year old children will go skiing right by.

Other fun: Squaw Valley has XC skiing. It has snowshoeing. It has tubing. I have done none of these things ever. Should I plan to just lesson & ski one day and do other things the other days?

The next morning after your first skiing experience you will feel like you spent the night sleeping outside on a pile of cold bricks and you won't want to move. I would snowshoe and tube the first day. If you take the tram they also have a skating rink at the top and a gorgeous view of Lake Tahoe. You won't be too far from Emerald Bay which might be worth a drive too.
posted by vapidave at 5:53 PM on January 14, 2014

I've rink is closed right now, but possibly open by then. There's a restaurant up there as well.
posted by rhizome at 6:34 PM on January 14, 2014

FWIW, I teach skiing and am on the hill about 100 days/season. Most of the advice so far has been good.

Waterproof jacket is fine up top. Bring a few layers of varying thickness and keep them in the lodge, so you can add/remove/swap as necessary. Snow pants are fine, too, but bring along a pair of tights or something for underneath in case they aren't warm enough (my legs never seem to mind the cold as much as up top, YMMV.) If it turns out that you really like the sport, there are skiing-specific jackets with all sorts of features including adjustable ventilation, but for your first time out just keep yourself from freezing. I always put on a little less than I think I'm going to need, to avoid sweating (and getting colder) and usually after a run or two everything feels fine.

Rent at the mountain unless money is a big factor, for the reasons radioamy suggests.

Go with thin socks. You will ski better. Keep everything out of your boot except your foot and your sock (snow pants and their inner cuffs go around the top of the boot, and try to keep tights at least above your ankle, but at the top of the cuff if they're thick.)

You will be skiing on "a hill" -- the beginner slope -- probably within the first half hour, if the lesson follows the usual approach. With an all-day lesson, and a decent instructor, I would be surprised if you were not ready for the easiest, longer, chair-lift-served green trails by the end of the day. I occasionally meet an adult who takes a long time to "get it," but they're well outside the fat part of the curve. Data point: I'm the biggest klutz in the world, and I was on the lift after less instruction.

If you wear a helmet I won't be up all night worrying about you. Also, it's the best windproof hat in the world.

If you hate it, hate it, hate it (it happens...) don't feel guilty if you try something else like tubing on Day 2. There are a lot of fun ways to spend time on snow, and skiing isn't always everybody's favorite.

And my last tip: If you want to minimize soreness the next day, as well as make it easier on yourself to turn and stop, do everything you can to keep your skis "behind you" when you're sliding down the hill (your instructor will be telling you something like "lean forward" -- Listen!) Most people sit back when they're moving (it's instinctual) and this is the major reason why they are sore the next day. If you are a skater or scooterer, you already know what happens when you sit back: You fall on your butt. And on skates you fix your stance pretty darned quick or you fall. Skis let you get away with lousier balance. Don't let your body trick you into thinking that you're okay. Force yourself to pull your feet back and bend your ankles as much as you can and you will have a much easier time getting down the hill and getting up the stairs the next day.
posted by Opposite George at 7:25 PM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, don't forget sunglasses or goggles, and sunscreen! The amount of sunlight bouncing off the snow can be pretty dazzling and burny.
posted by Opposite George at 7:27 PM on January 14, 2014

Thanks so much, everyone! Will return and update best answers when I get back. And I will wear a helmet.
posted by dame at 10:11 PM on January 14, 2014

Lots of good advice. Rent boots/skis/poles gear there. Wear sunscreen everywhere exposed.

Be patient and forgiving with yourself if stuff doesn't work - follow the instructor even if they appear to be suggesting weirdness!; skiing requires counterintuitive, unusual movements that use muscle groups that most people don't use; even fit people have problems with it when they start.

If after the first day you are suffering, don't give up. It took me ~2.5 days of of relative misery before the "a-ha" moment, to get into skiing - I've skied more than 200 days on dozens of mountains and I define it as my favorite sport bar none.
posted by lalochezia at 8:26 AM on January 15, 2014

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