Can I really learn to ski?
January 19, 2014 5:52 PM   Subscribe

After a couple of bad experiences trying to pick up snow sports, I have unreasonable anxiety about learning to ski.

I've read these askmes.

So my husband and I decided to go in on a ski lease with some friends in Tahoe for the season. I really want to ski! I'm so, so terrified.

I'm a socal native who can count the number of times I've ever dealt with snow. 4 years ago we took a "beginner" snowboarding class at Squaw. It was horrible. I was the only true beginner in the class, and the instructor basically abandoned me at the bottom of the bunny hill and camped out at the top with the rest of the class. I tried to be a good sport and went on the bunny hill lift with my husband after the lesson. I ate it hard twice, panicked, and took off my snowboard and walked the rest of the way down. Last year, we took a "beginner" cross-country class in Yellowstone. I was actually having a pretty good time learning, but again I was the only real beginner (everyone else was either a skier or snowboarder) and 15 minutes into the lesson, the instructor took us off the groomed trail and down a medium hill (seemed kind of big at the time). I fell, and she suggested that I just go back to the lodge and get a refund for the lesson. So yeah. Humiliated and freaked out both times I've tried to learn slidey snow things.

We are taking a lesson at Northstar tomorrow morning (just us and the instructor). I am beyond terrified. I don't feel like I'm an unathletic person. I've played plenty of sports. I picked up squash and tennis and tennis as an adult. I've been snowshoeing and I liked it. But I'm shaking just sitting here thinking about it. I know my anxiety is only going to make it harder. Help?
posted by tealcake to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (22 answers total)
If you get an individual lesson, the instructor will have way more accountability. I think you'll have a much better time.

Also when I used to ski, I used these shorter skis called ski blades which were way easier to control and much more fun.
posted by bleep at 6:08 PM on January 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Skiing is easier than snowboarding IMHO - especially if you can roller skate. But you are just not going to feel confident until you've got 4-5 good days of skiing under your belt. That confidence and basic comfort level is part of what you'll need to learn.

Falling is part of skiing. Even great skiers fall when they push to the edge of their abilities. If you are not falling, you're not challenging yourself and you're not learning. Take your lumps, take some Advil and know there is a warm drink waiting for you in the lodge at the end of the day.

On preview: 2nding ski blades/skiboards if you can find em to rent. Much easier to control than skis.
posted by gnutron at 6:12 PM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can do it! You can do it! You can do it!

Here are the reasons I know you'll be fine.

1. Skiing is way easier than snowboarding. Beginner snowboarders famously spend 90% of their time on their asses. It is totally possible to spend a day as a downhill skiing beginner without falling. That said, if you can get yourself to a place where you aren't that worried about falling, you'll probably have a better time. I usually wipe out once per day and I'm totally cool with that. Falling is scary but try your hardest not to get down on yourself about it. "Fear of falling" is way more of a barrier to learning how to ski than actually wiping out.

2. It sounds like you had two super-sucky outlier experiences with your instructors. WTF?! They were horrible. Good news! Odds are you won't have a horrible instructor this time.

3. Even if you do have a horrible instructor, it sounds like your major issues had to do with being in the wrong kinds of lesson, surrounded by people who were more experienced than you. You shouldn't have that problem tomorrow, since it's just you and your husband.

In FACT, I would suggest, if you're still super super nervous tomorrow, and you think can afford it, signing up for a lesson on your own, just one-on-one. That way, you don't even have to worry about keeping up with your husband. You can just toodle along at exactly your own pace. Remember, three year olds can go down the bunny slope without dying. You are in no actual danger. It's important - if occasionally difficult - to remember that.

Also, my last tip for you is: go to the lodge a lot. Like, as much as you want. I started having actual fun skiing when I stopped feeling like I had to Get My Money's Worth and pushing myself until I was shaking and freezing and miserable. This is supposed to be a vacation. Go down a slope, get a hot chocolate. Go down a slope, get some lunch. Go down the slope, get a beer. Etc. Take the pressure off yourself to master it, and just have a good time.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 6:12 PM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just trust your legs. When you were a little baby and tried to walk you fell over all the time. And you don't even remember it now since you just kept getting back up. You kept doing it over and over and eventually you picked it up enough that you don't even think of it anymore. So when you start skiing it's the same way and you try it and fall down then try it again and fall down again until you eventually feel comfortable enough to stay upright for a little while. And the more you try the better you get and you stay up longer and after a while you stop thinking about how to do it and it just sort of happens on its own. You're not going to be perfect the first time, but you'll do it and the next time will be easier.
posted by fishmasta at 6:19 PM on January 19, 2014

I think having a one-on-one type lesson like you are signed up for tomorrow will do you a world of good.

Also - if you are scared, or don't understand an instruction, don't feel comfortable - speak up and say so! I've been in situations that I should have said something because I was scared or uncomfortable but I kept my mouth shut and had to continue being miserable and afraid. But the moment I spoke up, the instructor immediately helped me. Be upfront with your instructor about your fears/hesitation.

And remember - it's ok to fall.
posted by Sassyfras at 6:25 PM on January 19, 2014

My first suggestion was going to be to avoid group lessons, but it sounds like you've already realized that. Having an instructor work at your level will likely make a huge difference. Is your husband a better skier than you? If so, can you and your husband agree ahead of time that the goal is to have the lesson be aimed at your level and if the instructor goes too fast the two of you will work together to communicate that's not what you want? It will help if you present a united front that this lesson is the tealcake show.

Another thing to consider is starting with more cross country lessons. If you don't have much experience with snow and skis, being on flatter terrain while getting used to the weird things skis do under your feet could help your comfort level. You can get used to the balance and slipperiness and falling without being able to build up too much speed or having to learn turns right away (assuming a good instructor who keeps things at the right level).
posted by medusa at 6:32 PM on January 19, 2014

Oh yeah, you're going to be okay.

Tell the instructor that your concerns/fears before the lesson, preferably, before you are on the mountain in any capacity. Review their plan for instructing you and make it clear if you are uncomfortable with any part of it in advance of gearing up and getting out there. They should earn your trust. If you have any specific things that are scaring you, ask what the instructor recommends you do in case you find yourself in that situation.

If you don't get a good vibe/suspect the person doesn't take you seriously (which I doubt), I would ask if you can switch to someone who would be comfortable instructing a 'true beginner'. Don't get up on the mountain with someone you don't trust. Anyway, I think that the odds of all this happening are low. But given how scared you already are, I really think it's very important that you are comfortable with your instructor.

Anecdata, fwiw and all that...
Skiing is way easier than snowboarding. You have control of both feet and it's also easier to fall 'comfortably' to evade danger. I tried snowboarding a couple years ago after skiing since I was a kid and had the same experience you was terrifyingly bad. So bad that I've never wanted to snowboard again since. But I would ask my instructor all those questions before I went up with them, if I did want to try it out again.

You're going to be fine! Let us know how it goes :)
posted by xiaolongbao at 6:33 PM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am a ski instructor. Your two previous snowsports instructors really dropped the ball. If they worked for me, they would be looking for new jobs.

Private instruction makes a huge difference. I would go even beyond that and call first thing in the morning and explain your previous experiences to the snowsports school desk (and if they can't help, ask for the director) and request a lesson with a Level III instructor. Level III is an industry certification level indicating the best of the best and they will tailor the lesson to your needs like you wouldn't believe. The people who give me -- a lowly Level I -- lessons, are all Level IIIs.

Also, if you have a good experience, feel free to tip your instructor (it's scandalous how little of the lesson fee actually goes to them) but also get their name, so if you want more lessons you can request them again. Continuity of instruction with a good teacher can get you further, because they will know exactly where they're starting from the next time.

I am going to wish you good luck, but I'm pretty sure as long as you relax and let the instructor do their thing you won't need it. So, relax, enjoy, and check back in here to tell us how it went!
posted by Opposite George at 6:49 PM on January 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Skiing is way, way easier than snowboarding. Honestly, the only reason I ever persevered learning to snowboard is because I was 13 and didn't want to look like a wuss in front of my friend's cousin and his friends!

Group lessons are so hit or miss. You'll like the private lesson so much more!

Also, Northstar is a great resort for beginners. I learned to ski and snowboard there, and they have a lot of beginner slopes and good instructors. You'll be great!
posted by radioamy at 7:07 PM on January 19, 2014

One thing you can do to relieve some of the anxiety is to remove any self-imposed expectations you are putting on yourself re: your "performance" in the lesson. There is no rush to master skiing, and no right or wrong rate of progression. Take the pressure off yourself, and let yourself ease into the experience. If you spend the entire lesson simply getting comfortable in your ski gear, with minimal slope action, that is perfectly fine. Let your instructor know in advance about your anxiety. A good teacher will have experience with teaching fearful students (fear is not at all rare, by the way -- you have lots of company!), and will put extra effort into your head game.

And always remember you are in control of the situation. If it becomes too much, you can ask to dial it down, take a break, and regroup.

My one concern is that it's a pretty common phenomenon for well-meaning boyfriends/husbands to stress out their partner by being overly "helpful" during a lesson. Maybe have a talk with yours before the lesson to make sure he lets the instructor do all the teaching, and set boundaries about how much support you want from him?

Enjoy your snow adventure. Deep breaths, go with the flow, you can do this thing.
posted by nacho fries at 7:25 PM on January 19, 2014

I don't ski, in part because I think I've had the same instructors as you. What would have helped me, I think, is early instruction on how to fall. If you get in trouble, knowing how to fall (relatively safely) can make all the difference. Perhaps ask for tips on this?
posted by Morrigan at 8:27 PM on January 19, 2014

I was born in the tropics and had no experience with snow or snow sports until my late twenties. When I first started skiing, I thought it was impossible. Now I'm a decent skier and I love to do it. So, first thing, it's entirely possible for you to do this.

My first experience on skis was as a cross country skate skier. It was so difficult for me, I could not even get my skis on my feet in less than fifteen minutes. Often one of the skis would slide away from me and I had to limp down with one ski on to retrieve it. I was terrified of even the smallest hill. I avoided them if I could. When I couldn't, I fell. Hard. I can't even tell you why I kept skiing. But I did and I eventually was good enough to go miles and miles over even very hilly terrain.

By the time I went downhill for the first time (as a thirty year old), I was pretty comfortable on skis. I took a lesson as a beginner but I was more competent than most of the other students because of my cross country experience.

So, my advice is, cross country as much as you can before the trip and do not give up. You will fall. It's going to be hard. You will feel small, uncoordinated, and foolish. If you enjoy even any shred of the skiing experience, cling on to that and don't quit. You'll be so proud of yourself.
posted by amodelcitizen at 9:03 PM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

You've got a lot of good advice upthread. One thing my ski instructor aunt taught me umpteen years ago that I still use is " You can always take your skis off and walk."
Also, make sure you are really comfortable with stopping, side stepping up or down the hill before you get out on the downhills. Maybe practice getting up and down from sitting on the hill too, then falling may not be as scary. Good luck and have fun!
posted by bookrach at 4:09 AM on January 20, 2014

Why go through such torture?

Every activity and sport does not have to be enjoyed and learned. Many people say: Fuck snowboarding, and go on to live awesome happy lives. Consider this a perfectly valid option.

You have 2 problems:

a group that's more experienced than you (inc your husband).

fear from improper training - you can't suddenly undo this the day of your trip with this group. You need safe, private, unrushed time to properly learn. Tell your husband and group you'll join then in a month - if at all.
posted by Kruger5 at 6:05 AM on January 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

You need private lessons as others have already stated. Once I learned how to snowplough and stop properly, I was a lot more confident on the hill. Also, learn how to fall down properly.

It's really important to make sure you have the proper size skis. I have seen people get frustrated with skiing, when the real issue was that they didn't have the right size skis or boots.

Good luck! I grew up playing the snow and it's the best thing in the world.
posted by futureisunwritten at 6:22 AM on January 20, 2014

Taking a xcountry class to ANY kind of a hill is far from a beginner level, what a jerk. Skiing is really worth spending the time to get past the initial difficulty. But it does take 4-5 days to learn the bits of skills to be comfortable. Do spend the time practicing the skills like side slipping and stopping. I've struggled to be patient with someone that did not get it at first, the joy it ultimately provided made it very worth the effort.
posted by sammyo at 6:31 AM on January 20, 2014

In addition to the chorus above for lessons, I'll add that skiing for more than two days in a row will do lots to help you become a better skier faster. I think it's about muscle memory and exercising new skills soon after you learn them that allows for quicker "mastery".
Also, look around at a local gym for "ski fitness" class's, they can help you develop strength in the areas required, which will be a huge help.
posted by dbmcd at 6:52 AM on January 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

I ate it hard twice, panicked, and took off my snowboard and walked the rest of the way down.

I fell, and she suggested that I just go back to the lodge and get a refund for the lesson.

You have to change your thinking to "get back on the horse" - you WILL fall, that's part of learning, and it's no big deal. Wear puffy layered clothing and look forward to a warm bath & a hot toddy later. Try to learn how to fall so that it hurts least - keep your head from hitting the ground, fall back instead of onto your knees, that kind of thing, but expect to fall. Even plenty of people who are really good still wipe out now and then - the key is to fall in a way that is controlled instead of tumbling out of control down a hill or something. If you didn't cause an injury, you're doing fine!
posted by mdn at 8:26 AM on January 20, 2014

Another person saying skiing is way easier to get the hang of than snowboarding.

I learned both as an adult. I am utterly un-sporty, literally failed gym class, etc.

Snowboarding was kind of fun because all the hot guys were doing it but it was also often scary, I was always on my ass, and I still have nightmares about trying to get off the lift.

Skiing, which I tried after, is the one and only sport I enjoy. It was a total breeze, you can use both legs as God intended, and you can stop without falling—I think I only fell once or twice in 8 days of skiing.
posted by thebazilist at 8:35 AM on January 20, 2014

Use really really short skis - some people find snowboarding more natural [maybe they used to skateboard, idk] but I didn't find it so - being able to move your legs independently is more natural than being locked into a snowboard. You are going to fall, everyone does. Falling is a sign that you are challenging your limits. My first time falling was the first time I put my skis on, my second was when I tried to get off the damn chair lift. All three of us fell in a clack of skis akimbo and "I hope no one saw that", and they had to stop the lift - which is a regular event btw. Fuck em.

Skiing has a really steep initial learning curve. It's so much fun but it's become a status sport where the quality of your gear matters most. This bothers me immensely.

Fuck em, wipe out, fall down, use short skis and have fun.
posted by vapidave at 10:55 PM on January 20, 2014

Thank you so much for all the advice! I literally worried myself sick over it and the mountain was super crowded so we decided to skip the lesson yesterday. I did go fart around a tiny bit in the beginners' area, just sliding around and getting used to my gear. I also chatted with the guy at the lessons desk and I'm set up for a series of three private half-day lessons mid-week next week. I think that will be much better for me. I'm not afraid of falling as much as I fear being out of control - ramming someone/something or having someone ram me. That was a big part of the problem at Squaw. It was so crowded that day that I didn't feel like I had any room to maneuver and that I had better get up FAST or someone was going to ski into my face.
posted by tealcake at 8:03 AM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's easier than it looks to avoid a moving skier, and even easier to avoid a non-moving skier. It took me about four hours to get over my fear of falling, and I still fall one or two times when I go skiing. Usually when I try to go faster than I feel like I can control. Some days the fear is gone, some days it's rather great and I'm stopping every three minutes. How to fall, how to turn and how to stop are the most important things to learn. Once you have that, those green slopes will turn into fun times!
posted by herbaliser at 4:34 PM on January 24, 2014

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