Critique my downhill ski kit & tell me how to make the most of it.
November 8, 2014 12:27 PM   Subscribe

New to Colorado, grew up skiing a couple times a year on the east coast, then stopped for a while. Now I have a local season pass. Help me acclimate to skiing out west once a week or so this winter, given my current abilities, gear, budget, and goals.

Skiing background:
Skiing is one of very few sports that feels "natural" to me, as someone who's never been athletic and has a below average sense of balance and coordination. I thank my parents for putting me on skis when I was three, and giving me a chance to go skiing at least a couple times a year near where I grew up in Maryland from then until age 18.

Current abilities:
I'm 31 now, and I've probably skied 7 days total in the past decade; four of those were last year, which was my first experience with lots of natural powder, which I find really, really different than the icy, manmade snow I grew up on. But I was still able to ski groomed intermediate runs comfortably, shorter/easier groomed black diamond runs with care, and one ungroomed 5 mile intermediate run with lots of stopping in 2 foot powder wondering if I was going to die of heat stroke.

Get more comfortable skiing in natural snow, powder, and altitude.
Be a highly competent casual skiier, (eventually) able to ski 80-90% of most non-backcountry terrain out here comfortably.
General exercise & fun times.

What I've got:
I have a patchwork kit of ski gear (pictures here). I have a Subaru with a ski rack. I have an Epic Local pass. I have free time to drive out to the slopes one day a week. I have one friend who's a slightly better skiier than I am, and a partner who's just learning how to get down a beginner slope without falling.
I do not have: a large budget. I'm applying for PhD programs right now and trying to live like I'm going to be on a $26,000/year salary for the next 5 years. I can slowly track down gently used gear to upgrade my stuff, but probably won't be buying anything new.

Help me prioritize:
- Lessons: I have a vague sense that I should take a lesson or two, but can't afford more than that this season. Should I do this early on, or after I've had 4 or 5 days on the slopes?
- Maintenance: As a kid we just sent our skis for "a tune up" every year (possibly because we were growing and needed the bindings adjusted for new weights). How often should I be maintaining my skis, and how? What can I do at home, and how often should I be doing it, considering that I'm not going to be racing or doing high performance stuff?
- Gear: See above link for pictures. I bought the Rossignols off Craigslist in 2010 in San Francisco, with bindings (which have been adjusted for me & my boots). The boots I bought new in... 2000? but they fit great and none of the foam is disintegrating. I assume there are lighter and better things available, some of which I can find used, but what should I be prioritizing for upgrades? What's most likely to make a difference in my enjoyment as a casual but frequent skiier?
- Other: Anything else haven't I thought of?
posted by deludingmyself to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total)
I learned to ski in New England but now spend two month in Utah every year, where they don't believe me when I explain about boilerplate. Take the lesson early and get a private session if you can swing it. The skills that served you well growing up won't use the technology available on 2010 Rossis to advantage, especially in powder or on the bumps. A good instructor can quickly help you adapt, which will contribute greatly to your endurance and enjoyment.
posted by carmicha at 12:45 PM on November 8, 2014

Gear: Four-year-old skis should do you for now. You might want to set aside some money to spend on new boots at the end-of-season sales next spring. When you have the chance, rent some "demo" skis, which are high-end rentals, better quality than the regular ones, and that might give you an idea of what kind of skis you'll want to buy next. Again, end-of-season sales are your friends.

Maintenance: I would bring the skis into a ski shop local to you (not on the mountain, it's a lot more expensive the closer you get to the hill) and ask to have them tuned up and the bindings set for your weight/ski style before you start the season. Also, this is something you can learn to do yourself: we always maintained our own skis when I was a kid, although it helps to have a workbench with a mounted vice. Tuning up basically means have the bindings checked, the bottoms repaired (if there are any gouges) and smoothed out, and the edges sharpened. You shouldn't need to do it more than once a year unless you get a lot of skiing in, or bang them up by skiing over rocks or tree roots (which can certainly happen early in the season).

Lessons: many ski areas have free or cheap group lessons occasionally for adults. Ask around, but also consider investing in a couple of small-group or even one-on-one lessons after you have a few more days skiing in. Personal advice from a really good teacher will help a lot. Also, ski with people better than you are: they will challenge you.

Skiing in the west tends to be warmer and dryer than the Northeast (although the coldest ski day I've had in the last decade was at Winter Park two years ago). Think layers; invest in some decent long underwear ( or Sierra Depot are good options). Get a good pair of goggles, and good socks if you are prone to cold feet. Get a helmet: it'll keep your head warm and may save your life. Helmets are standard now, and it's becoming unusual to see a skier without one.

And have fun! I love to ski and probably won't be able to do much of it this year, since I'm in California and it doesn't look like there will be any snow again this year...
posted by suelac at 1:23 PM on November 8, 2014

Former Coloradoan who misses the mountains here. You are so lucky!!

I wouldn't worry about the skis/boots/poles themselves. You've got some good gear, and it is going to be fantastic to learn on. It should last you quite some time. And by then, if you meet your goals, what you will want out of your gear will be completely different from what you would want today. (This is important - if you meet your goals, what you spend money on now will be wasted!!)

Prioritize as follows:

1) Helmet.

2) Lesson(s). How many and when depends on how your learn. Benefits to getting a lesson in early: you are starting off with good habits, and an instructor might spot if your gear needs to be adjusted and advise on that (improperly adjusted gear can be miserable). Benefits to getting a lesson after a few days of skiing: you will know exactly what you can and can't do, what you want to work on, etc. Look at the descriptions for 'beginner' 'intermediate' 'advanced' and test out where you really are on the mountain. Then when you schedule the lesson, you know exactly what to ask for and don't waste a half day in a lesson in the wrong group.

(3) Small backpack to carry water and food in. Staying hydrated is going to be your biggest key to managing the altitude, and you will burn calories like crazy. That stuff is ridiculously expensive on the mountain. Buy in Denver and bring it with you! (And this way you don't have to hike all the way back to your car, which sucks, because free parking is way the heck out there and you lose like a quarter of your day!) I have a regular hiking camelbak that I wear under my jacket so that the water doesn't freeze. I stuff a sandwich, nuts, a tangerine and some food bars in the pockets of that or my jacket.

(4) Clothes. You're not going to enjoy this or meet your goals if you're miserable! Don't necessarily make any big purchase right away - see where the holes are (literally, sometimes, that's where the wind gets in) and then fix as necessary. (If there are actually holes - duct tape works.) I'd start with a decent pair of gloves. And I definitely would think in layers. Things can go from freezing to way too friggin hot in a moment. And then back again. A few lighter/medium weight tops under a windproof and waterproof covering jacket are a lot more effective than a t shirt (too cold) under a big heavy parka (too hot)! (And those type of tops, like the camelbak above, can also then be used for hiking in the summer. Which you should definitely try too!)

(5) Maintenance. I wouldn't worry about professional maintenance/tuning unless (i) an instructor advises you that something isn't adjusted properly for your height/weight/ability or (ii) you have a big crash and things feel out of whack afterwards. I didn't tune my skis for years. Years.... Daily maintenance is going to be more important - don't leave them outside where snow and gunk can freeze in the bindings (or wipe them down with a cloth if you do) store them upright (like in your picture) so that stuff drains out them. When you get back to town, take them off the roof rack and wipe them down to get road gunk off of them. And pro-tip - don't store your boots in a garage over the summer - spiders will inhabit them. Ewwww.

Have fun!!
posted by susiswimmer at 2:21 PM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Really appreciate the advice so far. For folks just tuning in: I do have a (12 year old, but good condition) helmet, as well as goggles, ski pants, and lots of appropriate cold-weather gear from living in Michigan the past two winters. I also have a smallish Osprey backpack with a slide-in water bladder + hose, although I've never worn a backpack skiing before. Don't know why I didn't think to mention any of that.

Maintenance follow-up question: no one has mentioned wax. Do I need to be re-applying some kind of basic wax if I'm skiing once a week in normal CO conditions, or is that beyond the level of things I'm going to notice as a frequent but casual skier?
posted by deludingmyself at 3:36 PM on November 8, 2014

yeah, wax. Its actually the most important element of a tune. You probably dont need it too too often but at least twice a year: before the season begins and just before you put skis away for the summer.

So: Bring your skis in for a tune up now. It shouldnt be too expensive, unless your bases are in really rough shape.

I cant comment on your skis and boots -- I ski only backcountry so its a bit of a different ecosystem -- but others say they are fine. I'd think about keeping your eyes open in April, as shops clear inventory and sell demo skis. Skis are something you should never need to pay full retail on.

Boots, though. If yours are comfy and warm, then you probably don't want to. mess with a good thing. Otherwise, this is the one item you should spend a lot of time getting right and this is the one thing you might have to accept will involve a considerable up front investment. Good fit is much much more important than performance characteristics. You can ski with a too soft or too stiff boot, but you can cause real damage with a fancy boot that simply doesn't fit.

Lessons. My feeling is that given that your experience level is such that it will be difficult to find useful productive group lessons. You may be too good for the 'intermediate' lessons... Private lessons are -- if you have a good instructor -- kind of ideal. They are pretty expensive though. One option is to get together with two or three others and see if you can get a half day for you and your friends.

Or just forgo the lessons altogether. Your main issues right now are probably not that there is more and deeper snow, but more just base fitness (and maybe altitude). Get a good cv base right now and when the skiing begins, go often and lots. Being in shape >> lessons.
posted by bumpkin at 8:14 PM on November 8, 2014

You should get a new helmet even if your current one looks like it's in good condition. The protective foam padding dries out over time, so at a certain point it doesn't really compress in a collision so much as crack. 12 years is old. Watch out for your noggin!
posted by waninggibbon at 8:21 PM on November 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Skiing on powder really takes it out of your quads. Anything you can do to build leg strength will help a ton.
posted by fshgrl at 1:16 AM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I grew up skiing in Southern Ontario but have been living in Vancouver and skiing Whistler Blackcomb for almost 10 years now.

I would try getting a lesson or two in the early going to prevent you from getting into bad habits. There may be early season lesson deals or other ways to do this inexpensively. After that, riding with your friend who is better than you should provide the motivation and perhaps occasional pointers which should be helpful. Once you get past the fundamental stuff, most of skiing is confidence and balance. Having the right mindset and not being terrified of falling on harder runs is important so that you can concentrate on where you want to go, where your weight is, etc.

Your general fitness makes a big difference. Being prepared for the cardio requirements, and having strong legs, core, and balance will help a lot.

Others may disagree, but as long as your gear is working properly (most importantly, your bindings), I think regular tuning is more important in the East. Especially if money is a concern and you hope to upgrade equipment in the not too distant future, I'd let this part slide.

For equipment, I'd prioritize new skis over anything else. There are definitely better boots available, but comfort is one of the biggest factors and if you aren't having problems with that then I'd go with it for now. The type of skis you want depends a lot on what type of skier you are and what kind of terrain you will be skiing. If you want to be skiing more powder and black diamond above treeline terrain, wider skis will suit you much better. Not sure how tall you are, but with a 162 length and 69 mm width in the waist, you have some pretty short, narrow skis. These will be good on groomed runs in harder snow, but make it much more difficult to ski powder. Skis have been getting much wider in recent years and I've always been surprised at how easy they still are to ski groomed runs with and carve. I have last year's version of this ski in a 178 (I'm 5'7 but powder skis ski shorter) and for reference it has a waist of about 115mm. There are a ton of ski reviews available online to at least narrow down to a category or short list of skis that will suit you. At least at Whistler, there are often demo days where manufacturers come to the hill and have skis available to try for free. Do this a few times and you'll get a great sense of what works for you. As others have said, end of year sales, end of season demo skis, ski swaps, or craigslist are probably your best bets.
posted by sinical at 9:09 AM on November 9, 2014

Re: your follow up maintenance question. You really won't need wax in "normal Colorado conditions" snow. Its a lot softer and sweeter than the rubble hard pack that occurs back East. The more snow melts and refreezes, and the more time between snows, the harder snow gets and the more important it is to wax. So very important back East, not so important in Colorado. That being said, if you're going to be doing early season (Nov./Dec.) or late season (April) there's a lot more to be said for a wax right before and right after that part of the season.

I'd wait and see how you feel about the clothes. Skiing in Colorado is a lot of work - high altitude, deep powder, much steeper, moguls (my favorite part!). So you generate a lot of heat. Gear that is mostly designed to insulate can work against you here! Windproofing and waterproofing is where it's at. Also, if you do decide to get a new helmet, you can really help the whole heat situation by getting one with vents that you can control with a little slide. You get a little overheated, open the vents, voila - you're cooled off. Start to get a little chilly - slide 'em back closed to stay warmer.

Gaar - I'm so jealous. It looks like California is going to get the short end of the snow stick again this year.
posted by susiswimmer at 10:28 AM on November 9, 2014

Response by poster: Not sure how tall you are, but with a 162 length and 69 mm width in the waist, you have some pretty short, narrow skis. These will be good on groomed runs in harder snow, but make it much more difficult to ski powder. Skis have been getting much wider in recent years and I've always been surprised at how easy they still are to ski groomed runs with and carve.

I'm 5'3", and yeah, - the skis I saw out there last season were way, way wider than anything I've ever strapped to my feet.
posted by deludingmyself at 12:04 PM on November 9, 2014

If you want to ski powder get some powder skis. Something wide with a longer upturned tip. I love the Rossignol Super 7's. Here in Utah we have some 2nd hand gear shops, I bet Colorado has some of the same or cruise craigslist for deals.

The best way to get good at skiing? Ski as much as possible in all conditions. If you're skiing once a week you should do a wax job now, and then one around February or March.
posted by trbrts at 4:26 PM on November 10, 2014

Like doctoring, it's really hard to do this stuff over the internet, because every person and situation require different advice, so take any answers you get to this question -- even this one -- as guidance rather than absolutes. Your goals are to get comfortable skiing in your new environment and improve your skiing, so let's focus on that. Since money is tight, you are also looking to optimize return on investment.

I'm a ski instructor, so I might be biased, but IMO the best way to move toward your goals is going to be through lessons (and skiing a lot.) There is nothing obvious about your equipment that will get in the way of your goals.

I would get a lesson or two early in the season, and practice what they tell you to do. Get more lessons if you can afford them, and look for deals. IMO the money I have spent on lessons has done more for my skiing and enjoyment than anything I have spent on gear (gear is disposable; lessons are for life.) A good teacher will nip any developing bad habits in the bud, and should also be able to weigh in on the suitability of your skis.

Private lessons are expensive, but worth it on a dollars/attention basis if you get a good teacher (it is not rude or nasty to be insistent that you get one; too many people are way too accepting of crappy lessons.) Still, if money is tight, there is nothing wrong with appropriate group lessons, as long as you are willing to accept slower progress. You will not become a great skier overnight, and not without a lot of practice either way, so slower progress is not the end of the world.

Since you can already make it down most of the mountain okay, I'd look into whether your mountain offers transition or powder clinics geared towards intermediate Eastern skiers looking to adjust their technique for the West. Call and talk to the ski school director, and tell them what you told us (including how much you are willing to spend,) so they can point you in the right direction. Clinics are fun because you usually get a decent amount of individualized attention while getting to ski with people of varying abilities. You can learn a lot by watching what they're doing right and wrong.

Boots are the most important piece of gear. Normally I tell people that boots over 10 years old are a dicey proposition, since over time the plastic gets brittle, leading to cracking. Having said that, your boots look to be a lower-level version of a pair that I got at least 700 days out of over 12 years, and which I finally had to retire because the liners were falling apart -- the shells were and are still solid -- so you're probably good for a little while, a season or two anyway. Still, start setting aside a fund for new boots just in case. That's assuming the fit is good (comfort is just one component of good fit.) Boots can be comfortable, but too loose. Your teacher can help you figure that out.

Unless you are way too heavy for the skis, I'm sure you can make these work for at least one season, especially if money is an issue. As you progress in your ability you will probably find them to be lacking in one area or another. Don't waste your time thinking about new skis until your current skis tell you how they're holding you back, and work really really hard to tune out your gearhead friends who tell you that the skis are the most important piece of gear, and that you need a specific kind of ski for a specific kind of snow, because I can guarantee you your friends suck just as much on their $1500 rigs as they did on their Sports Authority setups. When YOU and your skis decide that new skis are what you need, the best deals are in the spring and summer.

A budget tune won't hurt, but if you're doing most of your skiing in loose snow your edges won't matter so much. I'd advise a basic wax job, just because some wax in your bases helps them perform better and last longer, but unless you're a racer I wouldn't get too hung up on getting it done more often than every 10 times you go out or so, and maybe even not that much. Honestly, for intermediate recreational skiing out west, once a season is probably fine. If you haven't had them waxed in a while, go ahead and get that done. If you pay over 20 bucks for that, you're paying too much. I wouldn't sweat it too hard if you forget to wax them, unless they really don't go at all in fresh snow, or the snow is actually sticking to the bases.

See if your shop will throw in a binding set and check with the waxing, just to make sure you don't injure yourself unnecessarily. If they want to charge more than 5 or 10 bucks for that, find another shop or bring the guys some homemade cookies or a six-pack and I'm sure they'll find a way to make it happen.
posted by Opposite George at 5:14 PM on November 14, 2014

« Older Good-bye, supplements! Hello, dietary calcium! But...   |   Planning a trip to Puerto Rico Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.