What should I expect my first time skiing?
December 12, 2006 12:26 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to visit my boyfriend's family with him over New Years weekend, and he just casually mentioned to me that there'd definitely been some skiing involved. I've never been skiing before, ever. What should I expect?

Apparently teaching me would be a quite frustrating experience for the boyfriend, so my options are either get lessons or hang out in the lodge all day. If I hang out in the lodge I will definitely get my fare shair of heckling from his family, so.. lessons it is. I'm not sure if it'll be an instructor or a group, but I'm pretty sure it'll be just a group.

But, to the question. For someone who has never EVER so much as put a pair of skis on in her life, what should I expect? Please try and be as positive as possible.. I'm a bit nervous about this. Okay, a lot. I'm pretty sure there will be a lot of falling involved, and the thought of doing all of this with a group of strangers doesn't really seem too appealing.
posted by sherber to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: That reminds me of this post on a blog I read occasionally, which I think sums the whole thing up rather nicely.

You might want to try snowboarding instead. You fall a lot more at the beginning but you get the hang of it a lot faster.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:47 AM on December 12, 2006

It's mostly muscle memory and anyone can learn quickly with half-decent rentals. The snow is soft, even when it's hard. The instructor will probably demonstrate how to fall on your side and get back up again. You might learn quickly; it might take a bit longer with bad boots or bad instructors. A lot of people fall in love with the sport on the first day for life, so you can't risk not trying. You'll probably have a great time; otherwise, still try a few more times in different conditions.
posted by aye at 12:48 AM on December 12, 2006

It's a lot of fun. If you have the equipment and snow available, put it on and tramp about the back yard a little ahead of time to get the feel for it. Strong legs, esp. quads helps a lot in making up for technique, so a bit of training ahead of time can help.

One key tip for you is that it actually gets easier to maneuver when you head more directly down the fall line (straight down the slope) and have a little more speed to work with. If you get into trouble just sitting down on bunny slopes should stop you. Even though you're having fun, don't overdo it. When your legs start turning to jello, it's time to head to the lodge. I've seen more than one friend destroy their knees getting careless and lazy at the end of the day.

Ice skating skills, esp. the hockey stop translate well, so if you have a rink nearby, its a fun way to gain a little edge.
posted by Manjusri at 12:50 AM on December 12, 2006

I've never been skiing, but I've been snowboarding several times and I love it. You could try that out instead--most ski resorts are about 50/50 skiers and snowboarders these days.

The first run will take you forever, but it gets a little easier every time you go down. Have fun!
posted by zardoz at 1:08 AM on December 12, 2006

It's great fun - I've only been a couple of times, and the key things that I'd pass on are:

(a) ensure you've got an instructor that you can understand
(b) learn to fall over properly - you'll do it a lot!
(c) learn to get up easily, using your poles to support you
(d) learn how to stop without falling over
(e) learn to stand still on a slope (skis sideways, poles lower down beneath the ski)
(f) learn to "walk" in your skis - I still can't do it, and just end up shuffling back and forward. Failing that, practice walking in ski boots - it's trickier than youd imagine.
(g) ski lifts are easy, so long as you don't let yourself get scared of them. Don't panic when getting off.
(h) take some time to get to the top of a mountain (even if it's by cable car up and down) - enjoy the view, take some photos, drink some hot wine!
(i) your legs will ache
(j) your shoulders will most likely ache if you've been propelling yourself along the flats using your poles
(k) your bruises will ache - make time to have a hot bath; take arnica cream with you
(l) never think "I can't do this" - grit and determination and "I will do this properly, dammit!" is the only way
(m) don't get too pissed at the 5 year-olds who come zooming past you on one ski, without poles
(n) don't let any of your party take you up slopes that you're not confident/comfortable with. Stay on the greens until you can get all the way down without panicking and/or falling over
(o) enjoy yourself massively!

Apologies for the length - it took me a couple of week-long ski holidays to figure out that these are pretty much the only important things to remember.

One last one:

(p) avoid trees, posts, pillars, sheer drops, people who've fallen over, and snowboarders who've just stopped and sat down

posted by Chunder at 1:30 AM on December 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Do you rollerblade? They're the off-season training equipment of choice for ski racers. They use the same turning muscles.

Do you surf or skateboard? Then maybe -- maybe -- try snowboarding.

Truth is, if you think this will be an isolated weekend rather than the start of a new passion, then stick to skis. You really do spend the first few days bruising your butt and your knees trying to learn to snowboard, whereas you fall a lot less during a first day on skis.

And I snowboard.

Also worth noting, New Years weekend is among the busiest weekends of the season. The hill will be extremely crowded -- especially the bunny slopes. Picture a poorly designed slolem course with humans for obstacle markers. I wouldn't want to be a newbie on the hill that weekend.
posted by nadise at 1:56 AM on December 12, 2006

Apparently teaching me would be a quite frustrating experience for the boyfriend

Your bf's suggesting lessons is a good sign, IMO. When you do get to the top of the mountain you'll see no end of asshole boyfriends convinced they know how to teach skiing and forcing their new-to-skiing girlfriends down hills they aren't ready for (usually throwing in a bit of a power trip to make the experience extra-special.) If he's a mensch, he'll do a couple of green-trail runs with you in the afternoon, following your pace or even pushing it just a little to improve your skiing without making it into a big macho trip.

I'm pretty sure it'll be just a group.
Group lessons are fine when you're starting out. Your first time out you'll probably be on the beginner slope the whole day anyway.

For someone who has never EVER so much as put a pair of skis on in her life, what should I expect?
Don't listen to anybody's learning-to-ski horror stories, especially if they take place more than a couple of years ago. The new-style equipment makes the sport so much easier than it used to be that even the pros use it. And the new equipment's improved the sport's safety so much that all those cartoons of the past with ski bums in casts lying around the lodge are, well, cartoons of the past.

Even if bf has old equipment you can use, insist on rentals, at least on day one. Why? Because novice lessons go best on pretty up-to-date stuff designed for beginners, and also because his old boots almost certainly won't fit you right. Get the cheapest rentals until you're pretty confident on the blue slopes and beyond; unless you're Babe Didrikson Zaharias that won't happen in one weekend.

You might find the boots a bit uncomfortable - that's part of the game - but if after the first lesson you're experiencing crushing pain anywhere or your toes are extra cold (a sign of bad circulation) go back to the rental desk and make them take time with you to find a better-fitting pair. The same applies if your feet move around a lot in the boots. The overall feel should be snug but not unbearable. You should be able to wiggle your toes, and your heel should be held pretty securely in the pocket of the boot when you lean forward. Poor-fitting boots can lead to blisters, bruises (black toenail - eeew!) and pain so be persistent on this.

Ice skating is the closest sport, movement-wise, to downhill skiing. If you're a rollerblader or ice skater, once you feel comfortable staying up use the skating part of your brain and turning and stopping will be much easier.

Like I said, you might not get off the beginner slope the first day but don't wait too long to try a green slope further up the mountain. This is a great opportunity to bring understanding bf along to help with confidence. Take your time. You'll fall a lot but it won't hurt - even well-packed snow is pretty soft. The worst thing to do is try to catch yourself with your hands. Stay loose when you fall and try to land on your butt or your side and you'll be fine.

It can't be said enough about your clothing: Layer, LAYER, LAYER. Don't worry about how your getup looks - if you start skiing a lot you'll develop an understanding of what you want; you need this before you go shopping. Don't be afraid to take things off/put things on over the course of the day to maintain a comfortable temperature - if you're sweating you're too warm and you need to deal with that before your clothes get waterlogged and you get very cold. You'll be falling a lot your first day out and unless it's very cold and the snow is very powdery your body heat will melt the snow you pick up when you fall so wear a wind-tight, fairly waterproof outer layer to keep from getting soaked. Synthetics are good for this. Leave the jeans and Carhartt home if you can. Don't forget gloves (and fairly wind-proof ones; leather and knit gloves are out so if you don't have appropriate ones pick up a pair before you get to the hill) and a hat. Rent a helmet if that's your thing - I wear one all the time but all my cool friends laugh at me.

Wear thin socks - the thinner the better; today's boots have a thick inner boot that'll keep you plenty warm. The only caveat is if you have problem arches you might want something with a little padding on the bottom but wait at least a day before you decide that.

If it's going to be windy, bring something you can use to cover your face (if you use a scarf tuck the ends inside your jacket so it doesn't get caught in anything.) Bring some lip balm and consider using sunscreen - you'll be outside all day and even if it's cold you can still get burned.

don't get too pissed at the 5 year-olds who come zooming past you on one ski, without poles

I've been skiing for almost 30 years and I still get pissed at those kids, probably 'cause they're still all better than me (and they look the same as they did 30 years ago too - mostly blurry!)
posted by Opposite George at 2:52 AM on December 12, 2006

And, duh, comments about crowds notwithstanding, skiing is hella fun! When you go back on a less-crowded day, it'll just be more so.

Welcome to the sport.
posted by Opposite George at 2:54 AM on December 12, 2006

Intro ski lessons usually last an hour or two, and then you are on your own. Everybody has to practice during the lesson, so you will not be stared at by strangers. Don't worry about performance anxiety. There will be a lot of adults in the lesson, they will all suck, and there will be no direct focus on you.

Attitude will get you everywhere. You have to constantly tell yourself that you can do it.

The first day skiing is a long one if you are on your own all day. It is much more pleasant/enjoyable if there is somebody (preferably another newbie that you know) on the bunny hill with you taking lessons and practicing with you. Also, ask your boyfriend to take a green run or two with you after lunch. It's more fun and a big confidence boost.

Attire: think waterproof. Skiing is hard work; you will be sweating and as long as you keep moving you'll probably keep warm fairly easily. However, you will spend a lot of time falling and getting wet. You need waterproof gloves. There is nothing worse than having wet and cold hands.

Your first day is best done in fairly dry and calm weather. If it's raining, windy, or if there's heavy wet snow, I'd seriously consider taking a pass and staying in the lodge (even if the others insist on skiing on the appointed day).

Many ski resorts have nordic areas for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. If there are multiple days of skiing involved, you may want to try downhill one day and cross-country another day. I like cross-country skiing. It's a good workout.

Good luck and have fun.
posted by crazycanuck at 3:11 AM on December 12, 2006

Best answer: As everyone has said, don't worry overly about it. You will fall, and you won't be the only one. Nobody will laugh, because they've all been through the same thing. Hell, I've been skiing for at least 10 years, and just about once per ski trip I will have a spectacular, rolling down the hill, skis gone flying off my feet, legs akimbo, snow down my back and up my nose, wipeout. The key is, stand up, take a bow, go pick up your shit, and get right back to it. The thing is, unless you're taking TONS of lessons (which, frankly, you really don't have the time for before the New Year's weekend), you're still just going to end up skiing on the green runs all day any way. You'll still probably receive some good natured ribbing from his family. But it'll all be in good fun, and a good bonding experience.
posted by antifuse at 3:28 AM on December 12, 2006

The key is, stand up, take a bow, go pick up your shit, and get right back to it.

You'll know skiing is for you if you find yourself laughing your ass off when that happens - a good wipeout is still one of the most fun things IMO.

Stay loose, physically and mentally, and you'll have a blast.
posted by Opposite George at 3:36 AM on December 12, 2006

Loads of great advice. I've introduced lots of people to skiing and a combination of determination and readiness to lie on one's back laughing and swearing at the same time after a fall is key. Basically, you don't want to fall, but you don't care that much if you do.

Make friends with the others you are learning with, it's much more fun if you can share the joys and frustrations. Also, they can offer you advice that the instructor might have missed or not phrased right for you.

Finally, get a healthy balance between lessons and unsupervised practice. You need free time to keep trying stops and turns on your own, without pressure.

And remember - it's all about the edges of the skis!
posted by Busy Old Fool at 4:44 AM on December 12, 2006

take time with you to find a better-fitting pair. (of boots)

This is key. Go in with good thick wool socks to provide padding that allows a snug but painless fit. Another pair of moisture wicking socks underneath can be good.

Loose boots will suck, because before you have the hang of the flow you will need to steer your skis just by turning your feet. Lighter shorter skis can be easier for a beginner. Tell the rental guys this is your first time so they can set the binding release tension appropriately, and ask them to check that the edges are not too dull.

Probably the most fun you will have is riding the T-Bar lift up the hill, and if you can get the hang of that you will have accomplished something.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:40 AM on December 12, 2006

Great advice so far.
One more thing: if you can afford it, go for private lessons from the start. One or two hours, then you have all day to practice.
And begin every day with another lesson if you feel like it. The teachers I have had over the years were all great to put me in control of my skis and allow me to enjoy skiing.
posted by bru at 6:04 AM on December 12, 2006

On new equipment that fits you can actually become competent enough to start having fun on skis relatively quickly. I would strongly recommend skiing instead of snowboarding if this is an isolated thing - at base, skis still work as basic snow transportation, which is not true at all of a snowboard until one achieves some competence.

I was a ski instructor for a while, and one thing I noticed for many students, children and adults alike, was that they "got it" more quickly when they understood what was supposed to be happening. It can sound complicated, talking about force and gravity and stuff, but really it's very simple and you can start having the feeling of how it all works very easily on your first day.

So - ask "why". Try to find out from your instructor how skis turn, and how that relates to the things you're doing. Knowing this won't necessarily make it happen - there's a lot to do with your body to make everything work. But if you know the theory, you'll start to recognize when you do something that matches that, and you'll have information that will help you to improve.

Above all, know that you're going to have a blast. Instructors are generally pretty good these days, as far as I can tell, and they have learned how to help people get to the point where they're having fun pretty quickly.
posted by mikel at 6:21 AM on December 12, 2006

I second the go for a private lesson if you can afford it route. A couple of hours of one-on-one training can pay off several times over when it comes to having an enjoyable day skiing vice a frustrating day!

Something to consider... call ahead and see how full the classes have been. Sometimes you can pay the group rate and end up with only a couple of people in the class.
posted by matty at 6:27 AM on December 12, 2006

Best answer: A scuba instructor once told me he couldn't teach people he was dating: "They don't listen to you."
Not wanting to teach you is not necessarily a bad thing.
But if he refuses to ski with you at least a half-day on the greens once you get comfortable, give him hell.

On clothing, little to add:

The layers should be thin. Don't take every bulky sweater you own. Put on everything you plan to wear before you leave to see if it's comfortable and not too restrictive. And for your base layer, new thin wool products like smartwool and axuwool are superb.
posted by Phred182 at 6:31 AM on December 12, 2006

If you're not a winter-sports type, you probably don't already own the specialized clothes (like the above mentioned water-proof layers and thin wool products) you'll need to be comfortable on the mountain. And that stuff -- not cheap. Take it from me: throwing on a fleece jacket from Old Navy and a pair of cotton long underwear under a pair of jeans will not get you ready for the mountain. Ask all your friends -- and your boyfriends female family members -- if they have any ski jackets, pants, or other gear they can loan you for the day.
posted by junkbox at 6:43 AM on December 12, 2006

You'll be fine.
I've been skiing since I was a little kid, but I have taken plenty of newbies skiing, and they always had fun. As long as you are warm enough (you must have waterproof pants -- you can rent them) what could be bad? Snow is soft; you won't hurt yourself. I have tried snowboarding, and while it is fun, it definitely requires a higher degree of athleticism than skiing.

It might seem a little weird to you that your boyfriend doesn't want to teach you, but Opposite George is absolutely right. You'll do better in a group lesson. When I have tried to teach people myself, there has been some frustration -- just because I (and your boyfriend) can do it, doesn't mean we can describe it, or even know really what it is we are doing.
posted by Methylviolet at 6:45 AM on December 12, 2006

I agree with pretty much everything that's been said above so far.

Some more notes on the boots, as having boots that are uncomfortable can really ruin your day:
* Your toes should just barely brush the front of the boot when you're standing fully upright. When you flex your knees and lean forward a little, your toes should pull back and have some room to wiggle.
* They should be snug, but not overly tight or restrictive. If you can't wiggle your toes, your feet will get very cold very quickly.
* Don't put ANYTHING in your boots besides your socks. Long underwear, jeans, flannel pants, ski pants... make sure all of that stuff is pulled up out of the boot or you'll be really uncomfortable.

Besides that, take a group lesson in the morning and have fun (i.e., don't decide to try it on your own for a few hours to get the hang of it before the lesson - you won't ;) ). You probably will fall a bit, but so will everybody else, and no one will care. Try not to get frustrated. Once you get over the initial hump, skiing is awesome.
posted by rachelv at 6:50 AM on December 12, 2006

(h) take some time to get to the top of a mountain (even if it's by cable car up and down) - enjoy the view, take some photos, drink some hot wine!

Just make sure that there is some way to get down! At many resorts, the only way down from the summit of the mountain is to ski an intermediate or expert trail. For a beginner, that will not be fun. Make sure that there is a level-appropriate way of descending before you get on any lift (and that could include downloading on a tram, gondola or chairlift. Just make sure that it is a possibility first.)

Definitely take lessons from a professional, not your boyfriend. It will be more fun for everyone involved.

The most important thing is to get boots that fit correctly. Err on the smaller side so long as the smaller size is not uncomfortable. Boots that are too big will make it much, much more difficult to learn.

Dress appropriately. Layer so that you can adjust tempurature level if necessary. Also, Gore-tex is your friend. (as are similar waterproof materials.) Waterproof ski pants are not optional. This applies doubly if you're snowboarding. You will spend a lot of time sitting on the snow day one. If you're wet, it will be much less fun.

Have fun!
posted by andrewraff at 6:59 AM on December 12, 2006

Remember: snow is soft. As long as you're not going faster than you're comfortable going, you won't be hurt badly when you fall down. You will fall down, everybody does. Odds are good that one of the first things you'll learn in your lessons is how to fall.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:06 AM on December 12, 2006

When I first learned to ski, the learning curve was incredible. Its one of those things that you think too much about and you never get the hang of because you're thinking too much and getting to nervous about falling. So basically the first day I spent hopelessly crumpled on the cold snow and felt incredibly frustrated. I was giving up all sense of hope when I went in for the day.

HOWEVER, The next morning I woke up, and magically I could ski pretty well! My body was rested, I'd forgotten the infinite checklist of things I was supposed to think about while skiing, and I was just going on instinct.

I'd say 'its like riding a bike' is the best description because you just have to try as hard as you can, avoid giving up despite how hopeless it seems, and suddenly your body will just develop its own sense of balance and everything will work great.

Good luck! Dont get frustrated!
posted by ZackTM at 7:41 AM on December 12, 2006

If there is a dry ski slope or something like that near you, then try and get a couple of lessons before you go.

The reason being is that they will teach you all the boring mundane stuff like how to put on ski's, how to take them off, walk up a mountain and other bits and bobs.

Once you get out there and get lessons you'll suddenly find yourself in the top of the absolute beginners class. This means that you won't waste stuff doing the boring stuff you did back home and will get straight onto a simple green and getting some skiing done.

Been going for 8+ years, love it every time.
posted by mr_silver at 8:14 AM on December 12, 2006

I snowboard, but I still recommend that you stick with skiing over snowboarding. The first few days of snowboarding are much more painful and frustrating than skiing, and if you will probably never go again you don't need that. At least with skiing you'll be able to make it down beginner trails without falling by the middle or end of the day, 'cause honestly the basics are not that hard. Skiing requires less of a commitment so to reiterate, I wouldn't bother beating yourself up on a snowboard if it will only be for a weekend.
posted by infinityjinx at 9:20 AM on December 12, 2006

If you're spending more than a day at the slopes, consider renting some snowshoes for a day to get away from the lift lines and craziness that's the modern day ski resort. It's as easy as walking, and you will likely find yourself in the middle of a winter wonderland.
posted by dirtpedaler at 9:44 AM on December 12, 2006

A dissenting, or at least alternative voice, here: I have learned to love cross-country skiing, but I have no interest in the downhill stuff. If I were going on a ski holiday with somebody's family, I would read in the lodge and greet them cheerily when they returned. If you try it and love it, great, but if you hate it, don't force yourself to do it. You're getting a skewed sample of ski-lovers here.

If I hang out in the lodge I will definitely get my fare shair of heckling from his family

Then heckle them back. It will do your relationship no good if you kowtow in fear to his family. You're your own person; let them deal with it.
posted by languagehat at 10:42 AM on December 12, 2006

The ski slope will be cold. If you're a person who gets cold easily, overinsulate yourself. Waterproof, windproof outer layer. Ski mountains are cold and windy, esp up where the bunny slopes often are (in my very limited experience). Also, what Opposite George said about sunblock.

Ask boyfriend to come with you the first time you go on the lift; I found it confusing the first time.

Bring a short, light book or something in case you decide at 11 AM that you would rather just hang out in the lodge. (Though of course, if you're a good sport and give it a full day's try, things will go better with the family. Also it can be fun!)

Alternatively, see if the place has cross-country trails. I've found cross-country to be much more intuitive and pleasant, and maybe you can retain your credibility with his family if you're doing something ski-ish. Skiing cross-country you will get warm very fast; you'll want to ditch some layers or have layers that can zip open.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:32 PM on December 12, 2006

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your tips! I marked a couple answers as favorites, but really most, if not all of them, helped in some way.

I decided that if it's incredibly busy or I'm just scared shitless then I won't do it, for now at least.. but all of your tips made me feel a bit better about it. Especially the ones who told me to keep a positive attitude and just enjoy myself. I think that's really what I needed to hear.
posted by sherber at 10:45 PM on December 12, 2006

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