advice for a 1st time skiier
November 22, 2007 1:08 PM   Subscribe

First time skiier needing some advice on what to buy, should I get lessons, etc, etc,.

OK ... I am 30, above average fitness and good balance, been ice skating (speed and hockey) and inline skating for 20 years ... and went skiing a few times over 20 years ago. Now I have a week booked in the snow (Austria, Bad Gastein) over the Christmas week, and I am trying to work out what I should organise in advance, buy in advance, and expect.

Specific questions ...
Should I hire skis, boots, clothes? Should I buy good boots (for comfort) and ski-clothes and hire skis (read that somewhere)?
What skis should I hire/buy? Little ones, big ones, really little ones?
Should I get lessons or just wing it?
Can I organise a lesson on-the-spot or will I need to book in advance?
What other advice can you give?

Thanks ... J
posted by jannw to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Rent everything.
Pre Book Private lesson.
Make shure to ride chair/lift and get off chair with instructor at least once.
Bend your knees & look where you want to go.
Have fun.
posted by jade east at 1:18 PM on November 22, 2007

I would personally buy boots and ski clothes.

For the clothes, you'll need a winter jacket (like GoreTex or something similar), ski pants (~$100CAD), gloves, hat and goggles. Layering is a good idea, so wear a fleece, long sleeve t-shirt and long underwear underneath.

For your level of skiing, you should be able to get a pair of last year's model of boots for ~$150CAD if you go to a big chain sports store.

Skis: each resort uses its own preferred (or sponsored) brand of skis, so you won't have much choice. It will work like this:

- get in line
- fill out form with your height, weight, ability, insurance and credit card info
- give the form to the gnarly looking guy behind the counter
- get skis

All skis these days are so-called "parabolic" (shaped like an hourglass) which are much, much easier to ski on than the old "straight" skis that went out of fashion about a decade ago.

Most ski resorts will have rental/lift pass/lesson packages. DEFINITELY get lessons, or you'll likely spend the rest of the week hating skiing, possibly from a hospital bed.

If you do end up hating it, find a jacuzzi and practice your après-ski.
posted by krunk at 1:20 PM on November 22, 2007

Dress in layers so you can adjust on the fly.

Book a private lesson, at least one. If you are going with friends, book private lessons in the morning, ski with your friends in the afternoon, repeat the next day.

If you think you are going to ski a lot in the future, buy at least your boots, but since it's your first time I'd say just rent everything. The resort will kit you out based on your height and (lack of) experience, no need to worry about that part.

Find a hot tub for apres-ski. Book a massage or two after a few days. Ibuprofen is your friend.
posted by ambrosia at 1:52 PM on November 22, 2007

As a capable and competant snowboarder who shares the mountain with the two plankers on a regular basis (and someone who is terrified of actually skiing), once you've got your gear squared away and you're taking your lessons, please please please learn to stop properly. I'm not talking the flashy sideways SWOOSH stop, what I mean is you should be able to confidently stop in the shortest distance and know how much distance you need to stop in case you find yourself in an emergency situation.

Also, you will be fatigued rather quickly. Winter sports take a lot of energy using muscles that don't see much use unless you actually ski/ride so don't be afraid to take it easy your second day, maybe make it a half day and use the rest of the day for recovery. You have all week, and going hard for 3 days and being unable to stand for 2 is a bigger waste than calling it a day early a day or two to rest up for tomorrow.

Always eat a good breakfast/lunch/etc and drink LOTS of water. You will sweat. Don't ski drunk unless you're certain you know what you're doing, it dehydrates you and you can probably be held liable for something if you hurt or kill someone SUI.

Have fun!
posted by knowles at 2:42 PM on November 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

In my view, skiing is a very expensive way of playing chicken. However, it can be a very enjoyable.

Yes, for your first time, rent as much as you can. You may not enjoy skiing, and even if you do, you first have to find which types of kit suit you -- go back to the ski-hire shop and change skis/boots/poles during the week if necessary, and consider trying snowboarding as well. Buy layered clothes before you go, as you will be better able to find cheap suppliers. Take two pairs of mitts/gloves (and possibly goggles too) in case of loss, as it can be expensive to replace them there and then.

Be aware that tour operators may try to sell you package deals for your lessons etc on the transfer bus from the airport, and it is not certain that their prices will be cheap. It is best to use the internet to research official prices for the lift pass and ski schools before you go.

Yes, you will need lessons, and they will cost quite a lot, as will meal breaks etc (do remember that alcohol is strongly implicated in many skiing/apres ski accidents). If you are going on your own, your ski class will supply some friends, and don't worry about asking people if you can join them at meals in the hotel or at cafes on the slopes.

Have fun!
posted by Idcoytco at 2:58 PM on November 22, 2007

Response by poster: 'nother thing.

Private or group lessons? If it is relevant I am holidaying on my own. ... J
posted by jannw at 3:04 PM on November 22, 2007

Rent everything, take all of your most comfortable socks. You don't need special ski clothes, as long as you have decent winter-outdoor layer-y clothes and a pair of water shedding outer pants (windbreaker types). The water bit is important for when you fall over.

Be not afraid of the chair lift. Getting on a chair lift is easy, stand where the guy tells you to and bend your knees slightly. Getting off is similarly easy, when you get near the top wiggle forward slightly, leaning forward, when your skis touch snow, put some weight on your legs and let your chair give you a push in the tush to get you straightened up. Do not stop in front of the chair lift, ski around to the top of the slope, out of the way.

Do not fall over, it is a bitch to get back up.

When you go into the nice warm place, pop open the buckles on your boots, if you don't, everyone will laugh at the noob walking around funny because his boots are tight and stiff.

If the place you're at offers it, tubing is a nice way to spend the other half of a half day of skiing, it is the laziest thing in existence.
posted by anaelith at 3:48 PM on November 22, 2007

Down hill on cross country skis, get a telemark lesson or two, your skating moves will directly translate and beginner easy slopes are just a gas on skinny skis.
posted by hortense at 4:19 PM on November 22, 2007

I've done a fair bit of skiing, so here is some advice:

*You will get incredibly frustrated at some point. Probably more than once.
*You will probably fall getting off the lift and awkwardly fall while going two miles an hour.
*You will have a ski come off and spend forty five minutes on the slope trying to get it back on.
*You will get cold.
*You will run into someone, or have someone run into you.
*You will, at some point, tell yourself you will never ski again.

Hang in there. Skiing is harder to learn than snowboarding, but everyone I know who is an expert at both says that skiing is much more fun. You go faster, you make sharper turns, you aren't as constricted by having your feet locked together. Once you're even just average and you can cruise down the slopes with the wind in your face, you feel like you're cheating the gods. It's truly incredible fun. Just hang in there.

Get some good lessons, make sure your boots don't hurt (they won't be incredibly comfortable, but they shouldn't hurt) and skis with good bindings. Go for shorter skis, because they'll be easier to turn.

Hope you have a blast.

Oh, and two words: wool socks. They make all the difference in the world. Wear some liners as well.
posted by Autarky at 4:32 PM on November 22, 2007 [2 favorites]

Private or group lessons?

You will progress a lot faster with private lessons, but they are a bit spendy. If you can find a very small group (less than 5 people) that might be a good compromise. The mass beginner lessons with 20 other people are not a good use of time- you spend a lot of time waiting for other people, and don't get very much personal attention.
posted by ambrosia at 5:31 PM on November 22, 2007

Buy clothes. Rent boots and skis - but be sure to change them if they're giving you gyp. My first season I had a dreadful couple of days then changed my boots. Result: happiness (though a blackened toenail).

Hire the skis they give you when you say "I'm a beginner".

Get lessons. Or you will end up in plaster (or someone else will). Lessons're also the most fun part - as you get to meet other people and generally have a good time on the slopes. Admiring a vista isn't fun if you have no one to share it with.

Final advice: Wear a helmet. You might feel a bit stupid. But a bit stupid with an intact brain.
posted by TrashyRambo at 5:50 PM on November 22, 2007

What jade east said.

I am part of the "rent everything" chorus. You won't know at first if your boots really fit: you'll have to ski a few hours and try different ways of tightening them to learn if you need another size, another width or a different model. Tell them that you intend to buy boots: they will rent you higher end models (or send you to a shop that does).

Take private lessons; book the first lesson in advance to be sure to be with your instructor from the very start. The way to enjoy skiing is to learn control and all the instructors I have had over the years have been very consistent.

Try to take a 2 or 3 hours lesson the first day. Personally, I would start every day with a one hour lesson, and enjoy the rest of the day on the slopes. If you have a good relationship with your first instructor, ask him/her how to make sure to continue with him/her the other days. Otherwise, don't hesitate to ask for someone else.

I really began skiing at 39. I have enjoyed every minute of it ever since. You'll have fun.
posted by bru at 6:13 PM on November 22, 2007

Me too... er, what jade east and bru said. And totally what Autarky said too. So if you don't want to slog through this treatise just do what they said and you'll do fine. Btw, sounds like a great vacation (thanks for making me incredibly jealous!)

Anyway, yes, I, Mr. Properly-Fitting-Boots-Are-The-Most-Critical-Piece-Of-Ski-Equipment, am saying this but you should definitely rent everything, including the boots. Even if you have difficult feet, 1) Boot fit is less critical for beginners and 2) Getting boot fit perfect often requires multiple trips back to the outfitters, so showing up with boots you bought at home and never skied on isn't going to be the best solution. Plus, if it turns out you totally hate skiing (hard to believe, but it could happen...) you'll be stuck with an expensive set of footwear that'll be very hard to resell for a good price. After this week, though, if you love skiing then absolutely consider buying boots before anything else.

Clothes? Didn't know you could rent 'em -- huh. Well, whether you rent or buy, layering is important; multiple thin layers are best. You don't need anything ski-specific, so if you already have some winter clothes most of them are probably a good start. Your outer layer (top and bottom) should be reasonably windproof and thin for most situational flexibility. Synthetic materials and fillers and wool are best -- avoid cotton and down as when they get wet they're worthless. Wear thin socks -- get ones specifically made for skiing if you can -- most folks find best results wearing as little as possible between their feet and the boot liner, and the boots are insulated anyway.

I always go out for the day wearing less than I think I'll need and keep a backup layer in the locker at the lodge; it's easier to duck back inside and throw on another layer if you're cold than deal with clothes sopping wet from sweat if you overdress. You'll warm up as the day goes on anyway.

You absolutely need goggles and (ski-specific or waterproof) gloves or mittens, for protection as much as for warmth. Whether you rent or buy is up to you. A ski helmet is the best no-brainer hat -- they're windproof, warm, never get wet and keep your noggin safe to boot. If it's going to be windy or very cold, consider both a ski mask and a neck gaiter. You can buy these at the ski area if you don't mind paying a couple more bucks.

Lessons? Hell, I know instructors who still take lessons so yeah, definitely get lessons. I'm gonna differ with bru here and say group vs. individual is up to you. For beginner lessons it shouldn't matter too much as modern ski instruction follows a progressive approach and so if you choose group lessons, each morning you'll be slotted into a group working on the same skill that you need to work on next.

You may progress faster in individual lessons but they are more expensive, and usually shorter than group lessons. Plus with group lessons you meet folks at your level who will probably want to ski with you for the rest of the day, which can be nice, if you're a people person, and maybe help keep you thinking about what you learned in the lesson. Obviously, if you're more of a loner that might seem like Hell. So, either way, your choice.

Welcome to the fold. Have fun!
posted by Opposite George at 8:03 PM on November 22, 2007

Buy some ski socks, the wrong socks under ski boots will be anything from unpleasant to quite painful. Smartwool makes some nice ones.

Do take lessons. Group lessons are fine, and cheaper.

Boots will probably be the first thing that you will want to buy instead of renting, but you won't know what good boots are until you try skiing. Rent first. If you do want to buy, find an on-mountain shop with some staff experienced in boot fitting that will include boot adjustments in the price. There will probably be something not quite right about the boots that you notice after skiing on them for a few hours. That said, I personally can only wear one brand of boots comfortably, and if I had rented some other brand starting out I would probably have had a lot of trouble learning to ski.
posted by yohko at 9:08 PM on November 22, 2007

You will be sore the next day. Definitely hot tub it after.

Skiing is easier than snowboarding. You can pick it up (somewhat) in a day with about three hours of lessons.

Don't buy anything until you are certain skiing is for you.
posted by Totally Zanzibarin' Ya at 10:36 PM on November 22, 2007

Do some pre-ski exercises over the next few weeks. It can make the sifference between being able to spend six hours on the slopes each day, or just four because you're hella tired.
Also, skiing is the best thing ever. Persevere, you will love it, eventually.
posted by greytape at 2:55 AM on November 23, 2007

While skiing, have only these 3 things in your mind:

1. Arms out in front of you.
2. Shins pressing against your boots.
3. Vision focused on where you want to be, about 10 yards ahead.
posted by neuron at 9:53 AM on November 23, 2007

There's still time to train the muscles you'll be using. I snowboard, but I'm thinking leg presses and leg extensions are just the ticket. Much better to be a little sore now than debilitatingly sore on vacation. Work your cardio too.

Also, use a CamelBak to stay hydrated rather than carrying bottled water. It keeps your hands free and won't go skeetering down the mountain if when you wipe out.
posted by LordSludge at 11:41 AM on November 23, 2007

Tons of good advice above so I won't repeat. As to your question about reserving lessons ahead of time, it depends on how busy the resort will be. You should be able to contact them to get an idea of whether it is merely a good idea or a must.
posted by mmascolino at 12:55 PM on November 23, 2007

Make sure you wear sunscreen and bring a little tube with you to reapply at lunchtime. Snow reflects sun and you can get really burnt! Also if it's windy you can get windburn, so bring a heavy moisturizing cream up with you so you can soothe your skin at night.
posted by radioamy at 10:32 PM on November 23, 2007

Best answer: Most of the advice given here is from recreational skiers who think they know more than they do. You can probably safely ignore most of what’s been posted, exceptions being neuron and Opposite George's answers.

If you still actively skate and play hockey, and are in good shape with good balance, you will likely progress much faster than most beginner skiers. Skating uses many of the same muscles, and will give you the well-developed core and leg muscles you will need for skiing. Skating also uses similar motions, and muscle memory from skating will help you immensely. You will probably want to quickly progress to parallel skiing because this will be the most similar to skating.

If you want to be even more prepared, lean to stand on a stability ball, or better yet, be able to catch and throw a medicine ball on one. This will get your core in great shape and vastly improve your balance. Squats, dumbbell lunges and wall sits are also useful. Strong legs are a perfect asset for an aspiring skier.

Another advantage skating will give you is it will have already trained you to keep your feet under your center of gravity. Perhaps the most persistent bad habit for skiers is what is often called 'skiing in the backseat,' meaning your center of gravity is behind your feet and you are riding the tails of your skis. I've been skiing for 21 years (since I was 2) and I still occasionally have problems with letting myself get in the backseat, as does virtually everyone. As a skater, you are already used to keeping your weight under your feet, and since the motions are similar, correct balance will likely come naturally to you. One thing I have noticed about hockey players who take up skiing is they have a lot less trouble keeping their body in the right position.

I've had the pleasure of skiing with a number of people who play hockey. The kind of power skating it takes to play hockey seems to transfer over to skiing very well, to the point where a very fit hockey player can expect to be at the advanced or expert level after only a week on snow.

This notwithstanding, it is worth remembering neuron's advice. Your hands should be roughly where you can just see them in the corners of your vision, out and in front. You should keep your knees bent and you should be flexing forward into your boots. This engages the tips and initiates a turn. Look where you want to go and your body will want to follow, and look far enough ahead that you are anticipating the terrain, instead of reacting to it.

please please please learn to stop properly. I'm not talking the flashy sideways SWOOSH stop, what I mean is you should be able to confidently stop in the shortest distance and know how much distance you need to stop in case you find yourself in an emergency situation.

This is bad advice. The "sideways SWOOSH stop" to which he refers is a hockey stop. It is the same movement as on ice skates, except it takes less skill and balance to perform on skis. As soon as you get comfortable with a reasonable amount of speed, this maneuver should come to you naturally. Once you can do this, you no longer need to put your skis into a wedge to control your speed, you can simply slide your turns while keeping your skis parallel, which allows for more control, especially at speeds above a crawl. Once you can slide parallel turns, the next step is to carve clean arcs and carry speed through a turn. I’ve seen good hockey players reach this stage after only a day of skiing. This took me years

You should probably consider taking private lessons. A hockey player in good shape will progress much faster than the average novice and probably outgrow their group, even during a single lesson.

I'm going to second what many people are saying here about renting equipment at first. Go somewhere that rents high performance equipment, as opposed to the cheaper recreational rentals. They will usually do a better job of making sure you have gear suited to you, and as a bonus, their rental fleet will be skis that are also sold to consumers, rather than the cheaply made rental specific skis that are all too common. When you are being fitted for boots, if the rental tech doesn't take the liner out of your boot and put your foot in the shell to size it, he isn't doing his job.

To start with, you will want to rent short, light and maneuverable skis. The best choice for a skater is probably a twintip, or at least a ski with a somewhat upturned tail, because the tails will release from a turn easier. Look for something in the 150cm range for length with ~75mm waist and ~20-18m radius sidecut. By your second day, you will probably want something longer and more stable, so move up to a ski 160cm or longer.

At some point, you will reach the stage where you can carve a turn; at this point, you will probably want a ski that will reach from the ground to about your nose. Many accomplished skiers prefer longer skis. I am 170cm and 70kg and I prefer a ski around 185cm and ~100mm in the waist. In Europe, narrower and shorter skis are more popular because of the drier climate in the Alps.

If you want to take up skiing, you should definitely spend the money on a well-fitted boot, as the weakest link between your body and skis is always the fit of the boot. The more snug the fit, the more effectively you can transfer power from your legs to the skis. If there is a lot of slop, and your feet move around inside the boot, it will severely impact your skiing. It's okay if your feet are uncomfortable. As long as you aren't getting blisters or losing circulation, you want boots to fit as tight as possible. You should still rent at first though. As you progress, you will likely want a much stiffer boot than you want as a beginner, so hold out until you can tackle black diamond slopes with relative ease (this will probably come quickly to you).

If you have any questions, feel free to send me a mefimail. Have fun.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 3:49 PM on November 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

Seconding everything in [ed]'s post, have a great time in Austria!

A few years ago I moved to flat, cold Ontario from lovely mountainous BC, and took up ice skating for the first time. It was dead easy because of my ski experience and I spent a lot of time learning new things, like how to do forward (and later backward) skate-over-skate cross-over turns around the corners to keep my speed up. Good fun in the cold flatland winters.

On a visit to BC, first day skiing in awhile, I got off the chairlift, went to power out of the unloading area with a cross-over turn, and fell flat on my face. They call that 'negative training transfer'. :)
posted by anthill at 1:48 PM on November 28, 2007

Best answer: Okay -- FYI I've just come off the first two days of a ski education course, which I understand gives one enough knowledge to bloviate on skiing while being a 50% prick (you get to be a 100% prick after you finish the course and get to put "instructor" after your name.)

As you've already noted, [e d] really nailed this. Hockey skating and skiing have so much in common that you will progress much more rapidly than students who are new to both sports. Most folks relating skiing and skating emphasize how skating teaches independent leg action and edging -- both important concepts for the skier -- and they're right. There's one more thing that you don't hear too much about (but again, which [e d] nailed) that will IMO make the biggest difference for you as a developing skier.

The best skiers are always thinking about, sensing and managing balance and pressure over the soles of the feet. The thing is, you can get away without knowing how to do that and still stand up on skis -- you just won't ski effectively (and I'd estimate a good majority of skiers never get it.) But you're coming into this with a huge advantage -- you have to be able to manage these skills on hockey skates or you'll fall on your butt. So a good instructor will be spending a lot of time in group lessons getting the rest of the class to practice a skill you've already mastered.

Somewhat related is the concept of moving one's center of mass. This again will come naturally to you whereas it's something most students will probably have some difficulty with. If you're easily frustrated when a class doesn't move quickly enough, you run the risk of being very bored.

So now I'm thinking you would definitely be best served by private lessons, with the possible exception of the initial lesson where they go over the basic, basic details of getting around the flats, skiing terminology and the nuts and bolts of the bindings, boots etc. If you want to save money, I'd say your first lesson could be a group lesson without too much frustration. It's easy enough to make friends on the lift if you need skiing buddies.

And yeah, sorry but speaking as an instructor prick-to-be please don't take the comment about not doing "flashy" stops as an admonition against hockey stops. Sliding and edging are the cornerstones of speed control. In fact, the hockey stop is such a vital tool in the kit that my instructor gives it the exalted name of "safety stop" -- IOW, you should be able to rely on it when less-aggressive methods of speed control fail you. We spent at least an hour of day two working on just our slides and stops -- remember, we're all "expert" skiers in the class -- having sideways races, doing full-snow-contact-360s, and trying to hockey stop dead on a mark (not too many were able to do it without quite a bit of practice.) If you want to humble a skier who you think might have an inflated sense of his abilities, ask him to do a one-legged hockey stop on the INSIDE ski. NOBODY in our class except the instructor could do it consistently and effectively (and btw, he didn't start skiing until the age of 39 and he's one of the top instructors in the country -- that's him getting the award on page 3.) You're probably way ahead of the crowd on these skills, but you will need to practice anyway.

One slight point on the hand position thing -- for 80%, maybe, of people that advice should get you pretty far. But, depending on your body type and your reaction to difficult conditions you may be better served with your hands in a further-forward or further-back position in order to keep your center of mass centered over the midpoint of the foot. If you're like me, it'll take a while to find a position that feels comfortable yet helps you keep your pressure even. Consider the previous advice as a starting point, but don't be afraid to experiment while monitoring where the weight ends up on the soles of your feet.

Keeping your knees bent is excellent advice, but don't overlook your ankles (probably the most important, yet most ignored, leg joint for the skier.) One concept we covered in class is the idea of "even flexing" -- there are four sets of joints connecting your trunk to the skis: the ankles, the knees, the hips and (to a smaller degree) the lower back, and each of these should be involved more or less equally -- if your ankles are bent 10% of their range, your aim should be to bend the knees, hips and (somewhat) lower back equally. This, again, will help you reach the ultimate goal of keeping your line of action centered over the midpoint of the foot. The "keeping the shins pressed forward advice" is excellent, and ties very closely with the idea of even flexion.

I'd also caution against taking the "look where you want to go" advice too literally. Many (most?) skiers have to fight a tendency toward excessive body movement, and that can happen when you try too hard to point your skis with your eyes. You'll see instructors and racers doing drills where they hold both poles across their body, doing multiple turns while trying to keep their upper body as still as possible, pointing at a landmark further down the hill with shoulders square across the fall line. Maybe a better way to think about it is to keep your head moving (you have to have situational awareness on a crowded mountain,) but everything between the neck and waist relatively still. If you're going to visualize anything, I'd visualize moving your center of mass where you want to go (or as [e d] said, over the tip of the ski on the side you want to turn towards.)

Ski length, as [e d] pointed out, is a matter of personal preference (a lot of this depends on the usual conditions you expect to see -- here in the NE U.S., where icy hills are the norm a longer ski can help get you bite on the hill) but please don't jump the gun and buy longer skis too soon. I would recommend staying short while you're learning as you can get away with a lot more on long skis. Yes, long skis are harder to turn but they're also much more forgiving of center-of-mass issues. If you really want to nail the balance thing (and be ahead of at least 85% of the folks you meet on the mountain) stick with short skis until you think you're ready for longer ones, and then wait even more time.

Okay, opinions on skiing are like assholes -- everybody has one -- so don't take any of the above as pure and true, but hopefully I've given you some stuff to think about. As you get out on the snow a good instructor will help you find a way to think about things that makes good sense for you.
posted by Opposite George at 2:25 PM on December 4, 2007 [3 favorites]

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