Hitting the slopes for the first time? Before you take on that hill with those bulky cotton socks and heavy-duty jeans, there are a few things you should know. By following the tips below, you’ll have a head start for your first day on skis.
- Take a lesson.
When people say they only skied once and hated it, the most common reason is that their significant other, who skis every other day, took them to the top of their favorite black diamond and said, “If you can’t stop, just sit down” and then proceeded to leave them in the dust.This sport has certified instructors for a reason. Your skier friend/boyfriend/girlfriend may be the greatest skier on earth, but unless they have training in kinesthetics, psychology, ski progression and the patience of a saint, they may not be able to offer you your best (or even a good) first experience. Ski instructors are trained in body movement, easing mental barriers within their students and know how to move first-time skiers from “never-evers” to getting them down the slope without screaming in terror.
- Wear the right clothing.
Skiing doesn’t have to be a bitter experience when it comes to the cold. The trick is wearing the proper fabrics and to “layer”.
- In general, you want to avoid cotton and stick with fabrics that move sweat away from your skin to keep you dry (called “wicking”) and retain their insulating properties even if you’re sweating up a storm (wool is a great example). Cotton, unless it is one of the treated cottons newly arrived on the market, is a big no-no in the outdoors as it soaks up moisture (read: sweat and snow) and then holds it, causing you to become chilly. Stick with wools, polypropylene, polyester, etc.
- Once you’ve figured out your fabrics, layer up. Wearing several layers of clothing rather than one heavy coat makes it possible to regulate your temperature as you go through out the day. Your base layer (or next-to-skin) is generally a thin garment designed to wick moisture away from your skin. The main purpose of the next layer, the mid-layer, is insulation. Wool works great here, as do many synthetics that are on the market. Wear something that will be appropriate for the temperature that you will be out in, with a heavier weight for colder days and a lightweight layer for mild days.
- The third and last layer is the shell and is meant to protect the layers underneath from the elements outside. This should be a water-repellent, wind-resistant layer. Look for pants that provide a snow gaiter and a jacket with both a hood and a snow skirt.And don’t forget those feet! This is one place where you want to skip the layering and stick with a fabric that will provide warmth and wicking power all in one. If you bulk up on socks, you may restrict circulation to your feet, leading to cold toes. Stay slim and sleek here.
- Get fitted for your equipment.
Ski equipment can make or break your day on the snow, so before you borrow your buddy’s boots and skis, make sure the fit is correct. The wrong size will not only be uncomfortable but could easily lead to injury. Your boots should keep your heel in place but allow some wiggle room for your toes. When fitting your ski poles, you should have roughly a 90-degree bend at the elbow. And as a first time skier, keep in mind that generally, the shorter the ski, the easier it is to maneuver. Look for something with shape to them (a skinner mid-section than the tip and tail of the ski) and stay away from outdated “straight” skis or skis that have no shape to them — at least until you are ready to rock out your new skills in a 80s neon one-piece snowsuit.
- Get yourself fit.
As important as getting your equipment fitted is getting yourself fit for a day out on the snow. The first thing you’ll notice on any pro-skier is their well-developed quads, which is the primary muscle used in skiing. Lunges and squats will help you get them ready. What’s probably not as apparent is the strong core muscles skiers develop from the balance required in ski movement. To get a head start, grab a medicine ball and work on your abs and obliques while practicing stability. And since downhill skiing is performed with bursts of energy followed by down time (i.e., the chair ride to the next ski run), try incorporating a series of high-intensity sprints with rest periods in-between into your workout routine.
- Get your accessories straight.
Goggles, helmet, gloves, etc. — whew. There’s a lot to get a handle on in skiing. But those accessories can make all the difference in both comfort and safety. First off, protect that noggin with a helmet. Gone are the days when donning a “brain bucket” was a fashion faux-pas; these days, you’ll see nearly all serious skiers strapping one on their head. Most are goggle-compatible, too (double check), which is good because you’ll want a pair to protect your eyes. Goggles are preferable to sunglasses for two reasons: they protect your eyes from sun reflecting from the snow below you and the full-coverage keeps your eyes from watering up when the wind hits them. After you’ve got your head and eyes covered, the only other necessity is keeping your hands warm. If dexterity is important, go with gloves, which allow each finger to move independently. If you are concerned about warmth, mittens fit the bill. Either way, make sure you go with something that has a rugged, water-resistant outer shell and a warm, synthetic lining on the inside.
- Don’t let your pride get the best of you.
Admittedly, lots of skiers have the “cool kid” look, but get to know them and you’ll find most are quick to poke fun at themselves. The lesson? It’s okay to be a little nervous about skiing, make mistakes, and fall. No one starts out making perfect turns from the get-go. Accept the fact that you will likely “yard-sale” (e.g.: a crash in which a few items you are wearing come flying off, namely: skis, goggles, poles) within at some point of your ski career and undoubtedly fall your very first day on skis. Join the crowd; we’ve all been there.
*Important: 7. Have Fun!
With all the instruction and direction of this article, the most important point is to just relax and have fun. Skiing is a playful sport, a terrific way to spend time with family and friends and enjoy the outdoors. Take yourself seriously and you’ll miss that enjoyment. So smile; it goes great with skis.
For the over-achievers who want to make the most of their day, here are a few extra pointers. First, and most importantly, carry a tube of SPF chapstick and slather on sunscreen because the rays at higher altitude, coupled with the reflection from the snow, are more intense than at lower elevations. Being active at that higher altitude and in the cold air also lends itself to another situation — breathing in lots of dry air. Stay hydrated with a sleek hydration pack that sports an insulated tube. This will keep the water flowing in freezing temps. And if those freezing temps still have you shivering from the cold, warm up with some heat packs you can stuff in your mittens and boots (the resort’s ski shop will carry these). Stuff a protein/carb dense snack into your pack for a mid-day snack and you’re good to go.
You’re now armed with knowledge and ready to hit the hill. Sign up for a class, meet new friends and get ready to enjoy some crisp alpine air. Just beware: a proper first ski day often leads to a ski addiction — but suit up; you’re prepared!
– Read more of Gina Bégin’s writing at ginabegin.com
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Author: Billy Brown