Heading to the ski slopes for the first time can feel daunting. From learning to use ‘clunky’ equipment to negotiating adverse weather conditions; it’s no wonder that skiing can be a tough sport for beginners.
Not knowing what to expect is often half the problem. Many beginners arrive at the mountain expecting a relaxing day of sliding around and sipping hot chocolate. However, this is rarely the case when you’re learning the basics.
The reality is that skiing for beginners can be incredibly challenging. It requires grit, determination, desire and willingness to learn. Once you’ve found all these traits; you will be hoping that you have a sliver of natural talent and a smidgen of physical fitness.
In order to help you prepare for your adventure; we asked licensed ski instructor James King to share his top 10 tips for ski beginners. During his decade long journey of working with countless new skiers; his advice is sure to make your time on the slopes a whole lot easier.
1. Choose the right clothing.
What you wear on the slopes is a crucial first step on the road to a successful ski trip. You need to be warm, but not too warm. Comfortable, but still athletic. Stylish, but still functional.
All of these metrics can vary from skier to skier. Every person has a different body composition, cold tolerance level or idea of what looks ‘fashionable’. That being said, here are some basic tips that will make your choice a little bit easier:
- It’s better to wear more than less. It’s easy to take layers off because you’re hot. It’s difficult to find layers to add if you get cold. Wear enough layers to ensure warmth and remove a layer when things get overheated – you can just leave it on the side of the beginner slope or stash in in your pocket/backpack.
- Ski socks are important. Sorry to say this; but regular socks just aren’t up to the task. If you want to have a pain and blister free experience, while also maintaining warm toes, be sure to invest in proper ski socks.
- Get fully waterproof clothing. Many ski pants, jackets and gloves are labelled as ‘water-resistant’. Although this can withstand some precipitation, it could leave you open to being cold and wet. Get fully waterproof clothing from trusted brands if you want to ensure warmth and comfort.
- Glove selection is vital. Your hands are often the first body part to feel the cold, so get adequate gloves. Make sure they’re waterproof and well insulated. If you suffer with circulation issues; it might also be worth getting a pair of inner gloves for an added layer of protection.
- Wear a helmet. In this day and age; there is no excuse for not wearing a helmet. Skiing is a potentially dangerous sport and you should expect to take a few falls. Buying a helmet could be the best money you’ve ever spent if you happen to fall and bang your head.
- Get the right goggles. If you can’t see the slope, you’re not going to ski very well. Make sure you find goggles that provide clear vision, anti-fog capability, UV protection and fit your face appropriately.
- Choose clothing that allows freedom of movement. You don’t want to feel restricted when learning the basics. Make sure you have full movement in every body part by getting an appropriate fit and selecting clothing that has some ‘give’, ‘stretch’ or additional space.
- Don’t go too budget. Yes, I understand that new skiers don’t want to spend a fortune on clothing before they’ve even touched the snow. However, poor quality can lead to a poor experience. If you have the means; it’s worth investing in quality clothing from the start to ensure a warm, dry and comfortable experience.
- Function over fashion. When it comes to skiing; looks aren’t everything. Skiing for beginners has become more about selfies than actually learning how to ski for many people. However, if you’re serious about becoming a skier, get functional ski clothing that supports your skiing ambitions.
The points listed above are basic parameters for you to work within when making your ski clothing choices. If you stick to these simple rules; you shouldn’t go too far wrong. However, we understand that finding the right gear can be a challenge for anyone new to the sport.
If you head over to our gear reviews section; you will find a range of articles outlining our recommended products in each of these clothing categories. Every article has full buying advice that will help you learn what to look for when making your clothing choices.
2. Get the right equipment.
When referring to equipment; we’re talking about skis, boots and poles. These items must be chosen with care, research and help from a ski professional that can point you in the right direction.
Our advice for ski beginners is to start by renting your equipment. Purchasing these big ticket items can be challenging if you’ve never spend time on the snow. They are a big investment that can make or break your skiing experience if chosen incorrectly.
Once you arrive in resort, you will be greeted by a range of opportunities to rent equipment. The technicians in the rental shop will be able to take your measurements, assess your ability and kit you out with equipment that suits your needs.
Keep in mind that renting ski equipment isn’t always cheap, but it can be reasonable if you opt of basic gear – which is all you need as a beginner. In our article ‘why is skiing so expensive’, we discuss at length how much you should expect to spend.
For those looking for some general guidance about what to look for when choosing your equipment; I will provide some very basic information:
- Skis should be flexible, forgiving and maneuverable. Look for skis that are labelled as ‘soft’ flex and have a lightweight design, they are usually the most budget friendly options. I also advise a ski length that is not too long; when your skis on stood on end, they should fall somewhere between your chin and nose.
- Ski boots need to be comfortable. The key to a great first week on the slopes is often avoiding pain in your feet; so be sure to prioritize comfort over performance. In addition, you need to make sure they are flexible and forgiving enough to allow for a few mistakes.
- Poles should be the least of your worries. In fact, it’s unlikely you will even use poles until day 3 of your ski trip. At that stage, your instructor or ski technician will provide you with suitable length poles, but you don’t need to worry about the technicalities.
Hopefully these basic guidelines give you an idea of what to look for when arriving at the mountain. However, if you’re still interested in learning more or would like to browse some suitable equipment; we have articles that discuss the best skis for beginners and best ski boots for beginners.
3. Choose the right ski resort.
Every ski resort has a unique selection of slopes that are best suited to skiers of various ability levels. Since you’re new to skiing, it’s unlikely you’re going to use more than a handful of basic slopes.
The first thing you need to assess when selecting a resort is the quality of beginner terrain. You need to find a mountain that has a large learning area that isn’t overcrowded and has a suitable lift system that will help you to conserve energy.
It’s also vital that your hotel is located within close proximity to the slope. Walking long distances or taking public transport to reach the ski area each morning will affect your energy throughout the day. For this reason, looking for ‘ski in, ski out’ accommodation is a big recommendation.
After a couple of days, you should be able to progress onto basic ‘green’ or ‘blue’ terrain. These slopes will allow you to practice your technique in a safe environment that’s within your limits.
All of these factors will play a role in the quality of your ski trip, but they can sound confusing to a beginner. I have provided a short list of bullet points below that summarize the key aspects you should be looking for:
- Large beginner slope that isn’t too crowded.
- Easy access to the ski slope.
- A selection of gentle slopes marked ‘green’ or ‘blue’.
- Rental shops where you can acquire ski equipment.
- A ski school that can provide you with lessons from a qualified professional.
It’s also worth mentioning that many ‘world renowned’ resorts are home to gigantic ski areas that span 100’s of miles. However, as a new skier, you will only have the ability to access a fraction of this terrain.
We strongly advise you to save your money and refrain from purchasing expensive lift tickets in major resorts. Stick to smaller ‘local’ resorts if they fit your criteria. If you want to visit a larger resort, buy the smallest lift ticket available that only covers the slopes closest to the resort whenever possible.
In order to get you on the right path, we have provided a handful of ski resort recommendations from around the world. Each one is well-suited to handling beginners and fits most of the criteria we have outlined above.
- Okemo, Vermont (USA)
- Copper Mountain, Colorado (USA)
- Big Sky Resort, Montana (USA)
- Le Massif, Quebec (Canada)
- Sun Peaks, British Columbia (Canada)
- Alpe d’Huez (France)
- Saas-Fee (Switzerland)
- Lech (Austria)
- Arinsal (Andorra)
- Hakuba (Japan)
- Mt Hutt (New Zealand)
- Mount Buller (Australia)
Aside from these prominent locations, there are endless smaller resorts that will perfectly suit your needs. If you put in the time to do some research; you will reap the rewards during your ski trip.
4. Learn the basics before you arrive.
Would you like to accelerate your progression once you arrive in resort? If yes, then brushing up on the basics before you arrive is a fantastic idea.
It’s a step that not many new skiers think about when planning for a ski holiday, but it can make a world of difference. It will allow you to better understand your ski instructor, memorize the basic movement patterns and develop a knowledge of basic skiing terminology.
The internet is packed with valuable resources that can teach you everything from posture to turning. Each one can provide you with a foundation in the ‘mechanical’ aspects of how to move your body on the slopes and what you should expect during those vital first lessons.
It’s impossible not to plug SnowSunSee in this situation, so I’m going to shamelessly proceed. Across this website we have a host of ‘how to ski’ articles that will allow you to memorize the basics, with detailed instructions that you can visualize and practice at home.
Here are a few articles we recommend for beginners:
- How to stop on skis
- How to turn on skis
- How to use ski lifts
- How to skate on skis
- How to be a better skier
- Glossary of ski terms
Every one of these articles includes valuable content provided by a certified ski instructor.
In addition, we also have a complete 97-page ski manual that explains everything, including; how to put on the skis, basic posture, turning, stopping and more. It includes images and demonstrations throughout, and best of all, it’s free!
Outside of online learning; it might also be worth checking out an artificial slope in your local area. If you have one that’s easily accessible, it can be a great place to learn without the commitment of travelling to a resort.
Endless slopes, dry slopes and indoor slopes all provide safe learning environment. They are often easily accessible, cost effective and will give you a great idea of what to expect when you arrive on the mountain.
5. Arrive in good physical fitness.
The significance of physical fitness is often overlooked by beginners. However, it’s absolutely vital to perform at your best on the snow.
It’s important to remember that skiing is a physical sport that requires strength, stamina, balance, agility and focus. If you want to aid your progression on the snow; you need to train these key physical attributes.
During my career as a ski instructor; it’s been clear that fitter beginners generally learn the fastest. They have the energy to practice more, the strength to control their body and a level of mental clarity that can’t be achieved by skiers that are exhausted.
We suggest that you start training at least 6 weeks before you arrive in resort. Please keep in mind; this is our absolute minimum recommendation, but more is always better.
The best way for beginners to train for skiing is often focussed on a blend of different activities. You will find a wealth of training programs online that claim to get you ‘ski fit’ for the winter, but any plan you choose should be personalized to your taste.
It’s suggested that your training is based around four pillars that each add value to your performance on the slope. We have listed these pillars below, along with some recommendations of activities you could include:
- Stamina: Running, biking, swimming, walking.
- Strength: Weight lifting, cross-fit, boxing, rowing.
- Agility & Balance: Specific agility workouts (ladder, Tabata, drills), jump rope, soccer, basketball.
- Flexibility: Stretching routines, Pilates, yoga, Tai Chi.
The sports we have listed are guidelines, but there are many other activities that could fit into each category. Just make sure you that you pick activities that you enjoy so that training for the slopes doesn’t feel like a chore.
Just one more word of encouragement; if you’re thinking that this sounds overwhelming, be aware that just becoming more active is better than nothing. If you’re a sedentary individual, you will still see benefits from a tiny increase in activity, such as walking or taking the stairs more frequently. Trust me; you will reap the rewards during this winter.
6. Watch and listen to your ski instructor.
Once you’ve arrived in the resort; it’s time to see your preparation come to fruition on the slopes. No matter how confident you feel, you still need to place complete focus on your ski instructor.
During my time teaching countless beginners; I have consistently seen people progress quickly when they’re open to advice. It’s not because I’m some kind of ‘skiing guru’, I just have the solution because it’s my job and I’ve been there before.
Now I’m not saying that you must follow your instructor like a mindless drone. Feel free to experiment, be playful and have fun. Just leave your ego at the hotel, be open to new ideas and willing to test out the prescribed methods to check if they work.
It’s also key to remember the difference between ‘hearing’ and ‘listening’. Skiers that are feeling nervous, stressed or overconfident will often hear. Skiers with a calm and receptive attitude will listen; and they are the ones that show rapid progression.
For those that find listening challenging; try to actively watch the technique of your instructor. The demonstrations they perform will have been honed, practiced and perfected over many years.
The key is to closely monitor the movement patterns and look for a rhythm that you can replicate. Skiing should be performed with a repetitive and smooth motion; almost like dance choreography. Follow along with the movements to the best of your ability to find your flow.
In my experience; the reason why kids generally learn faster than adults is due to their ability to copy and mimic. Although they often find it difficult to listen, they will intuitively copy behaviours. When I’m skiing, they watch what I’m doing at all times, and their technique naturally improves.
Key takeaways for watching and listening.
- Be open to new methods and ideas.
- Be humble enough to accept advice.
- Listen rather than hear.
- Remain calm and focussed on the task that’s set.
- Watch demonstrations closely.
- Try to see flow and rhythm in your instructor’s skiing.
- Copy and mimic as best you can.
8. Focus on your posture.
Skiing for beginners is all about posture. It’s the foundation that your entire skiing journey is built upon. If you gloss over this vital first step, you could have shaky technique every time you step on the snow.
The skiing term ‘posture’ (aka ‘stance’), refers to the position you adopt when standing on your skis. It’s an athletic ‘ready’ position that allows for quick reactions, improves balance and maintains stability throughout your body.
The classic skiing posture is with your feet shoulder width apart and ankles, knees and hips slightly bent. If you want to learn more; our article entitled ‘how to lean forward when skiing’ provides an intuitive walk-through explanation.
When you arrive at the beginner trail for your first day of skiing; posture will be one of the first things you learn. It should be demonstrated to you while standing on a flat section and then practiced while sliding down a shallow slope.
Your posture should remain consistent as your skiing ability improves. Without getting it right during these early stages; you risk stunting your progression and it’s unlikely you will become an accomplished skier.
In fact, as a ski instructor, the majority of my time teaching ‘advanced’ skiers is spent correcting basic habits that were never mastered at the beginner stage. Many will ski with their feet too wide or narrow, lean back too much or have joints that are too rigid. Many of these problems would never have appeared if they had been correctly learned during their first lessons.
Key takeaways for posture.
- Learn and practice the basic posture before arriving in resort.
- Listen and mimic your ski instructor.
- Force yourself to use correct posture even when it feels unnatural.
- Don’t progress if it sacrifices posture.
- Practice, practice, practice.
- Posture is a vital foundation of any good skier. Put in the time to get it right at the beginning and you will reap the rewards in the future.
9. Ski with a smile.
When I was a young kid learning to ski in Austria; I remember our family having a ski instructor who would constantly shout: ‘Smile! You’re on holiday!’. I thought he just wanted me to have a good ski trip, but I’m sure he knew my technique ability would improve if I was positive and happy.
Taking a positive mental attitude onto the mountain can work wonders for your performance. Skiing for beginners can be incredibly frustrating; and I’ve seen many learners suffer the consequences of a negative mindset.
New skiers will often find the technique incredibly counter-intuitive. You are trying to learn a new skill, adapt to a cold and possibly icy environment and potentially deal with physical fatigue. Of course, it’s a combination of events that can lead to annoyance if you fail to progress at your desired rate.
Since gaining a wealth of experience working with beginners; I’ve noticed time and time again that skiing with a smile can lead to remarkable results. Happy skiers are always more receptive to suggestion, more relaxed and have a confidence that benefits their progression.
Skiing with a smile means more than just putting on a happy persona. It’s a set of personal behaviours that need to embody your being. If you want to know what the common traits of positive learners, I’m happy to provide a few here:
- Don’t take yourself too seriously.
- Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
- If you fall over; just laugh.
- Don’t feel under pressure to improve quickly. You will learn at your own speed.
- Don’t think too far ahead. Enjoy the moment and embrace the learning journey.
- Make the most of every minute. It’s a luxury to be on the ski slope, don’t let it pass you by.
Take this mentality onto the slope and you will see huge benefits in your ski performance. You will also have an enjoyable time on the mountain; and isn’t that the reason you’re there anyway?!
10. Rest and recover.
Hitting the slopes for multiple days in a row will be tiring for your mind and muscles. Learning how to ski for the first time requires a serious amount of physical energy, recruits a variety of muscle groups and requires plenty of concentration.
If you want to speed up your progression and make the most of every moment on the slope; you need to prioritize recovery.
I am fully aware that overdoing the après ski is an easy mistake to make. Once the events of the day have unfolded; it often seems like the best thing to do is enjoy a few too many beverages, consume unhealthy food and go to bed later than planned.
Yes, I completely understand that you’re on holiday and you want to enjoy the evening vibe that mountain resorts can offer. However, exploring the town at the expense of your skiing is not my idea of a good night.
The aim of a successful evening should be to maximize your recovery and prepare for another day on the slope. That means making the right food choices, getting plenty of rest and getting 8 hours of quality sleep. You can even take things a step further by incorporating a sauna, stretching session or even taking some carefully selected skiing supplements.
Before you head out on your holiday; be sure to assess your priorities. Are you looking to learn how to ski at your best, or do you prefer evening activities. Once you’ve made this distinction; the decisions you make will be a whole lot easier.
Getting up feeling fresh, rested and energetic each morning will significantly boost your skiing experience. Look after your legs and they will look after you.
Key takeaways for rest and recover.
- Make healthy food choices.
- Sleep for at least 8 hours.
- Rest your body in the evenings.
- Relax and give your mind time to unwind.
- Incorporate sauna, stretching and supplements for an added boost.
- Enjoy après ski, but moderation is key.
- If you’re serious about skiing; your aim in the evening is to prepare for the following day.
Thoughts from the author.
I’ve been teaching beginners how to ski since the age of 19. I have taught people of many races, genders, ages, personalities, physiques and cultures. During this time; the attributes that make a successful learner have rarely changed, despite this wide range of diversity.
I wanted to write about ‘skiing for beginners’ to provide an honest assessment of what really makes the difference. I’m fortunate enough to have this platform to convey my message and I’ll be delighted if I can positively impact the learning process of new skiers.
I’m proud to say that my top 10 tips come from the mouth of a passionate ski instructor (me!) that just wants you to progress. I feel enriched every time somebody makes progress on the ski slope, and that includes you.
Learning to ski is an incredible journey and I hope you enjoy every moment. If you stick the basic principles I have laid out in this article; I’m confident that you will learn to love skiing.
James is the founder of SnowSunSee. He started skiing when he was five years old and has been a qualified ski instructor for 8 years. He has taught skiing in many countries, including UK, Europe, Japan, China and Malaysia. When he’s not on the slopes, James spends his time travelling the world one trail at a time.