Learning to Ski as an Adult.
One of the enduring attractions of skiing is that it’s a true lifetime sport. I’ve seen folks well into their 80s getting out on the hill, having a grand time. There’s simply no good reason, short of severe orthopedic restrictions, why you should have to retire your boards and your boots prematurely.
The flip side of that same equation is that it’s never too late to start skiing. Granted, the dynamics may be a little different, especially since your body and, perhaps even more importantly, your ego are a lot less pliable. But with the proper preparation, and a healthy dose of humility, anyone can learn to make turns at almost any age.
To get a better handle on how to transition from an absolute beginner on the slopes to a solid intermediate, we reached out to several industry experts. Those include Heidi Ettlinger, producer of GearingToGo.com, a program specifically designed to assist first-time skiers and riders, and a member of the Professional Ski Instructors of America’s National Alpine Team, Kevin Jordan of Snowmass Mountain in Colorado, and Keri Reid, assistant director of the Ski + Ride School at Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont.
Heed their advice, and you’ll learn to love this sport.
Be Prepared: Print your Ski Gear Checklist.
“Being prepared” encompasses not only the day of your outing, but the weeks beforehand. In short, you’ve got to get ready for the rigors of the sport. You don’t need to go crazy, buying an expensive membership at some high-end fitness club or employing a personal trainer. Ettlinger suggests starting with some basic calisthenics, ranging from walking lunges and lateral hops to single-leg squats. From there, you can progress to burpees, jumping jacks or jumping rope build those “quick twitch” muscles.
“Skiing is a fairly arduous sport that requires strength, agility and balance to excel at,” says Reid. “For the beginner, just like any skier, it’s advisable to prepare by focusing on fitness that improves leg and core strength and endurance as well as cardio vascular performance. Proper fitness can be the difference between a good day and a great day.”
Of course, a good gym will have additional gear to help you get in better shape.
“Find a BOSU ball and try doing squats on it with no weight,” says Jordan. “Because it’s unstable, the BOSU ball will help train muscles that you need for skiing or snowboarding.
“And if you’ve ever been on a slack line, try it before you go skiing or riding,” he says. “It helps to train those stabilizer muscles in the lower leg.”
Jordan is also a big proponent of cross-training, such as Rollerblading for skiing and skateboarding or surfing for snowboarding. Just make sure you elevate your heart rate.
“Spend some time increasing your cardiovascular capacity,” he says. “This is especially true if you are going to do a ski trip to elevation and you live at sea level.”
Once you arrive at the hill, there are a few additional precautions to keep in mind.
“For a beginner, showing up well rested, hydrated and having had a nutritious breakfast is crucial,” says Reid. “You’ll need it to fuel your first attempts on snow.”
A nice slow stretching routine, and warming up with a few easy runs, is also recommended. And reserve some time to take care of your body at the end of the day. No, that doesn’t mean delving right into après ski activities (though I’m as big a fan as anyone). Instead, just take a few minutes to allow yourself to recover.
“At the end of the day, don’t forget to stretch,” says Reid. “If you’re feeling especially sore, a hot tub, sauna or better yet, a massage can work wonders. Especially if you are planning on skiing again the next day, your muscles will thank you.”
Have the Right Ski Gear
Part of your pre-ski preparation should also include getting the proper equipment. I personally recommend renting gear, instead of buying or borrowing. Most ski areas have quality rental shops these days, but you might feel rushed. A better option might be rental packages form your local ski shop (some will even allow you to apply those rental costs towards a later purchase, which is a real win/win).
No matter which option you go with, make sure it’s a reputable shop. Ski technicians should always inquire about your height, weight, and ability level, in order to properly set the binding tension, which ensures they will release if you tumble.
But perhaps the single most important gear-related factor is a pair of comfortable ski boots.
“A good ski boot fit is essential,” says Ettlinger. “Boots are designed to fit more snugly then your street shoes; you may need to try on more than one pair to find a comfortable fit.
“If you notice any problems once on snow, tell your instructor so they can help make the boots fit comfortably,” she says.
And don’t forget – proper equipment includes clothing. Most outdoor clothing companies boast lines of “technical wear,” which is more than hyperbole. Advanced fabrics can make an enormous difference on the hill. Note that dressing to ski in Spring conditions is different than winter and can make a huge difference in comfort levels.
“Dress appropriately for the weather,” says Reid. “So many beginners arrive under-dressed. If you have to choose, overdressed is always best. Wear layers that you can peel off as you warm up; you can always put them back on as needed.”
Jordan agrees, noting that Old Man Winter can be unpredictable.
“Weather can change in an instant in the mountains,” he says. “Dress for it.”
However, the one place Jordan recommends a single layer is boots, in part because too many socks can change the fit, and in part because the boot itself has insulating qualities.
“Wear one pair of socks,” he says. “Many people think that they will be cold and wear more than one pair of socks on their first day out. Wear only one pair and your feet will be happy.”
And don’t forget your eyes. Wind and sun can be a harsh combination, but only if you’re unprepared.
“Everyone should have goggles,” says Reid. “While sunglasses can do just fine on a warm, spring day, goggles will better protect your eyes from all the elements and stave off frostbite on those really cold days.”
Wear a helmet, it will add protected and keep your head warm. To help keep your gear together and carry with ease, grab yourself a good ski boot bag.
Sign up for a Ski Lesson
Lessons benefit kids. And they’ll benefit adults, perhaps even more so than youngsters.
“I think when you are speaking to beginners, there are certain areas that are more relevant in terms of importance to get them successfully prepared for their first experience,” says Ettlinger. “Fitness matters at any age – but a lesson with a highly qualified instructor trumps everything else.”
Ettlinger likes to say, “Friends don’t let friends teach friends. Stay friends with your friends. Take a lesson from a pro.”
“Simply put, lessons will help you get better faster, and while having more fun in the process,” she says. “Skiing is not an ‘intuitive’ sport. There are a few key tips that make everything from fitting your gear to linking turns easier when a professional ski instructor is guiding you on your first day.”
Again, Jordan agrees.
“Take a lesson from a certified professional,” says Jordan. “They have the experience and knowledge. Many times friends and family can overestimate a beginner’s abilities. It only takes one run on more difficult terrain to have a not so enjoyable experience on the way down.”
Even better, sign up with another beginner friend, so you can share the experience.
“Beginner lessons range from an hour to six hours, group or private, semi-private or small groups, or a family private with all ages,” says Ettlinger. “Instructors are trained to customize the lesson experience to the guest, such as their learning preference, prior sports ‘teaching for transfer’, to their goals.
“Some resorts have a Terrain Based Teaching area where they use special snow features to teach how to stop and turn that make getting better even faster,” she says.
The whole idea, say the experts, is to hasten the learning curve, while building confidence.
“For a beginner, a lesson can make your day. Instead of struggling through the learning process, you can have someone coach you to make discoveries in a positive environment,” says Reid. “It gives you the opportunity to learn the most fun and efficient way to ski from Day One. In other words, no bad habits to break later.”
Know Your Limitations
Clint Eastwood, as the detective Dirty Harry Callahan, once famously told a crook, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” The same holds true for beginner skiers.
“Have realistic expectations,” says Johnson. “People progress at different rates. Have realistic expectations and be patient. You may not make it to the top of the mountain on your first day out. Set realistic goals. Aim to make it to the top of the bunny hill on your first day out.”
Translation? Save the expert or even advanced intermediate terrain for another day.
“Beginners are typically on ‘green’ terrain and/or the beginner area until they can link turns with their skis parallel and then they start venturing to ‘blue’ terrain,” says Ettlinger. “During the transition from beginner through intermediate, some people, depending on their athleticism, will start to navigate more challenging areas.”
So it’s important to make a frank and honest assessment of your abilities. An instructor can help you do this.
Just remember, if you’re peering over the lip of a trail and feeling anxious, you’re probably biting off a little more than you can chew. Be patient. You’ll be back, and those more challenging trails aren’t going anywhere. They’ll be waiting for you. That’s the beauty of a lifetime sport.
Image credit: SOTC
Be Prepared, Grab a ski boot bag.