Ultimate Guide to Learning to Ski - Beginners
Wed, 2014-11-05 15:59 — fhunter
Remember this is an extreme sport
A lot of new skiers don’t take the advice they’re given seriously enough (more on that later), assuming that the popularity of snowsports means the danger element is somehow less than it used to be. When people hear you’re going skiing and ask you whether you’ve bought thermal underwear and a neck warmer, or if you’ve bought a helmet yet it’s a good indication that you’ll need it.
Skiing is dangerous whether you’re on the nursery slopes or the black runs, and you’ll need to take that into account when you’re deciding whether or not to buy that back brace. You’ll normally be wearing some pretty hefty padding though, which will naturally absorb some of the fallout from any tumbles you might take.
Protective Ski Gear Kids photo credit Lisa Horten
Until recently, there was a pervasive attitude of complete disdain towards ski helmets and a good number of your instructors will still hold with wearing a woolly hat instead of a helmet. That doesn’t mean that you don’t need one. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow you’re going, if you knock your head in the wrong way you’ll wish you had head protection.
It’s too easy to forget that skiing is an extreme sport due to how popular it is, and protecting yourself from injury on your first trip is a good habit to get into for the rest of your time skiing. For a really comprehensive guide to mountain safety, check out our Ultimate Guide to Mountain Safety.
Piste refers to the part of the mountain that is groomed, pisted and patrolled to ensure skier safety.
The Nursery Slopes are designed for the very beginners
Piste Colours are according to difficulty, with Green easiest, followed by Blue as moderately easy, Red as intermediate runs and black as the hardest.
Canada and the US do not have Red runs, instead, their runs are split into single and double black diamonds.
Spend some time on the flat
I know. Unless you’ve signed up for cross country, which if you’re reading this guide I doubt, you eventually want to be going downhill. One of the mistakes a lot of new skiers make is heading straight for the top of the nursery slopes.
Skiing isn’t the sort of sport where you should just bite the bullet and throw yourself down the hill. You need to have at least some knowledge of how skis feel when they’re on your feet, and how they change your balance. It’s good practice to find out before you’re sliding down the hill.
The first time you strap on a pair of skis, you will inevitably be uncomfortable. You’re doing something completely new to you, it’s normal not to be relaxed. Unfortunately for you, nobody can ski tense. I would recommend that instead of clicking in and going for it, you take your time scooting about on the flat. The easier it is to move on the flat, the easier you will find skiing. It’s a good idea to take the first few steps before you get to the mountains; Hemel Hempstead snowdome is a great place to get lessons while you’re in the UK.
Child in the Snow photo credit Patrick Schneider
You’ll also want to spend some time clipping in and out of your skis, and moving around in your gear. When I was teaching kids, I used to have them playing tag together, first in their ski boots and later with their skis on. Be aware that this won’t work if there’s only one learner, or you’re not keen on the idea of using a children’s game to help you get comfortable whilst wearing your skis and boots.
Cross Country skiing involves a unique type of skis used to skate across primarily flat tracks.
Clicking in and clipping in both refer to the bindings attached to your skis; your instructor will show you how to clip into your skis.
Don’t over think
So you’ve got to the point where you feel ready to tackle the slope. Great. You slide yourself across to the magic carpet, or if you’re at the snowdome for this part you find yourself at the bottom of a drag lift, either way, you’re ready. You’ll be fine. Then, horror of all horrors, you fall.
The whole lift queue is looking at you. You’re holding everybody up. This is just like when you couldn’t stop stalling at that one junction when you were learning to drive.
That’s usually when the over thinking kicks in. It immediately becomes three times harder to do anything when you can’t stop thinking about it. As I said earlier, tensing is the enemy of skiers everywhere, and if you’re stressing yourself out by thinking about things going wrong over and over again, you won’t be getting any better.
Shake yourself all over, you might look a little strange but you’ll feel better afterwards, and then get back onto the lift. If it’s a magic carpet, nine times out of ten it’ll be fine.
A Magic Carpet is very much like the conveyor belt your food is loaded onto at the supermarket; skiers get on and are carried via conveyor belt up to the top of the slope.
A drag lift is the type most often seen in the UK, it is a bar with either a t-bar or a round button at the bottom that skiers put under their legs in the case of the t-bar, or between them in the case of the button lift, which is used to drag the skier up the hill.
Get your position right from the start
This one’s a little different, but I’m putting it here in the hope that it won’t crop up again later on in your skiing career. You might’ve already cottoned onto this, but this is where teaching children and adults splits apart slightly. That’s because children can get away with a poor skiing position where adults can’t. This is particularly true of sitting in the back seat.
Kids have a low centre of gravity and their heads are heavier than their bodies, particularly when they’re really young. That’s why you see them toddling around with their helmet on, and their heads bobbing around like a loose bit of string. Obviously, that isn’t the case with adults.
This means that at first, children need to lean back in order to maintain control of their skiing, and they can get away with it because their super forgiving children’s skis allow for clumsier technical skill than even the easiest adult ski. Since adults don’t have the benefit of extra flexible skis, being in the right position is integral.
What is the right position, you ask? Well, you ought to be centred so that you can feel the weight on the arches of your feet. Think of the way you’d stand as a goalie. From there, you can fully control what your skis are doing. You’re ready to point your ski tips together and try out ski pizza.
The backseat refers to the ski position where a skier leans back in their skis.
Ski Pizza refers to the easy to control beginner ski position.
Learn to stop before you set off downhill
You’ve reached the top of the mountain; you’re ready to start working on those snowplough turns. Well, not quite. If you’re not sure how to stop yet, there’s no point in trying to learn turning.
Think of it like going up a level in Super Mario; you haven’t done everything you need to get there yet, so don’t be too impatient to be speeding down the mountain. It doesn’t take too long to learn the very basics, but if you don’t know how to stop, then you’re going to be having a problem.
You’ve got to the top of the lift, you’re stood, knees bent, legs planted in line with your hips and you’re ready to try the beginner slopes in true beginner style. That means, snowplough. It’s known, somewhat strangely, as pizza over in Canada and the US, and it involves pointing your toes towards each other like an inverted ballet pose, and making your skis loosely form an arrow shape.
Once you’ve got your arrow, you’ll find it’s much easier to control what you’re doing. To stop, push your heels outward. You’ll be shown how to do this in your first lesson; it works much better when there’s someone there to provide an example and point out when you’re going wrong.
Your downhill ski refers to the lower ski as you’re turning across the piste, not actual downhill skiing.
Catching an edge is unbalancing one of the sharp edges of your skis
Transferring your weight is to move your weight from one ski to the other as you turn and the downhill ski switches.
I’ve already told you the dangers of tensing up and panicking, so we’ll take it one step further and I’ll remind you that you’re not there as a cruel and unusual form of punishment. Skiing is supposed to be fun.
If you’re miserable you won’t learn very fast; it’s like when you were at school, and you were invariably good at the subjects you enjoyed. When you like what you’re doing your mind is open to new experiences, and so when I tell you to bend your knees and put your weight over the downhill ski you’ll be able to do it.
If you’re having fun, you won’t mind the number of falls you go through either. Even if you’re as accomplished a snowplough stopper as it’s possible to be, you’re probably still going to fall over, especially when you start learning how to turn. You’ll catch edges that come from nowhere, your skis will cross every which way and you’ll lean too far when you try to turn.
The great thing about skiing is that you’re learning on snow, so the landing’s usually pretty soft. Once you’re transferring your weight and managing to turn the skis without falling over, which could take two runs or twenty, you’ll find it’s much easier to find the fun in skiing, but it’s important to keep a sense of humour handy until then.
Snow Angel photo credit Nathan Jacobs