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I can honestly say that in no way have I ever thought I’d be able to say such casually (not at all) humble things like “Oh, sorry, couldn’t make your Christmas party. We’re skiing in the Alps.”
“This little number? Got it in the French alps.”
“Have you ever been skiing? I have. IN THE FRENCH ALPS.”
If you’re here for some first time skiing tips, I’ve got them for you because I, a not exactly well-traveled American got to go to the Alps, a wondrous land of excitement and foreign adventure (or to Brits, just the closest mountain range).
Whether you’re skiing for the first time in Europe or perhaps you’re a European who is dying to go on their first ski vacation in Colorado or on the US West Coast (the grass is always greener), I’ve got tons of advice for beginning skiers based on the first time skiing tips I learned on my first ski vacation.
My first time skiing was at Les Arcs, a French ski resort part of the Paradiski ski area (you can read my full review of Les Arcs and La Plagne for pictures and advice).
Anyway, it happened over a Christmas season and while there wasn’t too much snow, the lack of the white stuff meant we got an amazing deal and I was able to have my first time skiing on a budget – which was great because at certain points there was a high chance I was going to storm off the mountain in a huff.
Now that I’ve been skiing four times in total and my body is somewhat used to the very weird movements of skiing (so many muscles I didn’t know existed), I’ve got some tips for beginning skiers who want to have a leisurely time on their first ski vacation without breaking a leg or looking like a complete idiot.
Enjoy these tips on planning a family ski vacation if you’re planning on taking your favorite relatives with you.
1. Take Note of What to Pack for Skiing
I mean, I trust that you know not to bring like your shortest shorts and flip flops, so maybe this is just a note to myself for the future.
Regardless, I feel the need to remind you that the only things worse than being completely useless among the elegant Parisians gliding past you (read on for that) is being completely useless AND soggy and cold.
So here’s a quick skiing packing list!
- ear muffs
- WARM hat
- ski pants
- neck scarf
- long underwear
- the warmest of ski socks
- and maybe a traveling bar so you can mix up some of your own drinks after you get out of the cold
2. Book Last Minute for the Best Prices
I mean, LAST MINUTE.
As in, the car is packed and you’ve got one foot out the door and you remember you still need to book.
This is your best chance at a ridiculously low price, as there will be places that still have rooms that want to fill them (unless it’s a busy week like New Years or a kid’s vacation.)
3. Don’t Have a Loved One Teach You to Ski
People say not to have a loved one teach you to ski.
We went against the grain and just had my boyfriend teach me up to a level to where I could get around.
I wasn’t looking to be in the Olympics, and spending time in ski school would have taken up a lot of the time we had planned to spend together.
It worked for us, though the next time we go I may look into taking a private lesson to learn a bit more technique.
The downside, of course, is that for the first few days you would often find me face down in the snow, crying into my goggles, throwing my poles in the ground and yelling at him that I HATE skiing and HATE THIS MOUNTAIN and HOW DARE HE NOT LET ME WALK DOWN.
Maybe if you found yourself a girlfriend/boyfriend less emotional than me, you’d be fine.
4. Know that Skiing is Fun, but Learning is Tiring
One of the best tips for beginner skis on their first ski vacation I have is: learning to ski is very different to skiing.
See above “crying into the snow scenario.
By the end of the week, I was loving (almost) every second. I would gladly go back on another ski holiday and was almost beginning to go back this week after the alps are getting a huge snow dump.
But LEARNING to ski is like having someone continually beat you up while throwing your body into the cold snow while you have two dangerous planks of wood attached to your feet.
It’s an awkward sensation at first and takes getting used to for more people. Be patient with yourself and take breaks when you need to.
5. When in doubt,
throw yourself into the side of the mountain. You can do it.
Before I was really confident that I knew what my skis were doing, I would often get scared about a ledge or drop I saw up ahead.
It didn’t really matter whether this was a steep drop right off the mountainside or a gentle slope into a snowy ditch.
I was having none of it.
So instead of trusting my “stopping” lessons, I basically just threw all of my weight into the safest looking thing possible, cried that I was NOT continuing with this particular run, cried upon hearing an exasperated boyfriend say that I HAD to get down this particular run even if I side-stepped, and then huffing.
I am such a joy, I know.
6. Enjoy the other benefits of snowy mountain
People do ski holidays differently.
Some ski from first lift to last lift, some go out for a bit and then read by the pool the rest of the day, and some do a mixture.
We found that a mixture worked best for us.
We got to go swimming in a pool overlooking the mountains.
We saw Santa Claus and his reindeer doing a meet and greet.
We stopped for lunch so I could catch my breath and regroup and enjoy being outside.
And we made the most out of beginning-of-the-season sledding as possible.
7. Know When to Stop Each Day
When I was learning to ski, I would get to a point each day where I felt “done.”
Except then I would feel the pressure of continuing on because of the other people I was with or “making the most of the day” when in fact, pushing myself more meant that I was regressing because I was tired and making mistakes or getting more fearful.
Be confident enough in yourself to know when to stop and when you are done for the day, even if it’s before the last life.
Even if you miss out on a couple extra hours of skiing, you’ll be thankful later when you have fond memories of your ski trip rather than ones of you stomping down a mountain.
8. Pack Some Mountain Snacks
Skiing is very physical, especially when you’re learning, so pack some snacks to take with you on the mountain.
We usually pack things like chips, nuts, bread and other random things to keep us going.
It helps mentally to know that you can take a quick break and sit on the side of a mountain eating a chocolate bar – or maybe that’s just the chocolate lover in me.
If you’re taking someone on their first ski trip and want some first time skier tips that you can help with – bringing snacks to bribe them with is the way to go.
9. Plan a Mid-Day Lunch Break
For a more concerted “break,” plan to have mid-day lunch on the mountain a couple times during your ski vacation.
Mountain prices can be crazy, but it will give you some time off of your feet and you’ll get to talk about your day while sitting on a seat that’s not dangling dozens of feet in the air.
This is also a great way to meet up with other people you might be on the ski trip with but not actually skiing with.
You can practice in the morning while they go out and whizz down the steep slopes, and then you can meet up for a mid-day lunch and go out for a few hours together afterwards.
Basically, a lot of my best memories of skiing involve food so it’s worth a shot.
10. Go with Other People Learning to Ski
For your first ski experience, it would be great if you can plan to go with other people who are also learning to ski.
It doesn’t mean the whole group needs to be beginner skiers, but if at least two of you are then you can hang out and take lessons together and commiserate.
Often, people who have been skiing for a while don’t remember the sheer agony of learning to ski because it’s become easy for them, so while they’re willing to lend an ear at first, they’re not going to last the whole week of you talking about how tough it is to “snowplough.”
It also gives you someone who can push you and encourage you, but not in a dangerous way like expert skiers sometimes tend to do with beginner skiers, but rather in a “hey, let’s try going down this easy green run together without falling over” way.
11. Try to Transition Out of “Snowplough” Quickly
One of the first things you learn as a beginning skier is the “snow plough.”
This involves bending your knees and pushing your skis into a sort of pizza shape.
This may seem like the easiest way to turn at first, but it is incredibly painful on your quads after like 10 minutes and the steeper you get, the less effective it is.
Once you learn to “link” turns or ski parallel, skiing becomes a LOT easier.
So do as your instructor tells you, but know that there is a less painful alternative to the snow plough once you’ve gotten the hang of it!
12. Don’t Forget the Sunscreen
You might be surprised how easy it is to get burnt in the mountains, but don’t forget that you don’t just need sunscreen when it’s hot.
Slather sunscreen all over your face and exposed parts of your neck every day to avoid catching the mountain sun.
You’re literally closer to the sun – act like it!
13. Book Somewhere Ski-In and Ski-Out
The type of accommodation you choose on your first time skiing experience has a lot to do with how much you enjoy it.
In many places, there is what is called “ski-in/ski-out” accommodation.
This means that it is literally on the slope or perhaps it’s just a very very very short walk to be able to then put your skis on and head to the nearest chair lift.
There is no hell for a beginner skier quite like trying to manage all of your ski equipment while getting on a bus crammed with other people heading to the slopes.
If you have to, you have to, but my tip for first time skiers would be to try and get as close to the slope as possible.
This also makes it easier later in the day if you want to go in and take a break while other people want to stay out and ski – you feel more able to return if you don’t need to take 86 types of transportation back to the hotel and can instead just ski to it.
14. Book a Hotel with Catered Food
The last thing I want to do on a ski vacation is make my own food.
This is a bit of a “first world problem” tip, but if at all possible, book somewhere where food is included, or at least breakfast is.
This makes it so much easier to focus on your actual skiing as opposed to wondering what time the tiny mountain shop closes because you forgot to buy $10 sauce for the spaghetti you have to cook later.
Also, it feels like more of a vacation and everybody loves a sit-down meal provided by someone else!
15. Don’t Follow Friends Down the Black Slopes
Going skiing with friends for your first time is great, but just be weary of going down runs that you aren’t ready for.
It’s easy for a more advanced skier to try and convince you to come down it with them, but that’s how injuries happen and how you lose the will to ski ever again because you ended up in a tree rather than on the piste.
By all means, ski with your friends, but be prepared to say no if it’s something you truly aren’t ready for or feel nervous about – you’re not invincible, no matter how good you are on your first ski trip, so don’t act like you are.
16. Rent Your Equipment, Don’t Buy
Part of going on a first time ski vacation is figuring out whether you enjoy it and what to carry on with it.
There’s no point in buying equipment for your first time, and I’d highly recommend you rent instead.
Not only will this be cheaper than buying, but it will give you a chance to try out some different models and sizes of things to figure out what your true size is before you buy.
Ski rental shops can also be very helpful in giving you beginner skiing tips and helping you adjust your equipment to fit correctly.
You can buy your equipment once you’ve decided to stick with it for many more vacations to come and have more of an idea of what, exactly, you need.
17. Ski Boots Don’t Feel Like Clouds
Alpine ski boots do not feel comfortable on the first go.
I have not put on one pair where I’m like, “ah, yes! My foot feels great!”
Ski boots are unlike anything you’ve ever worn before, and they’re supposed to be much tighter than your street shoes, so be prepared for a bit of being uncomfortable at first while you adjust.
That being said, they’re not supposed to put you in complete agony either, which is where I went wrong on my first day of skiing by not speaking up that they were making me want to give up before I had even started.
The next ones I tried on were not “comfortable” in the normal use of the word, but they were tolerable and that was more along the lines of what a ski boot was supposed to feel like.
18. Don’t Forget to Admire the Views
I would get so engrossed in trying to remember everything I was learning during my first ski experience that sometimes I forgot to admire the views and appreciate the fact that I was in the most beautiful mountains staring at Mother Nature’s best work.
Give yourself some time to take a minute and look around and marvel at where you are.
Whether you’re in the Alps, the Dolomites or a mountain in the US, Japan or elsewhere, it’s guaranteed that the postcard-perfect views are ready and waiting for you every time you want to appreciate them.
19. Bring Skin Moisturizer
It gets very very dry at high altitude, and that can mean really dry skin and lips.
Make sure to bring a moisturizer for your comfort and also loads of Chapstick.
It’s usually okay the first day or so, but by the end of the week you’ll really wish you had some if you forgot to bring it.
Yeah, it’s skiing, not a day at the spa, but you should still keep your overall well-being in mind!
20. Enjoy Apres Ski
After the ski lifts close for the evening, there is something called Apres Ski which is basically ski nightlife.
Take advantage of the restaurants and bars featuring music acts, delicious food and fellow ski buddies to celebrate a day well-skied.
For some people, this is the main reason they even put up with the sliding down the slopes in the first place, so make it a point to go check-out the Apres ski scene!
21. Go in the Middle of the Season
When I first learned to ski, the lack of snow wasn’t too terrible because I couldn’t go too far anyway, but the type of snow – ie basically sheet ice, was difficult to learn on.
Try and plan your trip for the middle of a ski season when the snow is at its best so you have a better chance of some soft snow and a lot more of it.
Falling over onto a gravel path feels much scarier than falling over into a pile of powder, and it will make a big difference in how confident you are learning to ski.
22. Paths are Deceiving
One of the most surprising tips for learning to ski that I’ve heard is that paths aren’t always the most fun for beginner skiers.
It’s easier to think that “flat” is less scary, but paths can be narrow and you’ll have people moving quickly around you in a tight space.
You also might not feel confident enough to get up your speed, so you’ll be “poling” the whole way, which is basically using your arms to propel your skis rather than gravity.
And that’s exhausting!
23. Practice Chairlifts on a Slow Lift
One of the most terrifying things about being a first time skier is learning how to get off and on a chairlift without absolutely wiping out.
There are usually slower chairlifts at certain parts of the resort, particularly the beginner areas that you can use to practice actually feeling the movements of how they work.
I wiped out a few times when I was first learning, which is super embarrassing as they then need to stop the lift and you have to pick yourself up (which is difficult for a beginner to do anyway) and then sheepishly ski off.
24. Wear a Helmet
Never compromise on safety – wear a helmet at all times while on the slopes.
Just because you are going slow doesn’t mean that somebody can’t come quickly behind you and knock you down, and sometimes it’s hard as a beginner to learn how to control your skis so you don’t want your head knocking on anything besides the inside of your cushioned helmet.
25. Get a Jacket with a Pocket for your Lift Pass
When you look for waterproof ski jackets, try and find one that has a spot for the lift pass in your forearm area.
This makes it easy to not have to take it out each time you need to scan it – you just put your arm up to the reader and off you go.
With the bulky gloves you have on during skiing and the difficulty of carrying your equipment onto bubble lifts and gondolas anyway, the last thing you want to be doing is actively searching for your lift pass every time you want to get on the lift.
26. Leave Plenty of Time to Get Back to Your Accommodation
One of the most important tips for first time skiers is to leave plenty of time to get back to your accommodation at the end of the day.
We had an experience where we traveled too far across mountains so when it was time to go home, I was having to navigate an icy mogul field on my fourth day of skiing ever.
We almost got stranded on the wrong side of the mountain and it almost cost us our marriage because we were both so stressed.
Do not do!
27. Get Equipment to Match Your Level
As a beginner, you don’t need the latest and greatest equipment from the rental shop.
In fact, sometimes the more expensive equipment is meant for people of higher levels as it will have different attributes to it that makes it not a great choice for a beginner.
Don’t be like, “well I’ve been on ice skates a couple of times so obviously I’m going to be an advance skier from day one.”
Accept the level that you are and get help from the ski rental shop on exactly what equipment you should use to match your level.