So it’s your first time skiing. What to expect?
Besides a cold bum, which is par for the course, there are a couple of things you’ll need to plan for to make the most of your first skiing adventure.
And don't forget to pack travel insurance with ski cover.
Where to stay
Ski resorts offer loads of options for accommodation, but if it’s your first time, you may be better off in a catered chalet. As well as offering meals, a social scene and no need to do everything for yourself, you’ll also have the services of someone who knows the mountain intimately.
Lots of providers who run catered chalets will have arrangements with ski hire venues, which could mean a saving for you, or have their own on-site and include the cost as part of the booking.
And if you’re a true beginner, the people who run your chalet can be valuable sources of info about the level you’re at and where’s best on the mountain to help you progress.
What to take
You’ll need to take ski wear. This might include:
- Ski jacket
- A helmet
- Ski gloves
- Thermal socks
- Long johns (even if you’re not particularly prone to the cold)
- A thick hat
- A decent pair of reasonably rugged shoes/boots for roaming the town in snow
- Sun cream and lip block
- A good backpack (designed to be worn during activity)
Plus your normal winter clothes (with a few t-shirts if you’re travelling towards the end of the season).
If you’re the money-conscious type, your eyes might be watering at the expense of this list. Most of the items on there are only useful in a skiing environment, and if you’re going for the first time and aren’t sure you’ll enjoy it, then try and borrow as much as you can. Everyone has that one completely ski-mad friend, so see if they can help you out.
If not, then doing a trawl of charity shops might offer up some options. And, failing that, try and find things as cheaply as you can. If you’re going to be snowploughing down the beginner slope, it’s not important whether or not you look perfect.
If you booked your trip early enough, you might catch the end of ski shops’ out-of-season sales.
Sun cream is important
A clear, blue day (a 'blue bird' day) at the top of a mountain is an awe-inspiring thing to experience. The problem is that you’re getting the sun’s rays in two directions: from above and, due to the reflective nature of snow, from underneath.
This compounds the power of the light, and you can get very burned even though the temperature is low. So take a strong sun cream.
Cold wind plus strong sun can wreak havoc with your lips, and when they chap and crack it can be extremely uncomfortable and take the fun out of social activities (especially those that involve eating and drinking). So take a special sunscreen for your lips as well as lip balm. You won’t feel silly when you see that everyone does it.
Your ski hire may come as part of the package you’ve booked. But if you want to do it privately (for instance, if you’ve booked a self-catered villa not run by a company) it pays to shop around. As with anything in life, you get what you pay for, so it’s important to strike a balance between budget and quality.
The person loaning you the equipment should be asking you questions to make sure you’re getting the right fit. If boots hurt, then don’t be a martyr; speak up. They will only get much more painful if they're not right.
Check your skis to make sure they don’t have deep scratches underneath (regularly used skis are bound to have a few minor notches and lines). As a basic rule, skis should be a couple of inches shorter than you. But this could change as you become more experienced.
If it’s your first time, don’t buy skis. You might not like it, but if you love it, you’ll need more experience before deciding on the design and size you want.
Ski school, self-taught or private instructor?
The only one that’s risky is trying to teach yourself skiing. If you spend 10 minutes with an instructor, you’ll soon know why. There are ways of skiing early on in the process that you’re unlikely to have thought of on your own.
Ski schools are a great way to meet other learners and have a laugh. They offer mutual support, which can be very encouraging. And you may find that being around other learners helps you identify mistakes and successes by watching them.
Even if you progress very fast compared to your other students, you can improve on full runs of the “bunny slope” while others are mastering the basics. It’s unlikely you’ll be doing double-diamond blacks in your first week.
And if you progress more slowly, you might find you get more attention from the instructor.
Private instructors are, logically, more expensive than enrolling in a ski school. The advantage of this type of learning is that you get close attention paid to what you’re doing, your progress and when you’re ready to be challenged.
As you get better, private instructors can tailor the routes they take you on to your skill levels, whereas with ski schools you may be always on slopes that test the abilities of the weakest skier. If this is you, then fantastic, but if you’re top of the class it may become tiresome.
When to fly the nest
If you can comfortably manage a blue slope under your own steam, then you may be ready to head off into the big, tall world of the mountain. But it’s important to make sure you know the whole route you’re taking. You don’t want to spot a great-looking blue run at the top of the mountain, then find it’s only reds and blacks after that.
It’s helpful if you’re able to go with a more experienced skier. They might be able to help adjust your technique and give you pointers as you go. And they could help you with bits you’re struggling with. But don't let them push you out of your comfort zone, especially if you're slowing them down.
The colouring of slopes to indicate difficulty (green, blue, red, black) doesn’t always mean you should stick to what you know. If you’re confident doing blue runs, then you might want to try tackling an easy red. An instructor or chalet host can help.
Ski pains and what to do about them
Skiing and snowboarding can be hard on muscles that you don’t exert too much in daily life. These can ache quite soon after you begin, and wobble while you’re skiing. Since you’ve probably forked out a sizeable sum on your trip, the last thing you want is to have to stay in the chalet, scarcely able to walk from aching legs.
The remedy to this is preparation. It’s very important to strengthen these muscles before going by doing ski sits, squats, taking the stairs, cycling and generally getting your fitness up. There’s a huge amount of advice available out there for routines that will get you ski-fit. But some are more detailed and involved than others. In order to avoid delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), the more varied and full-bodied the prep, the better.
Other ski pains can be unpleasant, and usually involve your extremities. As you warm up from being out in the cold for a long time, your fingers and toes can become very sore. Sadly it’s just something you’ve got to ride out, but making sure you keep them as warm as possible on the slopes is a way to try and prevent it from happening.
And finally, there’s injury. Whether it’s twisting your ankle trying to take off a ski boot or something more sinister on the slopes, there’s sometimes no mitigating for accidents. The only thing to do is make sure you’ve got good travel insurance with the appropriate add-on.