A Beginners Guide To Skiing
Incredible scenery, an adrenaline rush or simply being out in the mountains are a few of the reasons people enjoy skiing. It's a great activity to get involved in and is more affordable than you might think if you plan ahead and are clever about a few bits and bobs.
Here are some of the basics that should help you take those first few steps and get you on the slopes.
Ski Equipment For Beginners
What equipment do I need to go skiing?
Should I rent or buy ski equipment?
For your first time skiing it's best to rent equipment to keep the costs down. Almost all ski centres hire out skis, boots, poles, helmets and some even offer waterproof clothing.
What clothing do I need to try skiing on dry slopes or an indoor ski centre in the UK?
You are going to need:
- Gloves or mittens (avoid wool if possible as they'll get wet quickly)
- Waterproof trousers
- A coat (waterproof if possible)
- A jumper
- Long thick socks
- A woolly hat
*You should wear old clothes that you are happy to get wet and dirty!
What size ski boots, skis & poles do I need?
Any good ski centre should advise you on sizing when getting fitted for skis, boots and poles but here are some tips just in case.
Putting on a ski boot can be quite difficult. You want to open all the clips, pull the tongue forward and slide your foot in. Once in, close the clips (till snug) starting from the top, working your way down towards the toes. The boots may feel tight and stiff but in order to perform properly, they need to be close-fitting and rigid.
When you stand up straight your toes should just graze the end of the boot. Next, you want to bend your knees and lean forward against the front of the boots (imitating a skiing position). Your toes should come away from the end of the boot while the best of the boot remains close-fitting - this is a good fit.
Ski length is determined by height, ability, weight and terrain but a good measure for beginners is to have the top of the ski just under your chin. The shorter the ski the more manoeuvrable it is (easier to turn) while length adds stability and speed.
The correct length ski pole should place your forearm in a level position when you plant the pole against the floor with your elbow at a right angle.
How to clip into skis
Once you have your boots on and the correct length poles, head out to a flat area of snow and position your skis perpendicular to any kind of slope. You'll want to put on the lower ski first as this will stop you sliding down the hill when you put the other one on. Put the toe of the boot under the front binding then press down the heel of the boot to you hear a click (use your poles for balance); repeat the process for the second ski and you are ready to go.
The binding you have clicked your boot into transfers the power from your body through the boot and into the ski. If you fall over, the bindings will open, releasing your foot to avoid twisting and injury.
Whether or not you have a ski holiday booked it's probably best to get lessons in the UK at your local ski centre (find your nearest slope in this handy hill finder).
Dry or artificial ski slopes tend to be cheaper than indoor snow domes although the latter is easier to learn on and transition to "real snow". You can have private lessons on a one-to-one basis or group lessons. Private lessons are a lot more expensive but you get the full attention of the instructor with the aim of progressing quicker. For your first taster lesson, a group session should be fine as you will be learning very basic movements and simply getting used to the sensation of being on skis.
Once at the centre, you'll collect your equipment and be led to the slope. Here you will learn to put your skis on, move upslope, learn to slide slip (slide sideways down the hill) and how to snowplough (control your speed) and maybe how to use the button lift.
Lessons at ski resorts tend to be split into morning and afternoon sessions with the option to receive lessons in the morning then practise by yourself in the afternoon, or you can opt to have a full day of lessons. As well as teaching you to ski instructors are a wealth of knowledge (often having grown up at the resort they work for) about the pistes, restaurants, bars and much more.
Before you start any ski lessons a general level of fitness and strength will help you develop your technique. The major muscle areas that you use while skiing are thighs and core, with some balance helping out.
Doing a few squats or wall sits along with some sit-ups and planks is going to give you a solid base to work from. To improve your balance you can stand on a cushion with one leg for a minute (if that is too easy try it with your eyes closed).
Like all sports, it's important to add in a warm-up and cool-down into any practice session. Some dynamic stretches and a couple of star jumps, squats and press-ups should have your body and muscles loose and ready to go. After the session, stretch out all the main muscle groups; this should reduce any aches and stiffness the following day.
There are plenty of resorts to choose from but as you won't have been skiing for a long time it's not worth paying for a massive ski area. Prioritising lots of green (beginner) runs, ski schools and off-snow facilities is a good way to select a resort.
If you're wondering what you need to pack for a holiday on and off the slopes have a look at our skiing holiday packing list. We have also priced up the cost of an average ski holiday for a family to give you an idea of the budget needed. *This price is only an example and you can save on costs by booking independently.
Often overlooked, winter sports like skiing are not covered in general holiday insurance policies and a specialist insurer is needed.
- Piste, slope, run: the (usually) groomed and patrolled areas to ski in that are graded in difficulty via a colour system
- Off-piste/backcountry: any area that is out of bounds or to the side of a run
- Green run: groomed gentle slopes that are ideal for learning on, especially if you've never been skiing before (1° up to 25° slope angle)
- Blue run: groomed slopes that are wide and good for developing skills at slightly faster speeds than a green (up to 25° slope angle)
- Red run: a groomed run that is narrower and steeper than a blue and requires more technical skill (
- Black run: groomed or moguls, a black run is aimed at experts who are confident in their ability to navigate very steep, narrow and challenging terrain (no upper limit on slope angle)
- Après ski: literal translates to “after ski” in French; involves a lot of dancing and partying
- Moguls: a series of bumps caused by turning skiers that form on the piste if it is not groomed
- Piste basher/groomer/snowcat: at night these giant caterpillar-tracked machines are driven over the snow to smooth bumps and put a 'corduroy' pattern into the top layer
- Corduroy: the pattern in a freshly-groomed piste that makes it easier to turn on
- Powder: soft, fresh snow
- Fall line: the natural path that gravity dictates an object to travel down
- Snow plough: when a rider's skis are in a triangle 'pizza slice' shape for control
- Parallel turn: turning with both skis side by side while maintaining the same distance between them
- Schussing: going in a straight line and tucking for speed – generally in anticipation of a long flat area
- Magic carpet: a conveyor belt that carries you up the hill
- Poma/t-bar/button lift/drag lift: a lift that you hold on to while it pulls you up the slope
- Gondola/cable car/bubble/: you stand in the gondola while it carries you up the hill
- Téléphérique: a large gondola, that can carry up to 50 people
- Funicular: a cable railway
- Chair lift: you sit on the lift while it travels up the mountain
- Twin tip: skis that have raised tips at both ends, enabling forward and backwards (switch) riding
- Switch: skiing in a backwards direction
- Skier's right: it refers to the direction right of a skier when they are travelling down the slope
- Skier's left: it refers to the direction left of a skier when they are travelling down the slope
- Din setting: a ski binding is a giant spring that has a release setting (din setting) set in accordance to your weight, height, ability and ski length. A ski binding releases your boot from the ski when you fall over helping to avoid injury.
- Whiteout: when it is snowing heavily it can become hard to distinguish between the sky and the horizon
- Bluebird: a sunny day with no clouds
What to do with my stuff when I get to the ski slope?
Some resorts have lockers at the bottom of the major lift stations or you may be able to leave a bag at your ski school centre.
Can I wear a rucksack?
Yes, you can wear a rucksack and can carry water, sun cream, food/snacks, extra layer etc. which are all useful on the slopes. Be aware that skiing with a rucksack adds extra ballast to your body making it harder to execute and learn technique, so it isn't generally recommended for beginners.
Are there toilets on the mountain?
There are no toilets on runs but there are in restaurants and at major lift stations. Some of these may require you to pay a small amount to use the (50 cents) to help pay for the maintenance, so it is worth keeping a bit of small change with you.
How do lifts and gondolas work?
All the chair lifts, button lifts and gondolas have lift attendants that will help you get on and offer advice.
Where do I get a ski pass?
Depending on what type of holiday you are on (package or independent) you will be given your pass at your hotel by your resort rep or you can pick it up from an office at the bottom of the main slope.
How can I take photos without the risk of damaging my camera?
Smartphones are a good option for photos as they strike a nice balance between size and quality of photos. It's better to store your phone in your chest pocket as you are less likely to fall on that part of your body while maintaining quick access to it. Using a sturdy case is a wise decision.
What should I eat and drink?
It's important to keep your energy levels high when skiing as you can burn up to 500 calories an hour. Snack-size chocolate bars, protein bars, or sweets are small enough to fit in your pocket and should keep you going till lunch.
It may be cold out but you will find yourself sweating so drinking plenty of fluids will keep you hydrated and ready to go.
What time are the ski slopes open from and when do they shut?
This varies from resort to resort and the time of the year. Saying that, most lifts open around 8:30am to 9:00am and shut around 4:30pm to 5:30pm. Each lift should have a clock or sign on it indicating these times – it's worth noting these as you don't want to get stuck without a lift home – a taxi home can be expensive.
What if I get lost on the mountain?
Pick up a piste map when you collect your pass for the lifts – it will have every piste on it - or you can download phone apps that show your position on the resort, be aware these apps can sometimes be inaccurate and battery life is shorter in cold weather.
Each mountain has a ski patrol team that maintain the pistes and ensure that everyone is safe. Feel free to ask them for directions, advice or any other questions.
How do I avoid injuring myself when skiing?
Skiing is an inherently dangerous sport where you will fall over but it is being able to mitigate the risk of injury from those falls is what will keep you safe. Wearing protection such as helmet, impact shorts, back protector are going to lessen the force of any impacts you do have.
It's also useful to ski within your limits in terms of speed and choice of terrain. One way to do this is to map out a series of runs on the piste map that suit your ability or ask your instructor for suggestions. There is nothing wrong with wanting to progress but a solid grounding in technique will hold you in good stead for more challenging runs.
For more information about how to get involved with skiing feel free to speak to any of in-store experts or our customer service team.
About the Author:
Pete Fletcher - Outdoor Expert
Pete grew up hiking most of the trails in the Lake District before being introduced to skiing. A few decades later and you're most likely to find him snowboarding, skateboarding, or making awful coffee.