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How to Learn to Ski

Updated on December 18, 2014

“Bend your knees, keep your feet together! Now turn left! No…your other left!” bellowed the man, who evidently thought that the louder he yelled, the better chance his pointers would sink in.

“I’m trying – Stop yelling at me- I hate this!” responded the young women who obviously had never been on skis before, and would never forget how hard it was to turn and stop a pair of 205cm Olin Mark IV’s.

Sadly, this is how many people have been exposed to the sport of alpine
skiing. Sure, you can go ahead and rationalize it as “character building”, but it is rarely a good idea to have a parent/husband/boyfriend/friend teach you how to ski. Learning to ski means learning the fundamentals, so do it right. Get the right gear, and have a professional teach you.

Getting Started

Either you have just moved to an area that offers skiing nearby or you decided/had decided for you that being active in the winter was a good idea. Little tip before you rush out into the mountains: Get yourself the right gear – it will make or break your experience. You don’t need to spend a fortune on the latest and greatest stuff on the market, but following some simple guidelines will help you spend your first day on the mountain in relative comfort.


In terms of clothing, wearing layers is the most effective way to dress for a day on the mountain. The first layer, or the wicking layer, is the one that is worn next to the skin and wicks moisture away from your body. Long-john tops, bottoms, and socks made out of a synthetic material work great. A word of advice here: NO COTTON. Cotton is not a good wicking material, is worthless once wet, and has been referred to as the “Death Cloth” by skiers and climbers for years. Don’t wear it. The second layer is the insulation layer, so wear a sweater, fleece shirt, or something along those lines. The third layer is the outer protective layer that keeps you dry. You know that sweet leather Oakland Raiders jacket you bought back when they actually had a winning season? Yeah, don’t wear that. Pick up something that says “waterproof/breathable” on the tag. For the lower body, you might think it would be cool to wear those skin-tight, acid-washed Levi 501’s, and it would be - literally. See “Death Cloth” statement above. Same deal here: wear pants made of a waterproof/breathable material.


Most ski resports offer a special “Learn to Ski” package that includes skis, boots, and poles. If a friend suggests that you learn on his “awesome” straight skis (circa 1985), strike him about the head. Really hard. Modern shaped-ski technology allows for an easier learning curve, so let the folks that know their stuff set you up. The package deal is great way to go if you are only going to try skiing a few times. If you are thinking about making more of a commitment this season, look into a season rental from a local ski shop. Some shops only offer kids’ season leases, so make sure and ask. Season leases are a very popular and economic way for families to get on the mountain without having to invest in a ton of new gear. That comes later, when you are addicted to the sport.

There has been a great deal of discussion on the use of helmets, but the reality is you should wear one no matter what your ability level. Helmets are very comfortable, do not significantly diminish hearing, and are actually warmer that a hat. It’s still a free country, and you do not have to wear one – but every skier I know does, and that should tell you something. In terms of eye protection, wear goggles or sunglasses, with the latter being a good choice during the spring skiing season.

Get Schooled

Countless relationships and first-time skiing experiences have been ruined by one family member/parent/significant other trying to teach the other how to ski, so it is probably best to leave the instruction to someone who is qualified. No matter what mountain you go to, the teaching method is the same thanks to the Professional Ski Instructors of America. PSIA provides certification for all instructors to ensure that you will have the best possible experience on the mountain, and our area’s instructors are considered to be top notch. Lesson options range from the basic Learn To Ski lesson (typically a 1.5 hr lesson that includes lift ticket and rentals), to multi-day programs that last several weeks, to private one-on-one instruction.

Skiing is one of the most exhilarating sports on the planet, and if you learn how to do it, it will change your life forever. To get there, do a little research, talk with the experts at our local ski shops and resorts, and have fun with it. Winter can be a long season, but getting outside and playing in the mountains can transform it into a magical one.


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