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How Not to Embarrass Yourself on the Ski Slopes

Grace Lower | Mar 2, 2022

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This blog post was updated January 31, 2020.


The truth is, I’m a terrible skier. And I promise I’m not saying that to be self-deprecating.

After two good-faith attempts (including a cartoonish incident where I plowed directly into a sign) it’s fair to say that I’m something of a hazard on the slopes. Following those failed ski-trips, I had accepted my inability to ski properly as nothing more than a character flaw. Skiing and I simply weren’t meant to be ... or so I thought.

With the chilliest part of winter upon us, I’m beginning to warm up to the idea of trying skiing once more. After doing a bit of research, I’ve realized that my lack of skiing ability has little to do with natural talent and more to do with how I learned to ski.

Talking to talented skiers and reading through ski blogs (yes, those exist), has given me plenty of insight into how I ended up embarrassing myself on the ski slopes. Take it from someone who has been there: if you follow a few basic tips as a skiing newbie, you’ll be able to come away with fewer bruises and your dignity intact.

1. Study up

I’d never put much thought into how to prepare for a ski trip. As it turns out, there are plenty of ways to learn about skiing from the comfort of your home. There are countless online resources targeted toward new skiers and skiers-to-be. In the weeks leading up to your ski trip, read blog posts, ask the online skiing community for advice, or check out YouTube tutorials for “lessons” from the pros. By reading up on techniques, researching the best gear, and getting input from experienced skiers, you’ll be ready to tackle the basics well before you strap on your skis.

2. Focus on fitness

While skilled skiers make the sport look effortless, you’d be surprised by just how much strength is needed to stay balanced. When I first tried skiing, I didn’t think lower body and core strength would be an issue — I’m a distance runner, after all! But as it turns out, skiing is a total body workout. After a few hours up and down the slopes, I couldn’t tell if I was falling because I was clumsy, or because I was simply exhausted. Proper skiing isn’t just about the legs: it requires plenty of back and arm strength, as well. To cut back on post-skiing soreness, try some basic conditioning exercises in the weeks leading up to your trip.  

3. Get the right gear

Feeling comfortable on the ski slopes is key, especially when you’re first starting out. For my first ski trip, I simply borrowed a pair of water-resistant sweatpants and relied on my trusty winter jacket to handle the rest. In hindsight, I would have done better to invest in higher quality gear. Because my winter jacket wasn’t intended for skiing, I quickly became overheated. However, unzipping my jacket left me exposed to the snow whenever I fell (which was often). What’s more, my water-resistant pants kept me dry, but because they were fairly low-rise, they did little to protect me from getting snow up my shirt and down my pants when I took a tumble (which, again, was often). And trust me when I say that a helmet is always a wise idea. Better gear might not have improved my technical abilities, but it would have at least kept me warm, dry, and comfy.

4. Learn from the best

Let the record show that my friends are wonderful people. They’re always open to new challenges, and they motivate me to move beyond my comfort zone. But as a new skier, I would have been better off skiing with a slightly less advanced group. Most of my friends had several years of skiing experience under their belts, but I still challenged myself to keep up with them. Little did I know, it would take more than a 50-minute beginner’s lesson to give me the skills I needed to match their pace. My poor friends spent more time retrieving my poles and helping me get back onto my feet than actually skiing with me.

One skiing website put it this way: “Friends don’t let friends teach friends.” To be honest, following this advice would have saved everyone a lot of frustration.

5. Do whatever it takes to find confidence

One of the most important parts of becoming a strong skier is trusting yourself. New skiers — myself included — are prone to letting their nerves affect their performance. Leaning back rather than leaning into the hill, and looking at the front of the skis rather than the path ahead were two of my worst, fear-based habits. Ironically, both behaviors made my skiing experience far more dangerous than it should have been.

As a new skier, it’s important that you trust your gut and remain in control. If finding your confidence means staying on the same two bunny hills for the duration of your first day, so be it! What’s important is that you’re staying safe and having fun.

Although my own relationship with skiing is a little fraught, skiing is an incredible way to get outdoors, make memories, and explore a new destination. With that said, it doesn’t come without risks. If you’re new to the sport, and far away from home, lessons aren’t the only thing you should invest in. Travel medical insurance is an important investment for any trip, especially if you’re expecting to take a few tumbles. Make sure you read the fine print on your plan document. Typically snow-skiing and snowboarding as far as recreational and cross-country skiing are covered if you are within marked territories and following the local skiing rules. If you’re looking to do something more adventurous, you may not be covered.

But no matter if you’re a seasoned pro or a skiing novice, it’s all about the joy of the ride. With the right preparation and a little intuition, you can hit the slopes safely and confidently.

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