For first-timers, the equipment, culture, traditions and rules found on the ski slopes can be confusing and intimidating.
As advocates of the sport, we feel it is important to make newcomers as comfortable as possible and make the sport accessible to all. Skiing is a sport suitable for an entire lifetime. It offers the chance to get outdoors in the winter months and get great cardiovascular exercise. It's also an amazing way to see amazing natural beauty in parts of the country or world you might not normally visit.
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Here's run down of your first day on the slopes:
Almost every resort and ski slope has a full-featured adult-oriented ski school that takes place on a nice “bunny hill” where you can learn comfortably. You will be wise to sign up ahead of time on the mountain's website, especially in peek seasons. They will let you know if you need a lift pass or other purchases to participate.
The first time out you will want to rent equipment. Most shops supply decent equipment and will offer personalized help in selecting the right length ski and the right boots. Your boots should allow you to slightly flex your ankle and should hold your foot firm. Ski boots are uncomfortable to walk in until you get used to them, but they should not hurt. The last thing you need as a newcomer is a blister from ill-fitting boots, so be sure to take them back for another pair if they aren't quite right.
Dress warmly, but keep in mind that you will be doing a lot of aerobic exercise, so you don't want to be too bundled up. Ski pants with bibs that come up over the shoulders are ideal, along with a fleece and a waterproof jacket. You may find yourself warm enough to shed layers, so a small backpack might be a good choice. Good flexible gloves are a must.
Most skiers wear helmets these days. In a beginner class you are less likely to truly need one, but they are available for rent. You probably will want to purchase goggles and bring sunscreen and lip balm.
Private lessons may be a good choice if you can afford it. You will progress much faster and a tailored instruction program can help you adapt quickly to the slopes. However, group classes are a lot of fun as you get to meet people and watch them try their best to not fall down.
Are you ready to hit the slopes? Know before you go. Trails are marked by difficulty ratings based on the grade or steepness of the trail (and also take into account other factors like width and wind protection, and whether or not the trail is groomed). Here are some of the most common trail signs:
|Symbol||Description (courtesy of Wikipedia)|
||The easiest slopes at a mountain. Generally, Green Circle trails are wide and groomed, with slope grades ranging from 6% to 25% (a 100% slope is a 45 degree angle)||Intermediate
||Intermediate difficulty slopes. Generally, Intermediate trails are groomed, with grades ranging from 25% to 40%. Blue Square trails make up the bulk of slopes at most ski areas, and are usually very popular and stuffed with a lot of people.|
||Amongst the most difficult slopes at a mountain. Generally, Black Diamond trails are steep (40% and up) and may or may not be groomed.|
||These trails are even more difficult than Black Diamond, due to exceptionally steep slopes and other hazards such as narrow trails, exposure to wind, and the presence of obstacles such as steep drop-offs or trees. They are intended only for the most experienced skiers.
This trail rating is fairly new; by the 1980s, technological improvements in trail construction and maintenance, coupled with intense marketing competition, led to the creation of a Double Black Diamond rating.
The best resorts focus as much on “après ski” activities (aka the party at the lodge) as they do on the slope. A true rundown of the party activities at the top resorts could fill a website of its own. For those who are truly interested in the after-party, check out Skimag's Best Nightlife in the West article.