Tips and advice for your first ski holiday from SNO ®
If you're wondering whether you can teach yourself to ski or learn from your friends, the simple advice is don't - and DO get lessons instead! Yes, they cost a little but much less than a spoiled holiday – and they'll get you skiing faster, easier and safer. There are lots of good ski schools with all the qualifications, experience and teaching techniques to get you gliding confidently down the piste in no time.
The best way to start skiing is to book a week of lessons, either in a group or on a one-to-one basis. Beginner's group lessons are brilliant: everyone's a similar age and in the same boat, and they’re a fantastic way to meet new people. For a more personalised program, book a private lesson – this can really help if you need a confidence boost and want to get your head around the basics in your own time.
Before putting on your skis, get rid of any snow on your boots by scraping them across the bindings on your skis, or tapping them with your poles. Put the front of your boot in the toe binding first and step down firmly with your heel until the boot clicks into place and is held in properly.
To take your skis off, you need to press down on the back of your bindings, behind your heel (you can use your pole to help or get someone to step on it) and the bindings will release.
When you're carrying your skis around the resort, you don't want one in each hand. Face the bottom side of your skis towards each other with one slightly higher than the other, bring them together and slide the higher ski down. The skis should join together with their breaks overlapping. Hold the skis carefully so that the breaks don't slip away. Carry them wrapped under your arm or over your shoulder (with one of the ski's bindings resting behind your shoulder – take care when you turn not to knock anyone!). This leaves your other hand free for ski poles which you can also loop over your wrist or the top of your skis if easier.
When you're reading up on how to ski, the advice can seem very technical. How to put your weight ‘here but not there' or leaning ‘one way but not too much'... While this can help some people, it can simply confuse others and make it more difficult to get your head (and body) around the basics of skiing.
The best advice is to not over-think the technical side of skiing, because it's all about getting the feel of it... Once you have, you're away!
Give yourself a very gentle introduction: Before you hit the slopes, practice walking and sliding around on a flat area, putting one ski in front of the other to get a feel for the snow. Make the most of the nursery slopes and areas reserved specifically for beginners, where you can benefit from a little trial and error in a safe place.
Keep your knees bent, with your shins resting on the tip of your ski boots. Lean slightly forwards to stay balanced. Keep your legs a shoulder width apart so you're more supported and point the tips of your skis inwards, making an upside down ‘V’ shape (this is called a snowplough). You don't want to start at the top of the slope with your skis facing downwards in parallel - to stand still on the piste, make sure your skis face across the slope rather than down and lean slightly towards the slope, or keep your skis in the snowplough position.
There's no doubt that a little legwork every other day before you go can really help to make your week on the slopes easier. If the first exercise your legs get is the moment you try to learn this new physical skill, you may find that your legs are too tired to do what you're telling them by around the middle of the second day. Your time away is precious, so avoid spending too much of it getting ski fit and recovering from exercise you're not used to, by doing a few basics for the few weeks before you go. Simple squats or even regular cycling will make a huge difference to how used to exercise your body is, when you arrive in resort. There's no need to go over the top, but it’s that the fitter you are, the easier learning to ski will be.
First you'll learn how to snowplough and do snowplough stops and turns. Snowplough is the position where the tips of your skis are close together and the backs further apart in the shape of an upside down ‘V'. The wider your snowplough, the slower you go and speed can be controlled by pushing the backs of the skis further apart to slow down and drawing them closer together if you want to go a bit faster. Make sure you look ahead, not at your feet.
To stop, you basically make the backs of the ‘V' really wide and bring the tips together, digging into the snow slightly. And to keep your speed well under control, don't face straight down the slopes but zig zag from one side of the piste to the other. Don't worry about falling – especially if it's the only way you feel you can stop – fall to the side and get your skis pointing across (not down) the slope. Even amazing skiers fall over now and again – it's less likely for people not to!
The first slope you use is a nursery run or bunny slope, which you can usually only access if you’re with the ski school. These are super gentle to learn your first turns on, with an easy-to-use magic carpet lift, rope tow or drag lift to take you up to the top. In bigger resorts, these runs are free which means you can hold back on buying a ski pass until you’re ready for the next stage.
Once you've conquered snowploughing and stopping on the beginner slope, your instructor will take you on some nice gentle runs where you can build up more momentum. Some resorts have specific Slow or Zen slopes where everyone has to ski at a gentle place to maintain an unintimidating atmosphere for beginners. It’s worth remembering the slopes you do in ski school for practice outside of your lessons.
When venturing off the nursery slopes for the first time, know your piste colours! Ski runs are organised by difficulty through colours: blues are for beginners (some resorts also have greens for even easier runs), reds runs are for intermediates and blacks are the most difficult. Most skiers don’t do red or black runs until they’ve done a few weeks of skiing.
Start off on the easiest runs and only venture onto others if your instructor gives you the nod and you feel completely in control of your speed and direction. Our top tip is to take it very slowly - if you rush at this stage and scare yourself, it can be a big effort to get your confidence back.