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With winter in full force in the northern hemisphere, many travelers are packing up their skis and heading to the mountains. But unless you grew up carving French fries and pizza pie slices, ski vacations can be intimidating. And that’s to say nothing of ski culture which is, well, serious.
As someone who has taught snowboarding lessons for four years (with nearly two decades of riding in the books), I’ve seen all the rookie mistakes. And believe me, you may feel cool showing up to the ski hill for the first time in jeans and designer sunglasses, but you won’t be anything but freezing while sliding down the slope on your stomach. Then you drop in on your first run and before you know it you’re sliding down the hill on your stomach.
Fortunately, you don’t have to hide out at the lodge to enjoy your first ski trip. Skiing and snowboarding can be two of the most best snow sports of the season, if you avoid the common mistakes most novice skiers make. Who knows? You might just find yourself looking forward to winter.
1. Wearing Jeans or Leggings
Wearing jeans — or anything cotton, for that matter — is a surefire way to advertise that you have no idea what you’re doing. You’re also guaranteed to wind up cold, wet and miserable. Cotton may be the least waterproof material available (snow is really just water, after all), and it absorbs moisture extremely well and stays wet for days. Even if you’re not sure snow sports are for you, invest in a solid pair of waterproof ski pants and a waterproof jacket. And if you spring for a jacket actually designed for skiing, you will be rewarded with the luxuries of a powder skirt that buttons around your waist to keep snow from getting up your shirt every time you fall.
2. Flaunting a Gaper Gap
A Gaper is “guaranteed accident prone on every run.” Also known as the completely clueless skier who’s very likely to land face first in the middle of every trail. The giveaway here is the Gaper Gap, or the space between the top of your goggles and your helmet that almost always results in a cold face and a vicious sunburn. And while it’s great that you’re wearing a helmet, it doesn’t do much good if it’s not covering your whole head. Make sure your helmet is pulled forward enough to cover your forehead and tight enough so it doesn’t slide back. If you still have a gap, push your goggles up or wear a headband or hat under your helmet.
3. Using Sunglasses Instead of Ski Goggles
They slide off, they don’t keep your face warm and they don’t keep the wind out of your eyes: basically all three things ski goggles are designed for. If you’re a beginner, there’s no need to buy the most expensive goggles on the market, but getting something specifically designed for skiing will make your time on the slopes significantly more enjoyable.
4. Getting Cold
No one else may know you’re cold, but it’s a good way to find yourself sulking in the ski lodge and hating skiing. We live in a world of heated car seats and battery-powered socks, so there’s no reason to be cold while skiing. Ever. Before heading out, make sure you check the forecasted air temperature and dress accordingly. A heavy base layer, medium weight fleece and waterproof ski jacket will keep you warm enough for almost any reasonable winter day. And instead of cutting off the blood circulation to your feet by layering three pairs of cotton socks on top of each other and jamming them into your boots, get one good pair of wool or synthetic socks. Keep in mind that you will get warmer when you actually start skiing, so don’t overdress and end up wearing sweaty — and, consequently, frozen — layers all day.
5. Leaning Backwards
Skiing and snowboarding can be scary. And when you start to pick up speed, it is almost intuitive to lean backwards so that when the inevitable fall happens, you’re already that much closer to the ground. But skis and snowboards are controlled by the metal edges biting into the snow. And when you take your weight off of the edges by leaning backwards, maintaining control of the skis or board becomes extremely difficult. Make sure you’re leaning downhill, knees bent slightly and torso relatively straight. The necessary confidence will come with time.
6. Getting Hit by the Chair Lift
Getting on a lift for the first time can be more intimidating than actually skiing. You have to waddle your way to where the lift scoops you up, the chair doesn’t stop for you and there is a line of people watching your every move. But really it’s as simple as this: sit down. Slowly walk or skate up to the line that tells you where to stop, look behind you so you’re aware of when the chair is coming and gently sit. If you’re not comfortable with this, you may need to spend a bit more time with the kids on the magic carpet.
7. Or Falling Off the Lift
As the lift approaches the unload point, there is usually a sign that tells you exactly when to lift up the restraint bar. Pay attention. When you get off, confidently plant your skis or board flat on the ground, center your weight and ride straight ahead. If you do happen to fall, make sure to get out of the way as quickly as possible, because there is another chair full of people coming right behind you, and they’re not stopping, either.
8. Stepping on Someone’s Skis
No one likes having their personal bubble infiltrated by a stranger. And when you have skis or a snowboard attached to your feet, your personal bubble expands. Give the person in front of you room so that you don’t step on his or her $1,000 set-up.
9. Stopping in the Middle of the Trail
Regardless of whether you’re an experienced skier or out for your first day, no one likes dodging people standing still in the middle of a trail. If you fall, make sure you get back up as quickly as possible and at least move to the side of the trail. If you need to check your map to see which trail will take you to the bar quickest, move to the side. If you’re out of breath and need a break, move to the side. If you’re waiting for your friend who is even slower than you are, move to the side. If you turned a corner only to find the most Instagrammable view of the year — you get the idea here, right?
10. Heading Straight for a Black Diamond
We get that you’ve skied once before. Or you’ve been surfing. Maybe you skateboard, or were a champion bodyboarder as a kid. You have great balance. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ready to tackle the ski resort’s black diamonds. And making perfect turns on the widest green run doesn’t mean you’re ready for steeps and glades. Unless you are a genuinely experienced skier, start your day at a gently sloping beginner run and work your way up to a few intermediate laps. If you’re really feeling confident on those runs, then and only then should you attempt something steeper.
11. Not Checking the Weather Report
If you booked your ski vacation months in advance and already have lift tickets and lodging locked for certain dates, then this point is null and void and you’ll have to make the best of whatever conditions you’re dealt. But if it’s feasible, it can definitely pay off to delay making plans until you know what the weather has in store. Learning to ski on concrete-hard ice, which occurs when warm weather is followed immediately by freezing conditions, can be difficult and painful. On the other end of the spectrum, be ready to drive to the mountain in the snow. It is a snow sport, after all. And no matter what, don’t call the mountain on a powder day asking if they’re open — this is what serious skiers and snowboarders live for.
12. Thinking You’re Alone on the Hill
There is a big learning curve to skiing and riding. You’re going to fall and make mistakes. You’re going to go slow. You’re going to fall again. But while you are learning, slowly zig-zagging back and forth across your favorite beginner run, remember that there are other people that might have more experience than you flying down the hill. Before merging onto another trail or cutting across the one you’re on, look uphill and be aware of your surroundings. Of course, this also goes for the more experienced skier flying down the hill at mach speed — be mindful of new people trying to learn your sport!
13. Not Having Fun
Skiing and snowboarding are rarely cheap sports. If you’re not having fun, you might as well save your money and stay home. While these rules are generally meant to keep you safe and comfortable (OK, and from making a fool of yourself), they are by no means ski law. If your idea of fun is being wet and cold, then wear those jeans on the slopes, and wear them well. And if you do all you can and still aren’t having fun, there’s always snowshoeing.
Featured image via Shutterstock.
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