Monday, December 23, 2013

Getting Started

I wrote the following article on getting started in skiing for Adirondack Sports and Fitness last winter.

Skiing the Cloud trail at Gore Mountain, an intermediate trail off the 3,600 foot summit.

The Saratoga Skier and Hiker, first-hand accounts of adventures in the Adirondacks and beyond, and Gore Mountain ski blog.
I don’t know how people get through the winter hibernating indoors. If you’re reading this, chances are pretty good you’re already an active, outdoors-minded individual. Maybe you snowshoe, hike, or even run or bike during the winter. If you’re not a skier, or are considering re-entering the sport after a long absence, the prospect of learning the sport can be intimidating. Here are some tips to get you pointed in the right direction. You’ll be rewarded with a lifetime sport that you can enjoy with your friends and family, sharing the joy of soaring through a beautiful winter landscape.

5-year-old Sylvie skiing below Gore's gondola.

The Saratoga Skier and Hiker, first-hand accounts of adventures in the Adirondacks and beyond, and Gore Mountain ski blog.
The rule of thumb is that friends shouldn’t teach friends how to ski, and significant others shouldn’t teach their partner how to ski either. Instead, beginning skiers should take a lesson from a qualified ski instructor, preferably one who has been certified through the PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America). Individual or group lessons can be arranged through the ski school at any ski area. Many ski areas offer discounted ski lessons for first-timers, often with rental gear included. Sign yourself up. If you’re really serious about learning this sport, you’ll want to consider a multi-week program, or at least multiple lessons.

To get the most out of your lesson, make sure you’re dressed in non-cotton layers, warm mittens or gloves, a wind- and water-proof outer layer, helmet and goggles. You may also want a neck gaiter and air-activated hand warmers if you get cold easily.

The Kids' Kampus at Whiteface features beginner terrain with its own chairlift

Large resorts like Gore and Whiteface offer a complete range of instructional programs tailored to all levels of skiers, from never-evers to experts. At Gore, for example, specialty clinics are offered nearly every weekend, covering topics like Master the Mountain, For Women Only, and Trees, Steeps & Bumps. But smaller, local ski hills like Willard, Maple Ski Ridge or Oak Mountain are also very well established as teaching areas and offer quality instructional programs in a low-key environment that beginning skiers may find to be less intimidating.

There is a mind-boggling array of ski equipment available, but there’s no need to be intimidated or confused about gear choices. Above all, don’t borrow equipment from friends or family that could be out-dated, unsafe or incorrectly sized. If you’ve got skis stored in your attic that were yours when you were in college 20 years ago, leave ‘em there. The rental shop at the ski mountain will be able to outfit you with skis, boots and poles that fit well. Everyone should wear a helmet to protect from falls and collisions. While most ski areas rent helmets, you might as well own one.

If you’re considering buying gear, work with your local ski shop to put together a package that suits your needs. Beginners will probably want to start with a ski that is designed for all-mountain terrain. Today’s skis are relatively wide, short and shaped for turning, so learning is much easier than even a decade ago. Boots should fit snug, with your heel remaining in place when you flex forward in the boot. A knowledgeable boot fitter will be able to help you select boots that fit well and are comfortable.

While it's generally more convenient to own your ski equipment than to rent, don’t overlook the possibility of a seasonal rental. Many local ski shops and some ski areas offer season-long equipment leases for adults and children, typically starting at around $150 for skis and boots.

The Greenway Conveyor at Gore, a "magic carpet" lift at the learning center

Tips for familes and kids
There are a few special considerations if you have a child who is beginning skiing or if you are skiing as a family.
- First, keeping kids warmly dressed is critical. Children often do not recognize that they are cold until it is too late. Bring along extra socks, gloves or mittens and air-activated hand warmers.
- Consider bringing along a friend for your child, or skiing with another family.
- Take a hot cocoa break, and carry snacks in your pocket for an on-slope treat. Gummy Bears are a big hit with my kids.
- If you’re considering teaching your child to ski, that’s probably fine as long as you’re comfortable. Early on, the most important factor is for the child to simply log hours and get comfortable on the snow. Eventually, you’ll reach a point where professional lessons will help them improve their technique. Willard’s Little Colonel and Gore’s Mountain Adventure are both excellent multi-week children’s programs that I can personally recommend, but just about every ski area has similar multi-week learning programs. You’ll be amazed at how much your child has progressed by the end of one of these programs!
- Focus on getting kids to make turns. You can play follow-the-leader, but what has worked for my kids is getting them into some easy glades.
- Stick to terrain that you’re comfortable with. If you’re struggling, it’ll be nearly impossible for you to help other family members.
- Have a designated meeting place if you become separated.
- Don’t be afraid to ask Ski Patrol or a Mountain Host for directions or terrain suggestions. Also, don’t forget to let ski lift operators know if you need them to slow down a lift so that you can help a child load or unload.
- Skiing doesn’t have to be expensive. Look for discounts and deals. Remember that kids 6 and under ski for free at most ski areas. You may be able to take advantage of school programs or town recreation programs. Ultimately, you may find that a season pass offers your family the best value.

All that’s left now is to get started… and, THINK SNOW!!!


  1. What if your friend or spouse happens to be a PSIA certified instructor? Actually, my rule of thumb is I will answer any question or help with any problem a friend or spouse brings up while skiing. And, occasionally, I'll offer a very brief unsolicited tip, but I try to keep it simple and easy. In reality, except at the highest levels, all teaching should be based on simple movements or concepts that are easily explained and understood.

    1. Your rule of thumb sounds like an excellent approach Damon. The problem arises when those who aren't trained instructors attempt to teach others. Someone can be an excellent skier yet have no clue about what technically makes them an excellent skier, let alone how to teach those skills to someone else. And when a spouse is involved, it's usually an exercise in frustration (not speaking from personal experience of course :))

  2. Regretfully the industry is full of instructors who are great skiers, but have no idea why they are great skiers. They've just been doing it forever, and because they can ski well, they assume they can teach. There are many instructors who are far better skiers than I, but they can't teach others to do what they can do.