Ski season is upon us. Many have already been, have a trip planned or are booking a last minute escape. Perhaps you’ve booked onto your first ski holiday and are now panicking about what you need to do to prepare, or have been asked if you’d like to join but just aren’t sure?
As an adult, learning to ski can be pretty daunting. The thought of flying down mountains at over 40 mph, completely out of control, while small children whizz past you at ease, is an image that has probably entered quite a few adult beginners’ heads.
It is daunting. There will be small, annoyingly good children (and adults) all around you. But you don’t have to feel out of control, go at 40mph or fly down mountains.
I was terrified before my first trip to the slopes. I wanted to see what the fuss was about but I had some major worries:
“What if I can’t do it?”, “What if I end up on my bum the whole week?” “What if I can’t stop?” “What if I fall off the edge of the mountain?!”
That wasn’t even considering all my fears about friends leaving me behind and spending the week by myself.
My boyfriend wasn’t much comfort – he’s pretty good at picking up most sports, and has zero fear when it comes to speeding down mountains (he’s an avid cyclist). His first holiday he gave up on lessons after 3 days because they were so bad, and he was bombing it down “easy” blacks by the end of the week, and enjoying a few drinks on the slopes during the day.
All of this sounded horrendous to me. Lessons not being useful?! How will I learn? BLACK runs? NO THANK YOU! And drinking while skiing…that really just sounds like a recipe for disaster – and how will you help me if you’re tipsy!?
As it turns out, I needn’t have worried, and nor should you, if you take a little bit of time to prepare.
Below is my list of the top 10 things that helped me through my first week, and I hope might help you too.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Learning as an adult, you immediately fear you’ll be in a class with children, that everyone else will be a proficient skier and you’ll be the only one looking like bambi on ice. But obviously not everyone learns as a child. The children go to children’s classes, and the adults go to an adult class. The children just aren’t an issue.
That said, try not to go during holidays. Check when the country you’re visiting has school holidays, and check your own country’s. It gets very busy during holiday season, and the prices go up. If you can avoid it, do. I thankfully haven’t been during holiday time, but it’s busy enough on a random week in March – it’s meant to be crazy during holidays, with huge queues, over crowded slopes and generally less fun!
Try before you go – you might think that those indoor ski slopes seem like a bit of a rip off – a two hour course for £80!? – but trust me, they help massively. When you get to the piste, there’ll be a million things you’re trying to work out (how to get to the piste, where is the ski school, how do I read the piste map, where did I put my ski pass etc) that you don’t want to also be worrying about how you actually put skis on, or moving on the snow. It’s an odd sensation when you first do it, and knowing simply how to start and how to stop will make you feel much more comfortable on day 1. You’ll likely have to use either a magic carpet (a slow uphill travelator that tends to jerk and stop-start a lot and has no rails – nobody likes this) or a button lift ( a small round “seat” attached to a pole that whips around quickly and you try and grab before it speeds off, and will leave you face-planting if you ever actually try sitting down). At an indoor ski lesson you’ll also learn some of the basics – starting off, snow ploughs, turning with your snow ploughs and walking uphill on your skiis (a rather tiring activity). You can learn all of this in a couple of hours and what it means is that you’re less likely to panic when you arrive, because you’ll already know how to put on your skiis, and feel more confident just getting to the start of your first class.
On top of this, you’ll be less likely to start in the bottom group for lessons. Often you are asked to go down a very small slope and stop, just so instructors can see your ability and put you in a relevant group – the bottom group is the group that doesn’t know how to stop. You may feel more comfortable in that group, but if you’re a quick learner then you may find that group quickly gets tedious, and you’ll have to wait til day 2 to move. If you can’t get to an indoor slope before hitting the mountains, then I would recommend spending some time in the ski hire place getting used to putting on and taking off your skis, and trying it on the snow a few times before going anywhere. Watch some youtube videos/ask friends for a demo or advice on snow ploughing and just understand the basic requirements so that you aren’t completely overwhelmed.
Wear the right gear. If you can get to an indoor slope, you’ll get a feel for how cold it might be on the mountain. I think SnoZone is set to about -5C, and while it can be a lot warmer in the mountains when the sun is out, the chair lifts still get pretty nippy and a day without sun at 3000m is very chilly. Always take a good pair of gloves (preferrably with a nose wipe!)whether you are a hot or cold person. Cold hands can ruin your day. Places like Trespass do half decent basic pairs for very little money.
If you’re a cold person, you might want to consider a good mid-layer (a thin fleece that you can pack away into your jacket if you warm up), and a buff (a scarf that you can raise over your head too to sit under your helmet and warm your ears if it’s chilly). Yes I would recommend a helmet. It’s like wearing a seat belt – you might be the safest skier/driver in the world, but you can’t control what other people or the elements will throw at you. No fashion is more important than keeping yourself alive.
If you’re a warmer person, make sure your jacket and trousers have vents. I have become a lover of the pit zips. And make sure your jacket has a ski skirt, as you will fall over in your first week and you don’t want snow up your back and on your stomach. Take goggles – they’re great for sunny days and snowy days – although better if you have different lenses for the varying conditions. Try and borrow most of this kit if it’s your first time – no point investing hundreds if you decide you don’t like it! You can rent helmets at ski hire shops at your resort.
Keep skiing. Most lessons are in the morning. Quite a few people I skied with would then go for lunch and relax all afternoon. While you don’t have to go hard in the afternoon, I’d advise doing a few runs to cement in your mind and muscles what you learnt in your lesson. If the piste is too daunting, then stick to the nursery run, but try and find at least an easy route to practice on. It will keep it entertaining. If you’re skiing with friends who can ski already, get them to film you so you can understand what you look like and watch your improvements over the week. I found it really fun going out in the afternoon and finding some nice greens and blues which often trailed through forests, gently wound around the mountains into valleys and generally made me feel more confident as I skied.
DO NOT let your friends push you into doing something you aren’t comfortable with. If you’re forced onto a steep run you can’t handle, not only do you risk injuring yourself and others, but you risk scarring yourself mentally, knocking all the good techniques out of you, and not wanting to carry on. You’d be better off focusing on getting faster and better at easier routes, and practising improving your turns and posture. If your friends want to do some scary stuff, get them to do it while you’re in class. Most people are happy to have half a day of try hard, and half a day of taking a bit more easy.
On my first day, there was bad weather so most of the routes were shut, and the only route down the mountain was a red run which had some pretty steep slopes at the start. As it was the only route to take, my beginner friend and I let ourselves be led down it by our friends. By the time I’d got about 200m and fallen over more than 10 times, I gave up and hiked back to the top (no mean feat!). I went back to the nursery slope to practice where I could build technique. My friend battled to the bottom but didn’t enjoy it much. Thankfully he was of strong mind and it didn’t put him off, but it didn’t help him improve further than me either, and he undoubtedly felt quite sore after so many falls! I got the chairlift back down the mountain that evening, and felt much better for it.
Watch what you consume. It’s all about the apres ski – and who doesn’t enjoy a nice gluhwein or a refreshing pint at the top of a mountain!? But bear in mind you have to get back to the bottom! To be honest I’ve not seen anyone drunk on the slopes, perhaps because I haven’t been to a party destination, but most people will stop after a couple, knowing that they have to get back. Who knows though – maybe one or two will give you some dutch courage?!
As for food, you aren’t likely to have snacks – unless you take a cereal bar out on the slopes, so best to eat a warming and filling breakfast and then enjoy lunch. You will be doing exercise most of the day, so eating well is advised! Lactose and gluten-free people be warned- there is a lot of stodgy, cheesy food in the mountains – and it’s all really expensive. Be prepared to spend 15 euros at lunch for something pretty basic. I would take a collapsible water bottle out with me to at least limit some of the costs!
On my first trip I found I had no appetite at all the entire week. For food or booze. I was confused because I could tell I was nervous, but generally I eat more when I’m nervous. It was only when I went up into the mountains again in the summer and experienced the same feeling that I realised I had altitude sickness. For me this meant I didn’t want to eat, had a very tense stomach and was finding myself short of breath (more in the summer when we actually hiked up the hills). It didn’t ruin my week, but just be aware if you haven’t been at altitude before that this could affect you, and that’s ok! Just take it at your own pace, eat what you can and don’t panic.
Accommodation – where should you stay? Both times I’ve been I’ve stayed in a chalet, but in different ways. The first trip, my friends and I rented the whole place. It was great fun and a lovely set up going with friends. The second time, my cousin and I stayed in a room in a chalet where there were lots of a other groups. This was also really good – it never felt like we were on top of each other, but was good for meeting new people.
Both chalets were great for food, wine and relaxing. Breakfasts would include a hot breakfast and continental food, there would be afternoon tea, aperitifs and a three course dinner with drinks. One of the chalets had a hot tub and both had lots of comfy sofas and big roaring fires.
At a chalet you have a nice area to put your skis and boots to dry and it’s not too far from you. However, chalets are rarely right on the slopes. I do wonder whether staying in a hotel where you can ski right out onto the slopes would be better. But I also think hotels are less personable, and you don’t have chalet hosts who have all been lovely. Either way, hotels and chalets I think would be preferable to self catered accommodation. My boyfriend stayed in an apartment his first time, which meant that the group spent a lot of time cooking and cleaning. Additionally, you don’t usually have transport in ski resorts, and supermarkets aren’t large, so buying your food can involve trekking up the hillside with heavy bags of shopping, and meal choices will be limited.
I love cooking and eating, but I think skiing is one holiday where taking the stress of it out is better.
Partying. This relates to point seven. Perhaps the party aspect is what appeals to you about skiing. That’s fine, and actually skiing is a good cure for a hang over, but do bear in mind that lessons start at 9am generally, and while you can party anywhere in the world, you can’t ski anywhere.
Relax! Don’t forget, this is a skiing HOLIDAY, and you are out there to enjoy yourself. Don’t spend the week looking down at your skis, not taking in the views and fearing for your life. As my ski instructor last year said to me, “Madelaine! Souris!” Sometimes, smiling can actually help you relax and remind you that what you’re doing is pretty damn awesome. Enjoy the crisp mornings, the warm and cosy mountain restaurants, sitting out mid afternoon in the sun with a hot chocolate or a beer and being out in some of the most dramatic scenery in the world. And be proud of yourself for getting out there and giving it a go!
I’ve realised that I’ve made the assumption through this that you will do lessons. If you haven’t skied before I do recommend them. They will help you pick up good technique and keep it. They aren’t too expensive either – a lot of holidays incorporate them into the cost, but you can buy direct from the main schools (like ESF in France) and in advance a whole week of group lessons is really reasonable.
Do you have any other tips that you’d want to see included? Or other questions about skiing? Please feel free to include in the comments below!