The 8 Most Common Misconceptions about Skiing
Skiing for the first time can be intimidating, no doubt. Read on to catch the top mistakes beginner skiers make, so your first time can be a little smoother.
Photo courtesy of Alex Friedman.
Skiing is awesome. The Legendary ski videographer, Warren Miller, believes he “showed people freedom by teaching them how to turn a pair of skis.” Skiing is a great way to connect with nature and experience snow, but it can be a little disorienting if you’re a newcomer, especially if skiing wasn’t part of your family’s traditions or your high school didn’t have “ski breaks.”
Quick disclaimer: this article is not about how to ski or learning the technique (people spend a lifetime learning that), but it’s just a quick compilation of some tips for people just getting started with the sport.
1. Thinking the only way to get started skiing is by buying a ski pass.
When you're just starting out, there’s no need to pay for a “lift” ticket to ride the magic carpet up and down the bunny slope. Instead, you can find a public bunny hill and get some reps in by walking up, and skiing down (bonus points for the added exercise you’re getting). One huge disclaimer: it’s always important to keep in mind avalanche risk. Because green slopes are generally between 6 and 14 degrees (way out of the range of avalanche terrain), you should be in the clear, but it’s always important to be aware of the terrain you’re entering whether you’re in the backcountry or at the resort.
Once you’ve put in the reps on the bunny hill, and if you’re still stoked with skiing, then that’s the time to go full send on the season pass—at that point, it will be very helpful to ride the lifts to put in the reps required to really hone your technique.
2. Not protecting your noggin.
Don’t skip out on the head protection. If you think a beanie looks cooler than a helmet, 1) it doesn’t, and 2) it’s super easy to hurt your head no matter what level you are: safety always comes first! To ensure proper fit, put the helmet on and shake your head. If the helmet slides around a lot, it's too big. If the helmet is noticeably tight or doesn’t buckle, it’s too small. Also when checking fit, make sure there isn’t a gap exposing your forehead between your goggles and your helmet. If there is, pull your helmet forward and tighten it a bit and push your goggles up. If there’s still a gap, wear a headband or hat under your helmet to cover it to stay warm and avoid a pretty bad sunburn. If you're more of a visual learner, check out this video on how to pick and fit a ski helmet.
3. Not having the right ski clothes.
You’re going to be outside in the cold for most of the day, so it’s essential to have comfortable, warm, waterproof outerwear for skiing. The best way to do this is to layer up, more than you think you may need. Also, be sure to avoid cotton (such as jeans). Cotton is one of the least waterproof materials, and can freeze if it gets wet from sweat or snow. Also, opt for goggles over sunglasses. Goggles stay in once place, protect from wind, snow, and sun, and as a bonus, keep your face warm. By no means do they have to be the best ones on the market, but definitely try to get a pair meant for skiing. Other essentials include warm mittens or gloves and warm ski socks that go up to your calf! Check out some awesome gear for less on Switchbackr!
Photo courtesy of Alex Friedman.
4. Not knowing the impact of weather on skiing quality.
Snow and weather conditions make a HUGE difference to the overall joyousness of skiing. At its best, skiing can be a cathartic, amazing, hootin’ and hollerin’ experience. At its worst, skiing can be cold, wet, icy, miserable, and downright dangerous. Your goal is to get as close to the former and avoid the latter, and this has a lot to do with weather.
An important note: just like skiing technique, predicting weather and snow conditions is something that people spend lifetimes honing, so don’t expect to be the ultimate weather guru on day one. Instead, here are some super general tips that will hopefully help you make good decisions with regard to weather and when picking a good day to ski:
As a general rule of thumb, it’s pretty hard to have a bad day skiing during a “bluebird day” (sunny, no clouds, blue skies). If it’s snowy, overcast, windy, or rainy, you have to be a little more careful about what you’re getting yourself into. Specifically, if it’s “snowing,” pay attention to the ambient temperature and water content of the snow (two highly-correlated variables).
If the outside temperature on the mountain is cutting it close to 32 degrees, you might be in for a slushy, wet ski day—a common issue in Lake Tahoe with its famed “Sierra Cement”. If it’s colder outside, then snow water content tends to go down and snow quality tends to go up! This is why Utah and Montana (which are generally colder than California) are famous for their “cold smoke” powder. Additionally, pay attention to the elevation at which snow turns from rain, and compare this metric to the minimum elevation you’ll be skiing at. One great resource is NOAA’s point forecasts, which can tell you detailed weather data for specific points on the mountain (as opposed to mountain towns). Try it out here.
A semi-related but extremely important plug: do your part to protect our environment. In a time when global temperatures are predicted to rise by ~2 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s more important than ever to be active about taking care of our planet. If we don’t, skiing and other snowsports may very well become anachronistic activities that fell to the wayside with rising global temperatures. To read more about climate change's effect on skiing, check out this great article by NOAA.
5. Thinking the only way to get good is by taking lessons
There are plenty of ways for beginners to get into skiing without dropping hundreds of dollars on a private lesson. One of our awesome founders, Alex “Danger” Friedman, didn’t start skiing until he was 19 years old. He learned by watching youtube videos, other skiers from the lift, and by getting other people to record him skiing. After spending some time on the mountain, you’ll be able to pick out the ‘great’ from the ‘good’ from the bad skiers and imitate fantastic technique.
6. Not being safe and cautious on the slopes.
If you’re a newbie skier, you generally fall into one of two subsets: someone who takes it very slow, or someone who takes it way too fast. This paragraph is for the latter. The most important thing to remember when skiing is to always stay in control. Not only can you endanger yourself, but you also put other skiers at risk when you’re out of control. A good rule of thumb is that you should always be able to stop to avoid other people or objects on the run.
However, you don’t want to stop for long periods of time in the middle of the slope. This can be hazardous to yourself and other skiers, especially if you're stopping somewhere that’s not visible from above (like right under a drop off). If you’re going to stop on a run, pull over to the side where you’ll be safe and out of the way, or stop near a sign or trees. Another key thing to remember is to pay attention when merging trails. Always glance up the mountain to make sure you won’t ski directly in front of an oncoming skier.
7. Buying resort food
Photos courtesy of our epic ambassadr Laura Ippolito.
Resort food is both super expensive and usually not that good. Get more bang for your buck by bringing your own lunch. Founder favorites include PB&J, cheerios, and Strawberry frosting Pop Tarts. Not only will you not have to deal with 150% markups on food, but you’ll also avoid the lines and crowds at the lodges. Less time spent waiting for food equals more time on the slopes.
8. Not taking care of your gear.
You just made an investment in your first pair of boots or skis - YAY! Now, you have to learn how to take care of them. If you have boots, it’s crucial to learn some boot care maintenance. Some quick basics: buckle them back up after skiing, don’t put them near heaters, don’t take liners in and out all the time, and wipe down the shells after runs. If you have skis, dry them off after a day on the slopes, wax your skis (with environmentally friendly wax), and deburr the edges of your skis to remove sharp edges (or burrs) and keep them smooth.