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17 First Time Skiing Tips (and Snowboarding) for Success on the Slopes

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Nothing says winter adventure like getting out on the slopes for downhill skiing with the family, but the idea of family skiing for the first time can be a little intimidating. Figuring out the right equipment, finding the perfect ski destination, and learning how to ski is a lot of information that can take a lot of research. Plus, it’s not the most budget-friendly outdoor adventure, so you want to save where you can.

Our first season in the Colorado mountains with the kids taught us that skiing for the first time can easily be simplified. A few basic first time skiing tips will get you set in the right direction and quickly confident on the slopes this winter.

This article is focused on tips on navigating your way through your first time skiing adventure, rather than teaching how to ski. We’ll leave that to the pros! If you want a sneak-peek at ski techniques taught in skiing for beginners lessons, this is a great intro video:

Getting Ready for Skiing for the First Time

1. Skiing for the First Time – or Maybe Snowboarding?

There was a time when this wasn’t even a question. There were few – if any – snowboarders on the mountain slopes, and lessons and information were geared just to skiing for beginners. Things have since changed, so before you even get out there, you’ll want to consider boarding as an alternative to skiing.

There isn’t a right answer – it’s a personal preference. We know families who have their kids master skiing before trying out snowboarding, and while others set right out with boarding.

We decided on one season of skiing, then let the kids switch to boarding. We found that boarding was more natural for them and they all picked it up quickly. Whichever you choose to start with, make sure to take at least one lesson and give it some time before deciding if it’s right for you.

2. Find the Right Ski Destination

Ski destinations can vary in what services, amenities, and activities they have onsite. Deciding what is important for the perfect ski adventure for your family will help you pick the right place for skiing for the first time.

Ski Resort vs. Ski Area

Ski areas offer the basics for a day on the slopes. Equipment rentals, lessons, and dining options are almost always offered. An on-site lodge usually has some gear storage, restrooms, and a place to warm up by the fire.

Ski resorts are perfect for family ski vacations and a first time skiing experience. Like a hotel resort, ski resorts have almost everything you need right there: shops, restaurants, lodging, and plenty of après ski activities. Many offer transportation from the airport, so you don’t even need to rent a car.

Find the Best First Time Skiing Experience

Choosing your location based on trail difficulty will give you more options during your ski trip. This is one of the first time skiing tips we still use today. We don’t want to spend the day with few trail options, so we look at how many acres are open for our skill level.

Ski runs are graded on levels of difficulty: a green circle (the easiest), blue squares (intermediate), and black diamonds (the most extreme, and can be double or triple black diamonds). Ski areas websites often show the total number of skiable acres and the percent of trails or acres by each level of difficulty. New skiers want mountains that have plenty of easy runs so you don’t get bored on the same few trails all day.

Search “mountain information” or “mountain stats” to learn more about the trails. Here are links to find this information at a few of our favorite Colorado ski areas: Keystone Ski Resort, Loveland Ski Area, and Crested Butte.

3. Know the Basic Ski Lingo

Navigate through your day of skiing for the first time with a basic knowledge of common ski lingo. This will help you ask questions (and understand the answers), steer you clear of runs you don’t want to be on, and give you some overall confidence.

Click here to skip to a list of common ski lingo and terms to know before you set off on your first time skiing experience.

4. Book Lessons for Snowboarding or Skiing for Beginners

Even seasoned skiers benefit from a ski lesson here and there. Getting a lesson before your first day on the slopes makes skiing a better experience for both kids and adults.

There are generally 3 options for lessons, fitting different budgets and goals.

snowboarders at the top of a ski run
Ready to take on the slopes after a few lessons

Group Lessons

Pros for group lesson: This can be the least expensive way to get pick up some new skills.

Cons: The larger groups mean less attention from the instructors, but skiers are grouped by age and skill level. Choose from half or full-day lessons. This is a good option for kids when the parents are experienced skiers. Mom and dad can spend the day skiing while the kids get lessons.

One-on-One Ski Lessons

Benefits of a one-on-one ski lesson: You’ll get full attention from the instructor, who will tailor the lesson to your skill level.

But…: These can be expensive, but they can be worth it. If you’ve invested in a week-long ski vacation, you’ll enjoy it more if you feel confident on more of the ski runs.

Family Private Lessons

After our kids learned the basics in a group lesson, we signed up for a private family lesson. This is right in the middle of group and one-on-one lessons. More targeted attention than group lessons, but more budget-friendly than one-on-one.

Our instructor was patient, informative, and fun to learn from. Our small group (with my sister and brother-in-law) had some experience, so we were a little bit ahead of skiing for the first time. But since it had been a while since the adults had been on the slopes, our instructor accommodated the varied skill levels in our group, allowing us to all learn at our own pace.

The lower student-to-teacher ratio helps everyone gain those skills much faster than in the larger group lesson, so everyone is ready to hit the slopes on their own.

We added discounted lift tickets to our half-day lesson. We spent the afternoon practicing the skills we learned in the morning. 

5. Prepare for Storing Personal Items

It might seem a little ahead of the game to plan this in advance, but the day will go more smoothly if you do. Personal items, like sunscreen, water, and tissues, need a place to go while you ski, or need to be carried with you.

  • If you have just a few items to bring with you, there may be enough space in your pocket to carry everything. This is especially easy if you plan to purchase lunch and snacks at one of the restaurants.
  • You can keep everything with you on the slopes by wearing a backpack. This can get a little annoying on the lifts, but is otherwise an easy option. Choosing a backpack that holds a water reservoir makes it really easy to stay hydrated.
  • Renting a locker in the lodge is a good option if you don’t want (or need) to carry everything with you, but don’t want to take the time to trudge back to the car (which may require a shuttle ride). The cost varies by locker size and ski resort, but we generally pay $10-20/day.
  • Keep personal items in your car. Lunch time picnics in the parking lot are actually kind of fun. This is easier when your able to park reasonable close to the lifts.

First Time Skiing Tips to Save Money

6. Free Ski School for the Kids

The Epic SchoolKids Pass program is the best place to start. The program is available at Vail Resorts in Colorado and Utah (update: this program is now offered at Whistler Blackcomb in British Colombia beginning in the 2018-2019 ski season). The program offers free ski passes, one beginner lesson, and one equipment rental (does not include goggles) for kids in Kindergarten through 5th grade.

skiers at Keystone Co ski school, lessons are one of the best first time skiing tips
Ski School @ Keystone Resort in Colorado

Keep in mind that the free ski (or snowboarding) lesson is specifically focused on skiing for beginners, meaning anyone who has never put on a pair of skis. Instructors teach the kids about the equipment, how to put on their ski gear, and how to move around once the skis are on. This program is also available for snowboarding.

Pro tip: When the kids are signed up for ski school, parents who aren’t skiing may get a discount to ride the gondola to watch the kids. Ask at the information desk or ticket window.

7. Pack a Lunch and Snacks

Buying lunch and snacks at the ski lodge can get expensive, so packing your own lunch can save you a lot of money. You’ll see a lot of people pack their own food for the day, so you won’t feel out of place. If you want to maximize your time on the mountain, carry lunch with you in a backpack to avoid the haul back to your car in ski boots.

the family having lunch at a picnic table on a mountain at a ski resort
A ski picnic is one of the best kinds of picnics

8. Rent Ski and Snowboarding Gear

One of the best money-saving tips when skiing for the first time is getting equipment rentals. Rentals from the resort are more convenient (some even deliver right to your room the night before), but can cost more. We have found rentals of the same equipment at less than half the cost from ski shops offsite. Check around for rental prices ahead of time. Rentals don’t include goggles, though, so it’s recommended to purchase those even if you plan to ski only a few times.

Arriving at the Ski Destination

9. Start the Day with an Early Arrival

It can take a surprisingly long time to get from your parked car to the lift in many ski areas. Getting all the gear on, picking up a shuttle at the bigger ski resorts, and hitting the restroom all before making your way to the lift takes time. If you have a lesson scheduled or want to get there before the crowds get big, make sure you arrive early.

10. Get Familiar with the Ski Resort

Pick up a map, find restrooms, and get a locker if you need it (you can also store your personal items in your car). Also, take the time to make a plan to meet up with the rest of the group – for lunch or après ski – if you’re going separate ways.

First Time Skiing Tips on the Slopes

11. Relax and Don’t Fear the Falls

You will fall. You will have some trouble getting up. The tenser you are, the more this will happen. Keep calm and relaxed, and have that fake-it-till-you-make-it confidence. Before you know it, you’ll be carving turns with fewer and fewer falls.

12. Prep for the Ski Lifts

The ski lifts can sometimes be tougher to learn than skiing itself. When you’re new, especially on your first time skiing experience, let the lift operator know that. He or she can give some instruction and tips, slow the chair to make it easier to get on, and radio to the lift operator at the top to slow the chair so you have time to safely get off the lifts.

First time skiing tips include learning to get on and off the ski lifts

Safety Tips for Your First Time Skiing Experience

13. Wear Your Helmet

Growing up skiing, there were no helmets anywhere. That’s all changed now. Some resorts require them, and for good reason. Wearing a helmet has saved countless lives on the slopes. They prevent head injuries if skiers should lose control and hit any obstacles (including other skiers or boarders) on the runs.

14. Protect with Sunscreen

There are few things better than a sunny day in the mountains, but that sun beats down hard. Even if the sun is just barely peeking through, slather on that sunscreen to protect your skin. If nothing else, it will prevent weird goggle- and gaiter-shaped tan lines on your face.

15. Follow the Posted Rules

Slow down where marked, stay off closed trails, and watch for those in front of you. These are just a few of the ski area rules you are likely to see. Familiarize yourself with rules and reading signs to keep everyone safe and traffic flowing.

16. Take Plenty of Breaks

Skiing and snowboarding are surprisingly exhausting. You would think that since your equipment is doing most of the work and so much of your time is sitting on the chair lifts, this wouldn’t be the case. Take some time to get out of the sun, hydrate, and relax for a minute so you are able to maintain focus on practicing your new skill.

17. Dress in Layers

Believe it or not, it can get HOT skiing on sunny days. On one of our day trips in the Colorado mountains, the highs were in the 10s but it was still beautifully sunny. By mid-day, we were removing uncomfortably hot layers. The weather is unpredictable in the high elevations, so dress so you can flex with the temps.

Skiing for Beginners Packing List & Tips

Skiing is one of the few activities we do that doesn’t require consulting an extensive packing list. You don’t want to carry too much with you on the slopes, and you probably don’t want to trek back to the car for anything (like your lunch!).

The first things on our list is ski gear and clothing to keep warm (we even borrow a few tips from keeping warm when camping in cold weather).

Ski Equipment to Rent When Skiing for the First Time

  • skis (or snowboard)
  • boots
  • poles (skiing only; these are often not used for the kids’ first time skiing experience)
  • ski goggles (some rental shops do not include goggles, so consider purchasing these if they do not)
  • ski helmet (if you choose to buy helmets for the family, our kids like the helmets from Giro and we like the Smith Optics helmets)

Winter and Ski Gear to Bring

  • typical winter gear (warm coats, snow pants, hats, and gloves)
  • base layers
  • backpack (we have and love the 2.5L Osprey Synchro 10 and the 1.5L Osprey Moki hydration packs for the kids – not only great for hiking with the kids, but we found they are perfect for skiing too)

Personal Items to Pack

If you don’t want to worry about carrying a backpack around all day, ski lodges almost always have lockers to store gear while you’re on the slopes.

Common Ski Lingo for New Skiers and Boarders

Ski Lingo for Types of Skiing

In downhill skiing, “carving turns” is slang for skiing. Shredding describes snowboarding (and snowboarders are often called shredders).

Backcountry: In this type of downhill skiing, you “earn your turns” by hiking up the mountain and skiing (or snowboarding) down.

Alpine Skiing: Another way to describe downhill skiing, where the boot is attached to the ski at both the toe and heel.

Nordic Skiing: I’ve always called this cross-country skiing. Only the toe is attached to the ski. This activity is self-propelled, unlike downhill skiing which relies on gravity.

Carving Turns: The term used for skiing

Types of Ski Lifts for Getting Us Up the Mountain

There are multiple ways to get to the top of the ski run. You might come across any variety of these at any ski area.

Magic Carpet: This is like an uphill people mover (like those found in airports), but is carpeted to protect skis and boards. These are generally found on the smallest hills, used for ski schools.

T-bar: Also used in beginner ski runs, these have a T-shaped bar for skiers to sit while being pulled up the mountain.

Chair Lift: The most traditional way to be transported up the mountain. Skiers and boarders sit in a chair that usually holds 2-6 people for a ride to the top.

Gondola: Gondolas are enclosed, and sometimes heated, vessels that lift riders up the mountain. These are often longer rides. Skis and boards are not worn while riding in a gondola.

Ski Lingo for Ski Runs

Run: A ski run is a trail designated for skiing.

Green (Circle) / Blue (Square) / Black (Diamond or Double Diamond) Ratings: Trails are rated for levels of difficulty, where green is the easiest, blue is intermediate, and black is the most difficult. These are also described by shapes (noted in parentheses). Ratings are pretty consistent for different ski areas, but they can vary some.

Moguls: Bumps on the ski run that add a level of difficulty to the trail. Most often found on black diamond trails.

Groomed: These trails have been smoothed over to remove any obstacles that have formed from new snow or heavy ski use. Groomed trails are a bit easier to ski on, so look at the trail information to avoid any ungroomed trails.

Corduroy: Groomed trails have perfect ribbed lines formed by the snowcats, which resemble the pattern of the fabric corduroy.

Corduroy is ski lingo for the pattern made on freshly groomed trails

Pow: Short for powder, describing the fresh, fluffy, new snow on the ski runs.

Lingo for Techniques Used By Beginner Skiers

French Fries: Skiing with the skis parallel with each other to increase momentum or speed.

Pizza: This describes skiing with skis angled, where the tips are close together and the back of the skis are farther apart. This is also sometimes called wedge or snowplow.

Traverse: When skiing for the first time, high slopes can be the enemy. To combat this, traversing is a technique used in skiing for beginners: skiing back and forth across the trail and turning on each side to lessen the grade of the slope. Use caution with this technique though. Crossing in front of other new skiers can result in collisions.

A Few Other Ski Lingo Terms to Know

Après Ski: Ski lifts start shutting down around 3 or 4 pm, then everyone gathers in the lodge or at on-site restaurants to relax after a long day and talk about the great runs they had. This is time is called après ski, a French term that translates to “after ski”.

Ski-in, ski-out: Some ski area lodging is described as ski-in, ski-out. This means that the hotel, cabin, etc. is on a ski run or very close to a ski lift so you can start skiing from right outside your door.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I prepare for skiing for the first time?

Skiing is a sport for almost everyone, but strength and balance come in handy for a day on the slopes. Plan to rent ski gear (skis, poles, helmet, and goggles) instead of making the investment to buy these items for your first time skiing experience. Dress in layers, with a waterproof outer layer (like ski jacket and snow pants) to prevent melting snow from reaching your skin. First time skiers should also book a ski lesson to learn basic techniques that will make skiing fun and safe.

Is it easy to ski for the first time?

Skiing is not hard, but it does take practice, patience, and confidence. New skiers can rent skis that work better for beginners and should choose trails and runs rated for skiing for beginners.

How many days skiing is enough?

Long days in the sun, intense focus, and early mornings can make skiing a tiring sport, so if you’re planning a ski vacation, include a day or two break from the slopes during your trip. One day will likely be spent learning (or re-learning) on skis, then plan another day or two to really take advantage of ski runs.

Can you learn to ski at 40?

If mom and dad want to learn to ski with the kids, they definitely can learn to ski at 40 or even older.

Is skiing easier than snowboarding?

Yes and no. It’s said that snowboarding is easier to learn but harder to master. Some people don’t like that both feet are connected to the snowboard, but it’s also easier to slow down and stay in control with a snowboard.

Why is skiing so expensive?

There can be a lot that goes into skiing. Weather-appropriate clothing, ski gear, lift tickets, and lodging all add up quickly. It’s easy to reduce the costs with used (or rental) gear, season tickets or multi-day lift tickets, and packing your own food.

How many lessons does a beginner need?

At least one. Then spend a few days practicing what was learned in the lesson and building confidence on the slopes. Then consider going back for a more intermediate lesson.

Have you recently taken your first family ski trip? Let us know your essential first time skiing tips in the comments!

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4 thoughts on “17 First Time Skiing Tips (and Snowboarding) for Success on the Slopes”

  1. Getting all the skis and gear with little ones can be a nightmare. We use a sled! Load it up at the car and drag it to the lodge. Usually we are able to stash it out of the way near the kid center. It has always been there when we return at the end of the day but you might want to consider the possibility it could “walk off”. Also, a pocket full of candy is a huge incentive for my littles to get on the chair lift ONE MORE time. Have fun!

    1. A sled to haul gear is such a great idea! Yes, we’ve been known to throw in a few motivating treats to get the kids excited for that last run 🙂
      Thanks for sharing!

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