View across a piste, Val Thorens Ski Resort

Your First Time Skiing Questions, Answered

Whether you’ve decided to try skiing for the first time or you’re still thinking about it, this post will answer your ‘first time skiing’ questions.

Will your first time skiing be wonderful, terrifying, crazy, exhilarating, easy, difficult, freeing, uplifting, life-affirming, and/or one of the best things you’ll ever do? The answer is ‘yes’ to all of the above!

Skiing (and/or snowboarding) is something that everybody should try at least once. There is something very special about being out on the snow, breathing the fresh mountain air. And there is something even more special about doing that whilst skiing. One of the reasons we love skiing is because it gives us a real opportunity to switch off from work. It’s impossible to think of deadlines, emails, meetings, etc etc when you’re hurtling down a mountain!

Once you’ve caught the ski-bug you won’t want to be cured. Your first time skiing will be an incredible experience!

Whether you’ve already decided to learn, or whether you’re still thinking about it, this post will answer your ‘first time skiing’ questions.

1. Can I really learn to ski as an adult?

Yes!

It’s one of those annoying facts of life that when you learn something for the first time, generally the younger you are the better. But does that mean you shouldn’t learn new things as an adult? Of course it doesn’t. And that applies to skiing as much as it does to anything else.

Learning something new as an adult is different to learning as a child, not least because adults tend to think about and questions things a lot more. Plus, you’re aware of your mortality in a way that a child is not. Whilst this can be a hindrance to learning, when you make progress the sense of achievement is a fantastic feeling. Probably even more so as an adult than as a child because it is that bit more challenging. Your first time skiing is no different.

Barriers people may put up to learning to ski for the first time:

BarrierResponse
I won’t be any good at itRarely are people good at things the first time they try them. In any event, the harder something is the more rewarding it is to make progress with it.
I’m too oldNo matter how old you are, if you’re mobile and have the willingness to learn you’re not too old. And even if you’re not mobile, you may still be able to learn at a specialist facility.
It’s all too much effortSkiing does require effort but it’s worth it. If you don’t like making an effort sometimes then the reality is that skiing probably isn’t for you.
Skiing seems pretty scaryThings can often seem scary if you’re outside of your comfort zone, no matter what level you’re at. If you take the time to learn to ski properly what seemed scary at first will become fun to do and you’ll look forward to the next challenge.

We’ll never forget the exhilaration we felt when we skied a difficult black mogul piste for the first time! It was such an achievement that for weeks after, whenever things felt too pressured at work, we’d look back at the photo we took of the piste and remember when we conquered something we didn’t think we could do. It definitely helped with work motivation!

2. What time of year should I go?

There are no stupid questions, and that includes this one. You might think the answer is ‘winter, when it’s snowing’ and, whilst that is right, there is a little more to it.

Ski Seasons

For a lot of ski resorts in the northern hemisphere the ski season tends to run from December to April (the opposite in the southern hemisphere). There are, however, some resorts which open in November and stay open right through until May. These resorts can have an extended season because they are at very high altitudes and they are, therefore, more likely, to have snow in November and May. Such resorts include Obergurgl in Austria and Val Thorens in France. If you want to ski very early or very late in the season then you should go to a high resort.

View across a piste, Val Thorens Ski Resort
Val Thorens is the highest ski resort in Europe, at an altitude of 2,300 metres above sea level

Avoiding the crowds

For your first time skiing we recommend going at a time when there will be fewer people there. Not only will you avoid lift queues, you won’t be concerned about crowds of people trying to ski on the same slope as you. Trust us, it’s a confidence boost to have lots of space around you as you ski.

It is a good idea to avoid skiing during the school holidays, if at all possible. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you shouldn’t ski at popular resorts (such as Whistler in Canada), but you should be clever about the time of the season you go.

Different resorts have different peak times and a good place to start is to look at the price of lift passes. The prices fluctuate throughout the season, depending on whether it is considered peak or off-peak. The off-peak prices are cheaper than peak season. In our view, skiing off-peak is a good idea for your first time, but for good snow conditions look for a snow sure resort.

How cold it is will also dictate whether it is a popular time to ski. For example, in Europe and Canada January and February are usually the coldest months to ski and, therefore, they are not as popular as a month like March. Skiing in the colder part of a season will mean cheaper prices and fewer people, just make sure you have the right gear to keep you warm (see question 7 below).

Sometimes it can be too cold though. For example, we skied in Levi in Finnish Lapland in February when the temperatures were in the -40s (°C). It was so cold that we had to wear goggles all of the time to stop the water in our eyes from freezing. We also had to wear face masks to protect our skin. It was an incredible experience but we strongly recommend that you don’t go anywhere that’s ridiculously cold for your first time. You don’t need to make it harder for yourself when you’re learning to ski!

What if it doesn’t snow?

Weather can be unpredictable and some years are better than others in terms of the amount of snow falling. Nowadays, a lot of resorts are ‘snow-sure’, meaning that they have snow making facilities so that skiing is possible, even if the white stuff isn’t falling from the sky. For your first time, try to go mid-season to a high resort with snow-making facilities to maximise the opportunities for decent snow coverage.

And that brings us on to the next question…

3. Where should I ski for the first time?

The graphic below sets out what we think you should look for in a ski resort for your first time and what we think you should avoid.

Infographic setting out what to look for and what to avoid in a ski resort for your first time skiing.

The ski resorts we review in our post 9 Ski Resorts to Make You Fall in Love with Skiing are all fantastic for first-time skiers. Have a look at the article for specific resort recommendations.

4. Will I be any good at skiing?

Time for a bit of managing expectations!

Accomplished skiers make skiing look graceful, easy, and effortless, with their ‘swoosh, swooshing’ down the slopes, their speed, and their impressive ability to stop quickly. As you may know, and will know once you’ve tried skiing for the first time, skiing ain’t easy! Not in the early stages of learning anyway.

Ski professional crouching on skis in Val Thorens
It may take a ‘few’ lessons before you ski like this!

It will take a while before you are an accomplished skier. However, don’t let the time it takes to get there make you think that you won’t be good at skiing. You will have so much fun learning and if you give yourself the best opportunity to learn, you will get there. And you will be good at it.

How quickly will I progress?

It is trite to say that everybody learns at a different pace and in different ways. Trite but true. How quickly you progress will depend on various factors, including, how fit you are (skiing requires strong legs, especially when learning), how willing you are to let yourself learn, and how much practice you put in.

Don’t forget that you’re on holiday so don’t put too much pressure on yourself to learn to ski quickly. That’ll be the way to guarantee that you end up hating skiing! But if you’re serious about learning, give yourself the best opportunity to do so and you’ll surprise yourself with the progress you make.

I’m scared about falling over and injuring myself

As the saying goes, if you don’t fall over at least once when skiing, you’re not doing it properly!

We’re not going to lie, falling over is not our favourite part of skiing, but it is an inevitable part of it. Even the best skiers fall. It is part of the learning process and not nearly as bad you may think it is. So long as you respect the sport and you don’t try to ski on runs beyond your ability, the chances of injuring yourself are low. Minimising the risk of injury is one of the reasons we recommend taking lessons the first time you ski (see #6 below), and your instructor will be on hand to help if you do fall. And, very importantly, will teach you how to stand up again.

In short, accept that you’re likely to fall and then move on from it. If you let the fear of falling interfere with the learning process it will become a Catch-22 situation: the more you’re scared of falling, the more likely it’ll be that you will fall.

5. Will I be cold?

You’ll be surprised how much of a sweat you’ll work up skiing. Especially when you’re learning! All of that effort not only helps you progress, it helps keep you nice and warm too. You may nevertheless get cold if you’re not wearing the right clothing (see #7 below). You may also get cold if you’ve chosen to ski somewhere that is very cold. As we said above:

We strongly recommend that you don’t go anywhere that’s ridiculously cold for your first time. You don’t need to make it harder for yourself when you’re learning to ski!

6. Should I have proper skiing lessons when my partner/friend can teach me for free?

Yes! Yes! Yes! If you’re serious about learning to ski then you should invest in yourself and have proper lessons. Whether you choose to have group lessons or private lessons is a matter for you, but we cannot emphasise enough how important it is to have lessons. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Ski instructors are trained to teach you to ski. Sounds obvious but it’s worth stating. Why would you want to learn from somebody who doesn’t know how to teach?
  • Ski instructors know the ski area inside out so they won’t take you on runs that they don’t think you’re capable of doing.
  • A ski instructor will tailor his/her teaching style to suit your learning style and will very quickly spot what your strengths and weaknesses are, helping you to progress quickly.
  • When it comes to other skiers, instructors command authority on the slopes. This helps to ensure that you’re given space by others to learn.
  • Ski lifts can be tricky to use at first and the lift operators will listen to ski instructors when they ask for the lifts to be slowed or stopped to ensure you can get on safely.
  • Instructors are fantastic skiers themselves and so can help you out of most tricky situations. If they can’t help you themselves they know exactly who to call to get help.
  • It’s highly likely that you will put more trust in a ski instructor to teach you to ski than you will a partner/friend. Don’t underestimate the impact that this psychological advantage will have on you!

Unless your partner/friend is a qualified ski instructor you should definitely have proper skiing lessons. And even if you do know a qualified ski instructor, you may still find that you learn better when being taught by somebody else.

I’m going away as part of a group, can I ski with them?

It’s tricky when you’re learning to ski and you’re going on holiday with people who are better than you. After all, skiing as a group can be a lot of fun and a ski holiday should, first and foremost, be about having fun.

A lot depends on how kind your friends are: skiing holidays can make or break friendships! That friend who takes you to the top of a black run and tells you it’ll be great, only to leave you at the top a quivering wreck with no other way down? Yeah, that’s no friend!

Of course, it’s entirely up to you but, in our experience, losing confidence with skiing is no fun and it can take a while to get it back. Moreover, if you don’t respect the mountain you’ll create dangerous conditions for yourself and other skiers.

If you’ve had a few lessons, you’re feeling confident to try skiing as part of a group AND your friends are the type who will stick with you and not take you on anything that you won’t be able to do, by all means ski with them. But if they’re the sort of friends who think it’ll be funny to watch you lose confidence, arrange to meet up with them later and ski alone on the runs you know. Even if they’re the sort that think they’re helping you by taking you on too difficult runs before you’re ready, it’s better not to ski with them until you are more confident.

Here endeth the lecture. Sorry! Did we mention that skiing is supposed to be fun?!

7. What equipment and clothing should I buy?

Equipment and clothing is a bit of tricky one because there are a lot of things that are essential (skis immediately spring to mind!). At the same time, there are a number of things that you should avoid buying for your first holiday, not least because it becomes very expensive.

The infographic below sets out what you definitely need to have, what you may want to take, and what you don’t need to take because you can hire it at the resort. If you can, borrow as many of the essential things as you can. Try to avoid paying out for specialised ski equipment until you know that you’re going to be going on ski holidays again and again.

Infographic setting out the ski equipment and clothing you definitely need, what to hire in the resort, and what to think about taking.

To focus on some of the items mentioned above:

  • Skis – DO NOT buy skis in advance. The skis that you will use when you first learn to ski are different to those you’ll need as you improve. And those are different again to what you’ll use when you’re an expert skier. Hire skis to save yourself a huge amount of money (and hassle).
  • Ski Boots – Yes, using your own boots which have been moulded to your feet has many advantages, comfort first and foremost. They are, however, expensive. Most ski resorts have absolutely fantastic equipment to rent, and this includes ski boots. Rental shops will normally let you try out boots until you find a pair you’re comfortable with. In our opinion, wait until you know that skiing is definitely for you before buying ski boots.
  • Face Mask/Hand Warmers/Mid Layers/Ski Buff – These things will all depend on how cold it will be (and how cold you get generally). We always take mid layers and a ski buff with us just in case it’s colder than we think, but the only time we’ve needed a face mask and hand warmers was in Lapland (remember what we said above, the temperatures were in the -40s (°C)!). Incidentally, just in case you don’t know, a ski buff is similar to a balaclava. We recommend avoiding using a scarf when skiing because it can be very dangerous if the ends come loose.
  • Ski Socks – Do not underestimate the importance of having proper ski socks (technical socks). Not only will they keep your feet warm, they will make a big difference to how your ski boots feel which, in turn, will make a big difference to your skiing. Do not, we repeat, DO NOT ski in normal socks. You will regret it!
  • Ski Helmet – Ski helmets are becoming more and more popular, with very good reason. Why anyone would want to risk skiing without a helmet is beyond us. A lot of resorts won’t allow children to ski without one these days, they make that much difference to your safety. You will be able to rent a ski helmet but, if there’s one piece of ski equipment you’re desperate to buy in advance, let it be a ski helmet.
  • Ski Goggles – Weather conditions can vary quickly in the mountains and it is difficult to see without specialist lenses. For example, when it’s sunny the reflection from the snow is dazzling; when it’s gloomy the flat light can disguise bumps and ridges in the snow and throw you off balance. Goggles also help to keep your face warm. Sunglasses just aren’t good enough. You can’t rent ski goggles (at least, we’ve never seen this) and so if you can’t borrow a pair you will need to buy your own. Choosing a pair can be a little complicated as the lenses come in different colours, suitable for different types of conditions. Yellow is the best all-round colour and if you can borrow a pair of yellow lens goggles you should definitely do so. There is a useful guide to lens colours on liveabout.com.
  • Ski Gloves – If you can’t borrow proper ski gloves then we strongly advise you to buy a pair. Ski gloves are hardy, waterproof, and warm. Ski mittens are actually a bit warmer than gloves because there’s more space inside for air to circulate, although you’re likely to find that you’re more dexterous with gloves.
Falling in love with skiing at Nozawa Onsen - view from a slope
Nozawa Onsen, Japan

8. What can I do to prepare myself in advance of the ski trip?

Fitness

Learning to ski can be tough on the body, legs in particular. It’s very common to tense up through your body when you’re learning to ski. This makes it harder to do because it then requires a lot more effort to bend and shift in the way you need to. Not only will you have done a full leg workout, you’ll feel like you have too!

The more you can do to get your body ready, the better. Otherwise you risk feeling fatigued early on in the holiday and this may become a barrier to your learning. We’re not saying you have to hit the gym before going on a ski holiday, but your body will thank you for it.

Strength training is particularly good for skiing. Anything that builds resilience in your legs and strengthens your core will help you on the slopes.

Cardio training is also a good idea: when skiing you’re constantly alternating between aerobic and anaerobic fitness states. Therefore, doing steady state and interval training will be of benefit. Not only will an improved fitness level help when you’re skiing, it will help you deal with the lower oxygen levels at high altitudes.

Flexibility training is also something you should incorporate into your exercise routine. Improved flexibility will help you to avoid muscle strains and sprains, as well as strengthen your muscles and joints.

There are lots of good ski fitness exercise programmes online. It’s worth having a look to find the best one for you.

Dry Ski Slope Lessons

If you want to get a taste of skiing before your holiday you can have a few lessons on a dry/indoor ski slope. This will give you an idea of the feel of skis, as well as introduce you to the basics of skiing. This is a good option to give you a head start for your holiday, although be warned that skiing on a dry ski slope is different to real snow.

9. Will I get lost on the mountain?

Hmm…OK, it’s important to be honest…if you don’t have your wits about you it’s surprisingly easy to get lost in a ski area. This is the case whether it’s your first time skiing or not.

When you first look at a piste map (a map of all of the runs and lifts in a ski area) it’s natural to feel overwhelmed. All the different lines and colours can swim before your eyes. Moreover, even if you think you’ve got it, when you get out on the mountain things can look different and what you thought was going down is actually going up (or is it just us that makes that mistake?). Even if a ski area is well signposted, if visibility is poor finding your way becomes more challenging.

We’re not telling you this to scare you, please don’t be scared. We’re just trying to reassure you that it is completely normal to feel disorientated in the mountains.

View from the top of Whistler mountain
An example of the signposting in Whistler-Blackcomb, Canada

Here are our tips:

  • Familiarise yourself in advance with the resort’s ski slope grading system. In Europe, ski roads are coloured green, the easiest slopes are blue, red are harder, and black are the hardest. In America and Canada, green (circle) slopes are the easiest, then blue (square), then black (diamond), then black (double diamond). There’s no red grading. Note that we are saying ‘easiest’ rather than ‘easy’. There is a distinction between the two and it is something that is important to remember. Green/blue runs are not necessarily easy, they are instead the easiest route down. This means that they may actually be somewhat difficult for your level, especially as a first time skier. But they are graded the way they are because they are easier than other runs going down the same way.
  • The most sensible thing to do is to have lessons as your instructor will guide you down appropriate runs. When you’re ready to try skiing on your own, ask your instructor to recommend runs that are suitable for you. This way, so long as you follow what he/she says, you can be confident of avoiding ending up on a run that is too difficult for you.
  • Before starting off, use the piste map to plan your route from start to finish. This way, you know what runs you are going to ski and the lifts you need to take to ensure you don’t end up getting lost. If you make your route up as you go along you may end up getting lost, with the only options down being runs which are too advanced for you.
  • When you start skiing alone find a lift that has only green/blue runs leading down. This way, you can be confident that you’ll be skiing on the easiest runs down, no matter which you take.

10. Will I enjoy it?

As we said at the start, skiing can be the most wonderfully exhilarating and enjoyable experience. The splendour of the mountains is often breathtaking and the feeling you get when you start to get the hang of skiing is unbeatable! Do your first time skiing right and you won’t just enjoy it, you’ll be hooked for life!

One recommendation we have for your first time is to make skiing part of a bigger trip. This way, you’ll have other things to look forward to if you ultimately find that you don’t like skiing. You will also give your legs a bit of a rest! If you really want to challenge yourself and feel the adrenaline pumping through your veins, why not combine skiing with a paragliding experience? If you can jump out of a plane you can DEFINITELY learn to ski! [Disclaimer, we’re not brave enough to do this but our friends, The Danish Nomads, are!].

Paragliding aside, one way of making skiing part of a bigger trip is to combine it with a city break. There are so many amazing places to ski around the world that it is easy to be inventive with your combinations. For example, a winter city break in New York City is one of the ultimate city breaks! But, did you know that New York is also a wonderful place to ski?

The first time we skied in Canada we combined skiing with a city break. We had two weeks off work and wanted to make the most of it. We wanted to ski as much as we could and do some sightseeing. We ended up having a fantastic time in British Colombia, visiting Vancouver for the first time as well as skiing in Canada’s two largest ski areas: Whistler and Sun Peaks.

To read more about this trip and learn how you can do it yourself read An Epic City Break and Skiing Holiday (Our Vancouver/Sun Peaks/Whistler Trip).

If you want to really max out your time and combine skiing with more travelling, why not make skiing part of a multi-country itinerary? For tips on how to do this read Top Tips For Planning a Multi-Country Itinerary.

Skiing is such a wonderful thing to do, we cannot encourage you enough to try it. Apart from anything else, skiing is a fantastic way to get some distance from work stress. Trust us, when you’re out in the fresh air, left breathless by mountain views as well as from learning to ski, you won’t be thinking about your email inbox! We hope this article answers the questions you have about going on a ski holiday for the first time. If you have any other questions please feel free to contact us (either by commenting below or via one of the methods on our Contact Page) and we will do our best to answer them.

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Your First Time Skiing Questions, Answered
A Beginner's Guide to Ski Holidays

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