Despite what you’ve seen on the Olympics or in ski movie clips, skiing isn’t as complicated as a beginner might think. But it is as fun as it looks.
If you or someone you know wants to try skiing, do it. But to ensure the the first experience is a good one, avoid these three common mistakes that can ruin a first day on skis. if you make one of these mistakes, well, to quote Thumper the Super Cool Ski Instructor, “you’re gonna have a bad time.”
12 beginner mistakes new skiers make and how to avoid them, according to a lifelong skier
I started skiing in elementary school on road trips to the mountains of Colorado and Wyoming with friends and family. Now, I live in Colorado and ski every winter.
Between the cold, snow, steep terrain, and many pieces of specialized gear involved, skiing can be an intimidating sport for beginners. As an advanced skier who’s been skiing for more than 15 years, I know the sport can also be difficult to master because it’s an intensely physical activity that requires muscles you probably don’t use very often.
But beyond the sport itself, there’s also skiing etiquette to understand, plus some unspoken social and cultural norms that I think beginner skiers should know and keep in mind before hitting the slopes.
Here are 12 of the common missteps I often see novice skiers making and what I recommend doing instead.
All too often, I see new skiers wearing the wrong socks.
Novice skiers may think any old pair of socks will work with ski boots. But take it from me: Wearing the wrong socks is a recipe for chilly, sore feet.
I used to grab a random pair of socks on my way out the door to go skiing, and I always struggled with painfully cold toes that sent me hobbling into the lodge to warm up every few runs.
Finally, I invested in a pair of Smartwool socks that are made for skiing and they made all the difference in the world. They’re on the thinner side and made from mostly wool, and have cushioned soles and mesh sections to allow your feet to breathe. In my experience, the wool helps wick away sweat and keeps my feet dry throughout the day.
And, while they’re not specifically compression socks, I’ve found that since similarly they’re thin and pull up over the calf, they help keep my feet warm and allow for more blood flow to my toes. Though socks are probably the last thing on your mind, I recommend paying attention to them — your feet will thank you.
It’s a mistake to think that fresh powder will be easy to ski.
I often hear other skiers talk about how great powder, aka freshly fallen snow, is. But in my experience, skiing in deep, fluffy, unruly powder is much more challenging compared to skiing on snow that’s been groomed.
During my first ski trip to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort a few years ago, for example, I was stoked when I heard a big storm was moving through and dumping fresh snow in its path. Then I actually got on the mountain and realized just how frustrating and exhausting skiing powder is because it’s harder to ski through than freshly groomed runs where the snow is more packed down and flat.
Until you become more experienced, I recommend sticking primarily to groomed runs and approaching powder carefully, with a healthy level of respect.
Tackling terrain that’s too difficult for your ability level can be dangerous.
Ski runs are color-coded by difficulty level: Green means beginner, blue is for intermediate, black means advanced, and double-black means experts only. These labels are there for a reason: so you don’t hurt yourself (or others) or end up calling it quits out of frustration and having to trudge or carefully scoot down the slope.
A few years ago, I figured I could handle double-black terrain while visiting Taos Ski Valley. And though I did eventually make my way down the run safely, it wasn’t pretty, and, perhaps more importantly, it wasn’t fun.
I had a hard time controlling my speed and my quads burned from trying to turn slowly and carefully. I fell several times and had to muscle myself back up to standing, which was difficult because of the slope’s steepness. When I finally made it down, I was exhausted, sweaty, and discouraged. Now, I stick mostly to blue and black terrain, which is much more comfortable for me.
Though I think it is important to push yourself so you progress, I recommend getting very comfortable at one level before trying to move up.
Not taking a lesson with a ski instructor can hold you back as a beginner.
I know it can be tempting to simply rent some gear, get a lift ticket, and hit the slopes, without a clue as to how to get down the mountain. But, speaking from personal experience, taking a lesson with a ski instructor is well worth the time and money, especially if you’ve never skied before. I took lessons when I first started skiing, and continue to take them periodically to this day to help improve my skills even more.
In just a few hours, an instructor in group or private settings, can help you grasp the basic movements and techniques of skiing or snowboarding, which you can then build upon and practice on your own. In my opinion, a full- or half-day lesson will save you a lot of frustration and, likely, some next-day soreness. Think of it as an investment in ensuring you actually have a good time while skiing.
And though you may have well-meaning ski companions who promise to offer you some free tips so you don’t have to splurge on a lesson, I think it’s best to learn from a neutral third party who is a professional and knows how to teach people a complex new skill. If you try to learn from a friend or romantic partner, in my experience, you’ll likely end up snapping at each other, and that’s no fun.
Skiing way too fast is reckless and hazardous.
A professional lesson is also a good way, in my opinion, to learn how to control your speed.
Without this understanding, I’ve seen many beginners fly down the slopes and hope that the terrain will eventually flatten out to slow them down. This may sound like fun, but in reality it’s terrifying and also very dangerous, not only for yourself but for other skiers and riders around you, as you could collide with someone at a high speed and cause an injury.
Safety aside, skiing more slowly also allows you to take in the scenery, be present in the moment, and enjoy yourself. Bombing down as fast as possible may mean you ultimately get in more runs throughout the day. But, in my experience, skiing slow and controlled means you’ll have better runs — and my vote is for quality over quantity.
Not wearing a helmet isn’t worth the risk, in my opinion.
I cringe whenever I see someone skiing or snowboarding without a helmet. Just like when riding a bike, helmets help protect your head in case you crash — and ski crashes can be pretty intense, because you can reach fairly high speeds.
I’m a relatively conservative skier and even I’ve clocked in at speeds of 35 miles per hour, which I can tell thanks to an app I use on my phone.While they’re not required by the resorts, in my opinion, it’s best practice to wear one for your own safety.
If you’re renting equipment, I highly suggest you ask about a helmet in addition to boots, skis, and poles. If you want to buy your own gear, I think it’s worth investing in quality head protection, as well.
I like the Smith Mirage helmet because it has a MIPS safety system that helps protect my head from impact at different angles, as well as soft ear coverings and adjustable vents that I can open when I get warm.
Stopping right in the middle of a busy run can lead to crashes with other skiers.
Among skiers like me, it’s seen as very inconsiderate and bad form to stop in the middle of a busy run.
If you wipe out and involuntarily crash, that’s one thing. But if you’re fully in control and you decide to stop to look at your phone, chat with your ski buddies, or snap a few photos for Instagram, you’re just being rude because you’re blocking the run where other people are skiing.
On top of being careless, it’s also dangerous. Depending on the terrain, approaching skiers and snowboarders may not be able to see you and change their course or slow down in time, which could result in a collision.
Just like you would when driving a car, the correct etiquette is to pull off to the side of a run if you plan to stop for longer than a few seconds. I believe this makes the experience safer and more enjoyable for everyone on the hill.
Not wearing sunscreen is no in my book.
Snow, ice, clouds, and chilly temperatures may make some novice skiers think there’s no chance of getting sunburnt out on the slopes. But this is another misconception I learned the hard way a few times when I was a beginner.
The sun often shines brightly during the winter months in mountainous regions. And, since most ski resorts are located at high elevations, the sun’s rays are more intense because of the thin atmosphere and, thus, more damaging to your skin. These rays can also be especially damaging around reflective surfaces like snow, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
Do yourself a favor like I do and apply sunscreen to any part of your body that will be exposed while skiing, and reapply throughout the day. And don’t forget chapstick — I always go for one that also has SPF.
Not checking the weather forecast for the day can result in being over- or under-dressed.
I know it sounds simple, but if you don’t check the weather forecast, you could spend the entire day being miserable because you’re over- or under-dressed. If you wear your absolute heaviest ski pants and layer upon layer when the sun is shining and temperatures are fairly mild, in my experience, you’ll overheat after a few runs. Conversely, if it’s bitingly cold and windy and you didn’t wear the right clothes, you may find yourself spending more time warming up in the lodge than out on the slopes.
The night before I head out skiing, I always check the next day’s forecast to see whether it’ll be sunny or cloudy, whether it’s expected to snow, and how windy it will be. It’s an unscientific process, but if I know the weather will be overcast or gusty, or the temperature will be below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, give or take a few degrees, I’ll usually wear my thickest pair of insulated ski pants, plus my full ski coat (which consists of an exterior shell and a fleece liner).
If the forecast calls for full sun, no wind, and temperatures above freezing, I typically wear a lighter pair of ski pants and just the outer shell of my coat. I wear a lightweight, moisture-wicking base layer no matter the forecast.
Not eating and drinking enough throughout the day means you can lose energy.
I’ve seen a lot of beginners who like to go hard to get the most out of their daily lift ticket. Skiing is expensive, and if you’re only on vacation for a few days, I can understand that you may feel tempted to ski all day long, from first to last chair.
But I think it’s a mistake not to build in breaks throughout the day for hydration and sustenance. Skiing isn’t just effortlessly gliding around, it’s an athletic activity that requires a lot of full-body exertion. Not to mention, you’ll likely be at a higher elevation than you’re used to, which will push you even more cardiovascularly and you may get winded more quickly than you thought.
Your body needs calories and water to keep shredding the slopes, so for new skiers, I recommend paying attention to how your body feels and avoiding overextending yourself. Stop by the drinking fountain often like I do, or pack a reusable water bottle in your coat or backpack.
Stuff your pockets with snacks that will be easy to munch on — my personal favorite is a toasted peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Many ski resorts also have on-site eateries, which I think are great options to combine a break with a filling hot meal or snack to build your energy up again.
Misunderstanding the ski lift lines and not filling up all the lift seats holds up the line for everyone.
Ski lifts, also called chair lifts, can be intimidating when you’re learning how to ski. Most novice skiers have probably never encountered anything like a chair lift before, and learning how to sit down on the chair — which slows down, but doesn’t fully stop as skiers get on — can be tricky.
Sometimes, I’ve noticed the lines to get onto the lift can be equally as confusing to beginners. In front of most chair lifts at the resorts I’ve been to, there’s usually one queue reserved for ski instructors and people taking lessons, which is off-limits to general skiers. Then, there’s the singles line, which is where solo skiers line up so they can join other groups of skiers to fill out the entire chair.
Beyond that, there are general lines where groups of people skiing together stand and wait to board the lift. Lifts have varying capacities — some are small two-seaters, and others I’ve ridden on can accommodate up to six skiers per chair. Unless the number of people in your party matches the number of seats on a chair exactly, it’s common courtesy to link up with strangers while you’re waiting in line to fill out the entire chair.
If you are skiing with one other friend, for example, but the chair lift can accommodate four people, it’s considered rude by regular skiers like me to try to ride by yourselves, especially when the line is long. Grouping together with other people makes the line move more quickly, and I’ve found it’s usually a good way to meet and chit-chat with fellow skiers.
Getting too worked up over little things or losing your cool on the slopes is something I see that’s disappointing.
Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed some seriously unnecessary anger outbursts on the slopes. Once, I was waiting to get on a lift on a beautiful, bluebird day at Winter Park (a bluebird day means sunny with a clear sky in skiing), when a fellow skier lashed out at me for not scooting forward quickly enough in the line.
Yes, being in a crowded lift line can be frustrating, and trying to get the bartender’s attention for après-ski can be annoying, but in my opinion, these and other small frustrations do not warrant acting out.
Whenever this happens to me or I witness people getting mad over little things on the slopes, I’m always a little surprised and disappointed. We’re out here on a beautiful day, enjoying the sun and the snow with friends and family, maybe even on vacation. It makes me wonder, what’s there to be upset about?
My advice for beginners is to remember that skiing is a privilege and a luxury, something that’s supposed to be enjoyable and fun. You’re out here to enjoy yourself. Relax, let loose, and don’t sweat the small stuff.