How to ski for the first time without feeling like an idiot

November 29, 2014                 5m read time
Ben Brown

It’s your final day of skiing and you take the lift to the top of the mountain. The snowy peaks rise up around you, the pristine snow just begging to be torn up.

You gather your nerves, do a little fist bump with your friend and push off. You’ve totally mastered that parallel turn and you whiz down the slopes. Destination: the bar! Hot toddies are on the loser. A week ago you couldn’t even put ski boots on. High-fives and hugs all round.

Coming home with bumps and bruises isn’t everyone’s ideal vacation. But if there’s even a small part of you that’s always wanted to ski, it could be the best week of your life. Here’s how to make that first time easy.

Take a friend

Skiing is always better with friends. The first few days can be frustrating, so you need someone to encourage you and laugh through the falls. And when you finally nail a perfect run, it’ll feel even sweeter if you have a ski buddy to celebrate with.

It’s also safer. First-timers should never be alone on the slopes. If something goes wrong, you’ll need a partner to help you out. Your friend should be a first-timer too. If you go with experienced skiers, they’ll soon be zooming off down black diamonds (they’re the hardest ones) and you’ll be left alone and out of your depth.

Man in ski gear at top of mountain Javasport

Man in ski gear at top of mountain



What to wear

Rule number one: Don’t worry about looking cool. And please don’t take jeans or too much cotton. They will get wet and clingy and no one wants that. A warm and dry body is your goal here. If you don’t get that right, it’ll ruin your week. This list is a good place to start:

Waterproof jacket

Try a layering approach—base layer, mid-layer (or mid-layers, depending on conditions and how hot or cold you run), and outer jacket—to keep your top half toasty.

Men tend to run warmer, so they typically need fewer layers. Often, they can get away with a shell (uninsulated jacket), an optional mid-layer, and a base layer. In general, women need more layers to stay warm. They’ll probably be happiest with a warmer jacket in addition to more layers. 

A 3-in-1 jacket (also known as a "component" or "triclimate" jacket) is a great option for a beginner. This style comes with a shell and a removable fleece or insulated liner (that can also be worn separately) for ultimate versatility.

Keep an eye out for high waterproof and breathability ratings (remember—no cotton!). annotation This crucial combo will help you stay dry and not overheat.

Ski pants 

As above, so below. Similar to your jacket, you'll want pants with high waterproof and breathability ratings. Pants also come in insulated and uninsulated versions. Usually men buy just the shells and women buy insulated pants. Either way, it's probably a good idea to wear a base layer pant or leggings underneath for additional warmth and comfort.

Goggles and sunglasses

You’ll want anti-fog lenses and 100 percent UV protection for both of these. Your sunglasses should have plastic or polycarbonate (which is more flexible than hard plastic) lenses. Polarized lenses will also reduce glare and help you see more definition in the snow’s surface. For goggles, a mirrored lens is ideal for sunny and bright conditions, and a high visibility lens is best for snowy conditions. Many styles come with interchangeable lenses to address both light conditions.  

Sunscreen and lip balm

The power of the sun increases on the mountain, so make sure you protect your skin. SPF 50+ is best for high altitude.

Socks and gloves

As your instructor will be sure to tell you, you ski from the feet up so socks are important. The best protection for your tootsies are thin thermal socks. They give you more control when you twist your feet to start your turns.

Skiing gloves are obviously a must. They’re thick and warm but still allow for a good grip on the poles. Ski mittens are great too if your fingers get cold easily.

Small child in full ski gear, including mask Ruth Hartnup Pro tip: You will never look as cool as this little ripper. Don't even try.

Small child in full ski gear, including mask

Ruth Hartnup

Pro tip: You will never look as cool as this little ripper. Don't even try.


Newbies should rent skis and ski boots from a shop at the resort. For safety’s sake, never borrow these from friends or family. They must be set up especially for you based off of your weight, height, and experience level. Although not a hard and fast rule, beginners' skis will usually reach their chin; intermediate, their nose; advance, their forehead.

Make sure your boots fit properly. Getting a size too big is a common mistake. Before deciding they're too tight, completely buckle your boots. Buckling them will help position your foot securely in the heel. The boot should feel snug all around and you should feel some pressure on your toes (but not too much). The tighter the boot, the more control you have when skiing. That said, what matters most in the beginning is comfort. You don’t want your foot falling asleep during your first lesson. 


Backflips and 540s won’t teach themselves! Okay, so you won’t be learning any backflips just yet, but don’t trust anyone who says “you’ll be fine” without lessons. You really won’t. With a tutor, it’ll only take a day to get the hang of the basics, and you’ll spend the rest of the week having fun. Go it alone and you’ll waste a week just figuring out how to stop.

If you really want to make the most of your ski trip, take a lesson at an indoor slope back home first. It’s a great way to boost your confidence before you go.

Walking in your ski boots

Don’t be alarmed when you put your ski boots on for the first time—walking like a robot with a limp is totally normal. Heel first, then toe. You’ll pick it up quickly.

Bender, the robot from Futurama 20th Century Fox Don't sweat it: walking like this is totally normal.

Bender, the robot from Futurama

20th Century Fox

Don't sweat it: walking like this is totally normal.

Ski lifts

Ah, the ski lifts. The first-timer’s nightmare. Getting on and off can seem scary. The lifts don’t stop and they don’t leave a lot of time for you to get into place. The trick is to stay calm and let the lift do the work.

Three people on a ski lift Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism

When you’re preparing to get on, move quickly to the stopping line. Keep your poles ahead of your body and use them to help you stop. Stick your butt out and bend slightly at the knees, like you’re about to, well, sit down on a ski lift. Look back and watch for your approaching seat. When it arrives, sit down and enjoy the ride up the mountain.

As you near the top, bend forward, nose to knee. When the ground levels out, simply rise up. The momentum of the lift should carry you forward, but be prepared to push away with your skis, too. You’ll want to move out of the way of the people coming up behind you.

Right of way

Towards the end of the week you might start to zoom past the slower skiers. (Try not to look too smug.) Remember that skiers in front of you always have right of way. It’s your responsibility to give them a wide berth.

Skier falling Neil Rickards

Skier falling

Neil Rickards


What to do when you fall over

This one’s inevitable I’m afraid. But don’t let falling down get you down. Try to see the humor in it. Besides, everyone falls once in a while. If you can, shuffle to the side of the run to get out of the way. Face sideways across the mountain, so that you won’t start sliding down. Grab your poles together and dig them into the uphill side, as if you were rowing in a canoe and your poles were the oar. Push your body forward and upward in a smooth motion. That should help you get back on your feet.

When you have a heavy fall, your skis are designed to pop away from your feet. This prevents them from getting tangled during your tumble and spares your legs from serious injury.

Have fun!

Don’t forget to look around and take in the scenery. Laugh, make friends, and master that slope that looked impossible on day one. You’ll be booking your second trip before you know it.

Ben Brown

Ben is a traveler, writer, and musician. He spends half his time on the road and the other half at home in the U.K. He is the music editor at Amazing Radio and regular contributor to The Huffington Post.

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