If this is the year you've finally decided to learn how to ski or snowboard, then you're in for a treat. With the new gear and advanced teaching techniques, skiing and riding never has been easier. But there are several important things you need to know to make your adventure safe and fun: choosing where to learn, renting the correct equipment, and finding the right instruction.
Choosing Where To Learn
One of the best things about learning how to ski or ride is that you have more options available to you than more experienced riders. Beginning skiers can learn how to ski at small local resorts as easily as they can at large destination resorts. The only requirement is a properly maintained beginner's area and a good instructor. Beginner's slopes are typically wide and well groomed with a very gently pitch - almost flat. Good beginner's slopes also will have a variety of ways to get you up the mountain: surface lifts (sometimes called magic carpets) and beginner's chairlifts. First time skiers at Deer Valley in Utah can enjoy the Wide West beginner's area without the intimidation of faster skiers or crowds. Several intermediate runs lead from the area, allowing beginning skiers to slowly advance to more challenging terrain.
Start With Good Equipment
The most important part of learning how to ski and snowboard is using appropriate equipment. Even if well meaning relatives offer to loan you their gear, politely decline. Just because it worked well for them during World War II, it doesn't mean it will work for you today. Instead, go to a ski and snowboard shop that is staffed by trained and certified mechanics that know how to properly fit you. Rent your equipment from a shop located near your destination resort, if possible. If your equipment fails or you need to change to a different ski or board length, it's easy to drop into the shop for a quick exchange.
Modern ski and snowboard equipment has gone through a series of changes over the past 15 to 20 years. Gone are the older straight skis that towered over your head and refused to turn. In their place are shaped skis that literally turn themselves. Today, shaped skis and snowboards are the only technology you'll find. Shaped skis and snowboards are shaped like an hour-glass - wider in the tips and tails and narrower under foot. The result is a ski or board that turns by simply rolling them over onto their edges. For more information about getting proper skis, check out the article in the gear section of Onthesnow.com or ask your ski rental technician.
Finding The Right Instruction
Regardless of how well you ski or ride, lessons are an essential part of having a safe and fun outdoor experience. Once upon a time, taking lessons could be difficult and frustrating. Different resorts taught different techniques. However, in 1961 a group of dedicated professional ski instructors founded the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA), a professional organization responsible for standardizing and updating modern ski instruction at all resorts in the United States. PSIA began teaching the American Teaching System (ATS) - a series of teaching techniques that guaranteed the lesson you take at Sugarbush, Vt., would be the same at Mammoth Mountain, Calif. PSIA formed the American Association of Snowboard Instructors (AASI) in 1987 and began teaching from their resource, the Snowboard Ski Instruction Manual. As a result, it's much easier today to find a certified snow sports instructor that teaches the same as their colleagues. You can take an all day group lesson for under $100 a day. Read, "Lessons: Should It Be A Group? Or Private?" for more information about taking lessons.
Staying Warm On The Hill
While it's not necessary to spend thousands of dollars on trendy ski and snowboard outfits, it does pay to rent or buy good quality clothing, headgear, socks, and gloves. Nothing can sap the fun out of a day faster than a pair of cold, wet hands or feet. You can borrow skiing or riding clothing from friends who are similar in size. Begin with good quality long underwear (called the base layer), cover it with durable snow pants (not blue jeans) a turtleneck, fleece vest, and a warm parka. Follow it all up with socks that are made from cotton/polyester blends, a neck gator, a helmet, and goggles. If you can't find anything appropriate to wear, contact retailers like Mountain Threads who service all of the ski resorts in Colorado. Package deals start at $39 a day and include a jacket, pants, goggles, and gloves. They'll even deliver your gear to your room.
Ways To Save Money
Before you rent your equipment or purchase your lift ticket, stop by the ski school office at the mountain. Ski schools often offer packages that combine the price of lessons and discounts on equipment and lifts. For example, [R400R, Snow Summit] in So. California offers its "GuaranSki/GuaranRide Beginner Special" package that includes four hours of instruction and lift tickets for the beginning chairlifts and a discount on equipment for $69. Each package comes with a guarantee that you'll be able to ski and ride the lifts by the end of the day or lessons are free until you can.
If you've waited to learn how to ski or snowboard because you thought it was too difficult to learn or too expensive, your wait is finally over. Now is the time to get on the mountain. As Warren Miller, the famous ski film maker always says, "...if you don't do it this year, you'll be one year older when you do."