Needless to say, learning to ski isn’t quite like learning to ride a bike. But we’d argue that learning to ski is better, and it most definitely feels better to fall on snow than hard pavement. However, it can be a little overwhelming preparing for a first ski lesson, both for kids and adults. So we asked Randi Sidman-Moore, OnTheSnow’s in-house photo editor, and an instructor at the Deer Valley Resort Ski School, for some tips on how to prepare for a first ski lesson.
Preparing for your first ski lesson
For children who have never skied before
If you’re a parent preparing your child for their first ski lesson, then try to generate excitement before they even leave for the slopes. Show them a fun ski movie, YouTube clips or a book about skiing. Ahead of time you may want to visit a ski shop and have them try on equipment and look at ski gear, including helmets and goggles. Closer to the ski lesson, practice the way you bend your legs when you ski and practice balancing on one leg. Then show them a trail map and photos of the lifts, and other parts of the ski resort. Remember, always have fun with children, motivating and inspiring them rather than pushing them. Play games, use characters from movies, and have stickers and treats available as positive reinforcements.
Do your ski school research
Not all ski schools are created equal. Find the best ski school with the highest standards, which may have to come with a bit of research or from asking your friends. Randi’s recommendations: Learn to ski outside of the holiday periods, and/or on a weekday, since you’ll receive a more attentive lesson and the practice slopes won’t be as crowded.
Give yourself at least 24 hours to rest and rent your equipment if it’s a ski lesson you’ve traveled for, and particularly if you are traveling from sea level to a higher altitude. “I cannot even tell you how many children I have instructed who have arrived from sea level the night before and hit the slopes early the next day. They often get very ill, dizzy, or nauseous. I even had one student faint,” Randi says.
Altitude sickness is real and it should be taken seriously. Accidents on beginner runs are often caused by skiers who have not adjusted to the high altitude. For adults, try to refrain from drinking alcohol for at least the first 48 hours after arriving at a high-altitude ski resort.
Tips on renting ski equipment
Don’t make the first ski experience hurried and stressful when renting equipment, particularly for children. Plan ahead for where you’ll rent ski gear, rather than waiting until you arrive at the resort. In many ski destinations, ski concierge businesses will bring the ski rental equipment to your condo or hotel, which can eliminate long waits to try on and rent the equipment at the resort. Additionally, many ski resorts rent out equipment like gloves, ski pants, and other items that you may not already have. If you’re driving, you can often rent skis in your hometown, ski shop, or in the town you’re staying in.
Be sure to rent quality gear. Adults should consider splurging for better boots and demo skis. Your trip will be more enjoyable, and you may even find a pair of skis you love. Kids meanwhile can go for the standard ski gear rentals. Finally, we recommend getting a higher-quality, lighter helmet for children.
While this may seem obvious, according to Randi, hydration is one of the most important considerations, since so many guests and skiers experience dehydration on the mountain. Here’s a good rule of thumb: Drink twice as much water at high altitude than you would drink at sea level, especially if you are skiing. You generally don’t feel thirsty in a dry climate, but dehydration can catch up to you quickly. We recommend taking a small daypack with a couple of reusable water bottles. Many ski resorts now have water stations throughout their resorts to fill up multiple times during the day.
Take it slow on your first day
Your first day learning to ski should be slow right out of the gate. Your mind may tell you to hit it hard, but your body is not quite ready to keep up. This means skipping that full-day ski lesson on your first day. A half-day lesson, preferably in the morning, should be the longest you consider when first learning to ski. The slump hits after lunch. Then it’s time to rest, hit the hot tub, and settle in for après-ski.
What to wear for your first ski lesson
Layers and warmth is the key to a successful and comfortable first ski lesson. Always pack foot and hand warmers. Among Randi’s insider tips: Wear compression ski socks, which can help prevent foot fatigue. Additionally, resist the urge to wear a thick ski sweater. Wear thin layers so you can remove them if it gets warm. As for the debate over gloves vs mittens, Randi prefers gloves, but notes that it’s a matter of personal preference.
Make sure you have a good jacket that fits those oversized cell phones. You will also want a jacket that has your ski pass handy so you can easily get through the chairlift gates. As Randi shares, “I prefer my jacket with the wrist pocket, so I can quickly swipe and get through without having to move my body around to get the gates to open.”
A nice-to-have is a neck gator, which is great for warmth, but it also keeps your face protected from the sun. Finally, wear sunblock, even in a snowstorm. There are often breaks of sunlight during the day, and all it takes is a few minutes at high altitude to get a burn.
Pack some snacks, both for kids and adults
Pack snacks and drinks (if possible) with you or in your kids’ jackets. You can also talk with the instructor about where you can leave snacks and water for your child during the lesson. You, your instructor, and your child will be better off keeping them well-fed and hydrated.
Play before the lesson
As time permits, make time to get your kids in equipment, go outside, and practice gliding around on the flat ground to get a feel for the skis. Be sure to make it fun. There are often anxieties before learning something new like skiing, so this is a good way to get some of the jitters out both for you and your child.
Private ski lesson vs. group lesson
This is one of the most important considerations before booking a ski lesson. Private lessons will cost significantly more than group lessons, as private lessons are often priced by the hour, half, or full day. Still, there are good reasons why you should consider choosing a private ski lesson over a group lesson, not the least of which is the 1-on-1 attention. If your child, teen, or even yourself is nervous, a one-hour private ski lesson is a great way to get comfortable on the slopes. Furthermore, if you just arrived the day before and want to get a bit of ski experience the next day, but you don’t want to get too tired out, then a one- or two-hour private lesson is the way to go.
The benefit of a group lesson, especially for kids, is that they can also learn from the other children in the class. It’s fun meeting other kids and skiing in a group, and they can form new friendships, while potentially progressing at a faster rate. Group lessons often include specific kids’ programs, which makes it easier for parents to go off and ski on their own. After a few days, your kids may be strong enough to ski a few runs with you.
Finally, have fun and soak it all in. “Relax and enjoy those early days on skis,” Randi says. “You are paving the way for many years of wintertime fun.”