Thinking about trying (or revisiting) a winter sport? 9 tips for new skiers

Are the Olympics making you feel like you should learn a new sport? First, some advice

Looks SO fun, right? (Photo by Daniel Frank from Pexels)

The Olympics can be so much fun to watch, whether you’re tuning in solo, with your significant other or as a whole family.

But there’s something about The Games that feels contagious: You’re watching all these elite athletes at the top of their sports competing at the highest level, on the highest stage, taking in all that fresh air ... do you ever think to yourself, “I should get out there, too!”

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We don’t mean “Go to Beijing,” of course, but if tuning in for the men’s downhill ski racing event piques your interest, or makes you want to dust off those skis or snowboard you have collecting cobwebs in your basement, you’re likely not alone.

It’s only natural to want to join in on the fun, right?

As a lifelong skier and former ski instructor, I thought I’d share some tips. Although these do largely revolve around skiing (hence my example), a lot of this advice could be applied to learning any new sport.

Here’s what I’d recommend:

1. You don’t have to rush out and buy ALL the gear.

Ask around, through friends and social media, and see what you can borrow, even if that just means snow pants and goggles. A lot of these winter sports can be pretty expensive, when you consider tickets and gear and the whole experience, so before you go too deep with a financial commitment, check around to scope what might be available.

Some pro tips: Beginners don’t need ski poles; helmets, on the other hand, are ALWAYS smart, and some resorts will let you rent demo skis (which are a step up from basic rental equipment -- although you’ll likely find rental gear has upgraded a lot since the ‘90s). Give it a shot! Check your venue’s website to see what’s available before making any large purchases.

2. Don’t get your kids involved too young.

I’m not saying that it’s impossible for your 3-year-old to pick up skiing; every now and then, you’ll see some seriously tiny children who are somehow making it work.

I’ll just advise the following: If you’re determined to book a lesson for your little one, keep your expectations low. Kids don’t have a ton of muscle to hold that “pizza” shape with their legs until they’re 5 or so, meaning you’re likely just going to be paying for glorified babysitting on the bunny hill. And that’s OK! I taught MANY of those kids back in the day, as an energetic high schooler. But yes, I can also confirm that most 3-year-olds are over it after about 45 minutes, and probably just not ready to be on skis yet, period.

3. Dress appropriately.

And I don’t just mean “warm,” although, yes, that too, unless you’ll be spring skiing! No one wants to come in every other run because her fingers are freezing. But beyond just the warmth factor, I also mean “dress appropriately” as in, is the place where you’ll be skiing a tow-rope operation? (Will you sit on a chair lift, stand on a “magic carpet” or grab a rope to get back to the top?) If there’s a rope involved, you’ll definitely want mittens or gloves that won’t get shredded. Again, helmets are a wise choice for anyone, and you want nice socks that are neither the athletic, cotton kind nor too thick -- I like super thin but super insulated. The Smartwool brand is nice. Here’s a handy list, if you’d like some more guidance.

4. Sign up for a lesson.

It doesn’t have to be a private lesson, which is often ideal but sometimes pricy. See if you can gather a small group, or even just find a friend or two to split the cost with.

In my family, we have an unwritten rule called “immediate family members don’t teach each other how to ski.”

And I was raised by a ski-instructor/ski racer/all-around great athlete of a father, but it’s just too easy to sass your own parent or sibling.

Go with the instructor, for yourself or your own kids -- someone who knows what he or she is doing, who you’ll be more likely to learn from. It’s worth the cost, I promise. Fewer tears, less fighting!

I have a daughter who went out for the first time last season, and she got to take advantage of my talented dad and brother as her instructors. I took a backseat, as she snapped at me, “You don’t TOUCH me, Mommy!” and I was instantly reminded of my place.

5. Set the bar low.

Even though I’m not talking about 3-year-olds anymore, just remember that adults have limitations, too. If you’ve never skied, a successful outing might just be a few hours on the hill. We’re all here for good vibes, healthy hearts and fun, remember?

Don’t try to do too much, too soon. Moguls are dangerous if you’re not sure what you’re doing, and hitting that halfpipe or rail might be epic if you’re Chloe Kim or Shaun White -- but I have to imagine Kim and White aren’t exactly my intended audience on this article.

Be safe! Know your boundaries and your limitations. Skiing can be dangerous if you do too much, too soon.

6. Make sure you’re always skiing in control.

And if you’re an intermediate skier, that doesn’t mean you have to go slow or ski like you’re 80!

Just ensure you can *always* slam on the brakes if you need, and you’re steering clear from other skiers.

And save the beers for apres-ski time to ensure you’re being extra safe.

7. Keep your weight out in front.

This can be hard for girls and women especially. To this day, if I get nervous, it’s my instinct to lean back. It might just be part of human nature - jumping away from something that scares us. But nope: When it comes to skiing, you want the pressure in the front of your ski boots, and it’ll actually help control your speed. Just think: Hands forward, weight forward.

8. Don’t snob out.

Sure, some states you can’t ski in at all, but you’d be surprised how decent the accommodations are at even your middle-of-the-road types of places. Don’t feel like you HAVE to plan an all-inclusive week in Vail just to “do it right.” A lot of Midwest skiing isn’t very glamorous, but it’s perfectly fun (and it gets the job done!), because really -- how often are you really going to go out west per season, anyway?

Some regular ski trips are most certainly preferable to once every five years, if you’re waiting around on those special trips. Just get out there! Make do with what you have around you.

9. And finally, go easy on yourself.

Just like No. 5 on this list, I’m here to reiterate: Respect your body and boundaries, it’d probably be smart to stretch out a bit before you hit the slopes, wear a knee wrap (or whatever you prefer) if you have any previous injuries, and come inside if and when you start to get sore.

Even though there’s lots of gravity involved with skiing, it’s still a sport, and your body takes some impact, too.

OK skiing friends, now tell me: What did I miss?

Drop your advice for newcomers or people who’ve been on 20-year hiatuses in the comments below. 🎿

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