Tuesday, January 4, 2011

First Time Skiers - How to Plan Your Trip and What To Do When You Get to the Mountain

You are working out, you have your stuff bought, you are good to go! Now what?

This is part three of a three part series on first time skiers, what they should do. Part one was about what to buy, part two was about how to be fit for the sport, and this part is, well, read the title.

There are a few things you need to know about ski resorts, ski rentals, and all that other stuff before you actually get on the mountain. This post will go over some of the things I have learned so that your experience is as smooth as possible.


First, how much time to plan for your trip. I like to have at least 3 ski days. One day for lessons, one day to integrate what I learned and gain confidence, and the final day to let loose and go nuts. A typical ski day starts when the lifts open, at about 9am, and ends when the lifts close, generally at 4pm. This means that you will need to plan two travel days on either end of your ski days. Be sure to have enough time.


Next where to go? This is really up to you, and how you plan on getting to the mountain. The first time you ski, you really need to do your research and look at what kind of runs are available, and where they are on the mountain. As a first timer, you want to see lots and lots of green. The green hills are the easiest and flattest runs. They are almost always groomed so that there are no bumps that will ruin your day. Green is good!
You have to be a little bit careful though, many resorts have most of their green runs at the bottom of the mountain. This means that EVERYONE at one point in the day will be traversing them. That means that the run will be as icy as it is possible to be, making it very difficult to ski for a first timer. You want to make sure that you can find some green runs in the middle or top of the mountain.
Travel time is also important. If you are flying in, Colorado resorts are a good hour or better outside Denver. Plan on this when you are arriving. Utah is awesome for travelers, as their ski resorts are 30 min to an hour outside of Salt Lake City.
Weather in the mountains can be quite harsh, and change quickly, so you need to take this in to consideration as you plan your travel times.

I like to be in the resort area before the slopes close at 4. This gives me time to pick up any equipment from the rental place, get storage arranged, arrange for lessons, and purchase lift tickets. That way I can start the next day ready to ski.

Personally, I like Winter Park in Colorado for first timers. It is very reasonably priced, and has an abundance of green runs all over the mountain.
The draw backs are it is one of the most crowded resorts in Colorado. Lots of waiting in line and dodging others on the hill.


Decide before you book what you are going to the resort for. If you are going to ski, all you need for lodging is a clean bed and a hot shower. All lodging prices will be inflated, so make very sure of what you are getting. Many places will try to sell you on a condo. If you want the whole luxury aspect of skiing, by all means go ahead.
Most resorts have a free shuttle or bus service to cart your happy ass around, so why pay more for ski in ski out when you could could pay half the price for a hotel on the shuttle route? Do your research!
I try to find a clean inexpensive hotel on the shuttle route that has a free breakfast. You will need the calories, so finding some place that has a hot breakfast is worth every penny. I recently stayed at the Park City Peaks hotel in Park City, Utah, and they had a full hot breakfast buffet! It was so awesome that we stuffed ourselves and didn't have to eat lunch!

Anyway, decide what you want in lodging. This will be one of your major expenses so be sure of what you are getting, how far away from the slopes it is, and how you can get to the slopes. Try not to drive to the resort yourself. Parking is horrible, and will cost an arm and a leg. Buses are always better!

Be aware of hotels that offer swimming pools and hot tubs... They may look like fun after a day of skiing, BUT I have always gotten sick after getting in to these things after skiing. If you want to soak your sore bones after a day on the hills, draw a warm bath. You don't have to deal with other people's yuck.


Unless you live in a place where you can get to the mountains more than 2 or 3 times a week, you are not going to want to spend money on purchasing skis, bindings, poles, servicing, etc etc etc. As a first timer, chances are you are going to rent everything from boots to poles.
Most resorts will have many places for you to rent equipment from, all will basically be the same for a first timer. You just need to put down that you are a level one skier. You don't want any of the fancy "performance" packages. In my opinion, there are only two types of packages. The basic level one, and the demos. The middle tier normally gives you newer skis, but almost all rental skis are beat to hell, and not waxed at all. Don't bother with it, get the cheapest package. If you want to go all out, do the demo package. You will get a bit of a sales pitch afterward, but it is worth it for a tricked out waxed up ass kicking set of brand new skis... But I digress. You are a first timer, get the cheap stuff.
I like to find a rental place near the bottom lifts that offer free storage. This saves all of the headache of hauling your ski gear around at the beginning or end of the day. You will have to hold on to your boots and helmet, but those are easy to deal with. Be careful with storage! Make sure that if they say the storage is free, it really is free, not written in as part of the rental agreement.
The only comment I can give on what to do while fitting everything up is with your boots. You want your boots to be borderline uncomfortably tight, so when you try them on, be sure you get them very snug. Do not stuff any part of your clothing other than your socks, or your base layer if it is designed to go to your ankle, in to your boots. It will cause bruising. Seriously.
Always check with your hotel/lodging about discounts before renting!

Lift Tickets

You will need to purchase a lift ticket. Think of it as the green fee, or admission fee for the mountain. Before you buy the ticket online or at the window, check with your hotel/lodging, they may have a discount for you.
Most new jackets have a little pocket for your lift ticket. Depending on your resort the ticket may need its bar code scanned at all of the lower lifts. Other resorts put a little chip in your ticket so that all you have to do is go through a little gate, kind of the reverse of the theft alarm at your local retail store. At any rate, be sure to secure your ticket to your coat/pants, by some means. Don't just rely on it being in your zipped pocket. It is too easily accidentally removed. At the ticket window you will find little zip ties and other fastening devices.

Lift tickets are priced strangely, you buy a certain number of days for a week period. So you buy a three day ticket for the week of blah blah. It means that you can ski for three days during that time frame. This means that your days do not have to be consecutive. If you have a three day ticket you could take a day off in between and be good to go. Just remember that if your ticket is scanned, even once, you use up that day.


As a new skier, do yourself a favor. Spend the money, get yourself a lesson. Just a half day is all you will need. The instructor will show you how to ski, and more importantly, how to STOP. You will be so glad you did. It will reduce the time you spend crashing as you try to teach yourself how to ski.
The natural reaction to skiing is that you lean backward in your boots, this is the wrong action when skiing. You MUST lean FORWARD in to your boots pressing your shins in to the front, thus the extra padding on your socks (told you I would get to that). If you lean back you will fall more, and use up all of the endurance that you have built in your legs. The ski instructor will teach you this.

If you want you can spend the money and do a private lesson, but, for a first timer, it just isn't worth it... Unless you get embarrassed easily, and can't stand the fact the new people fall.

You have spent so much money on this trip, spend a bit more to learn how to ski correctly and you will be so much better off. Don't listen to the people who tell you, you don't need lessons. They are dead wrong. Don't believe your friends who may be coming with you who say that they will teach you how to ski. They don't ski everyday, and they don't know the mountain like the instructors. Spend the money swallow your pride. By the end of the first day, you will be less sore, less beat up, and ready to take on the more complex hills the next two days of your trip.

I think that is all you will need to know for a first time ski trip. As you can see, it isn't cheap. However trips after the first year are considerably less expensive, as you have all of the necessary equipment, and you won't necessarily need to take lessons again. If you are a new skier, and you balk at the work and money you have to shell out, don't go skiing. If you ignore any of the things that I have written about, you will end up having a bad time. I am not touching on etiquette, culture, or even snowboarders, those you can learn on your own or from the instructors. I am just trying to make sure that you have the proper clothing, equipment, and fitness to have a successful trip and to maximize the pleasure you get from the money that you will be spending.

Have fun! See you on the slopes!

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