With January labeled Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month, some first-timers will be taking advantage of various introductory programs. For the most part, skiers and boarders are a welcoming bunch, but rookies may feel a little intimidated by both the slopes and the culture. Always remember, every skier and boarder was a beginner at one time, so there really isn’t a dumb question. Nevertheless, here are some questions beginners might have, but are afraid to ask.

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1. What Do I Wear?

Good attire starts with a long underwear bottom and top that is known as a “base layer.” This layer should be a wicking material such as a synthetic fabric or merino wool (i.e. NOT cotton). Providing insulation, the “mid-layer” can be a fleece or wool top. The “shell layer” is your outer ski jacket that provides waterproof protection. In many cases, the outer ski jacket has some insulation as well. Similarly, outer waterproof ski pants may or may not have their own insulation. Jeans were cool on the slopes 40 years ago, but their lack of water resistance thankfully forced them out of fashion.

2. Is There a Left and Right Ski?

With the exception of a few specially designed models, there is not a left or right ski. In fact, many skiers let random chance switch them up enough to wear the edges of the skis more evenly.

3. Should I Use a Helmet?

Back in the days when jeans were popular, only downhill ski racers wore a helmet. Now, the vast majority of recreational skiers and boarders do wear a lid. Just as long as you remember that a helmet does not make you absolutely invincible, wearing one is a good idea.

4. How Long Should My Skis and Poles Be?

Chin height is a decent ski length rule-of-thumb for first-timers. Basically, shorter skis are “easier” and more maneuverable for a beginner. For poles, turn the pole upside down and grab it just below the basket. Keep your elbow tucked into your side and hold the pole out in front of you. If your arm forms an “L” when the top of the handle is touching the ground, it’s a good length.

5. How Can I Avoid Getting Hurt?

Fear of “breaking a leg” likely keeps thousands off the slopes. Injury rates are actually quite low, but let’s face it: beginners are going to fall. Knowing how to fall is a key to avoid getting hurt. While the Safety Responsibility Code gives skiers and boarders farther down the hill the right of way, it also suggests that you don’t stop right in the middle of a trail or worse just below a ridge where others coming down can’t see you.

6. How Do I Ride a Chairlift?

Ironically, a detachable “high-speed” chairlift is ideal for the first time on a lift, because they slow down in the loading and unloading area. For skiers, poles are held in one hand (straps off your wrists). Wait on the line for the chair to come around and then sit down. Snowboarders ride the lift with their back foot out of the binding, so it’s a good idea to practice riding that way a bit to make the unloading process less intimidating. (This video gives more details for boarders.)

7. How Do I Stop?

Taking a beginner lesson from a professional instructor would be the best advice related to this question. Nonetheless, the bare bones answer involves a couple of basic concepts. Beginning skiers generally learn to stop with a wedge (the triangle that’s called a “pizza” in the kids’ lessons).

More advanced speed control and stopping for both skiing and snowboarding involves turning. The “fall line” is the imaginary line created if you were to roll a ball down the slope. If your skis or snowboard are pointing down the fall line, you’ll go fast. If they are perpendicular to the fall line, you’ll slow down and eventually stop.

8. How Do I Get up If I Fall?

Remember the fall line concept. Simply put your skis or snowboard below you on the hill and perpendicular to the fall line. It’s much easier to stand back up when you can dig your edges into the hill without starting to slide down it.

9. What Does Apres-Ski Mean?

This is a skill even novices can master very quickly. Apres means “after” in French, so apres-ski refers to the fun in base area bar, restaurant or hot tub after a day of skiing.

Apres-ski at its finest

10. Where Do They Put the Moguls in the Summer?

OK, this last one is kind of a silly question. In reality though, mogul formation can be a rather sophisticated scientific topic. The piles of snow are created by skier traffic throughout the day. Runs that draw a lot of good skiers often have more uniform and consistent moguls as they tend to follow similar patterns once the bumps are started.

While mogul skiing does not necessarily deserve its intimidating reputation, beginners usually stick to “groomed” trails. On these runs, moguls have been flattened out overnight by snowcats (not meaning actual cats, but instead those big tractor-like machines you may notice). Signs around the lifts will generally show which trails have been groomed.

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3 responses to “10 Not-So-Silly Questions New Skiers and Snowboarders Might Ask”

  1. Gary says:

    Great article, I learned quite a bit and was reminded of a few things apparently I picked up along the way.

  2. Bob Lowe says:

    re: SnowCats- you COULD mention that ‘cat’ refers to the first company to make the tractor- Caterpillar.

  3. Eric Wagnon says:

    Good thought, Bob. Funny enough, I never really thought about the Caterpillar name similarity. Though you made me curious, so I did google it just now… according to Wikipedia (not infallible source I know :)) this is what I found: “The name “snowcat” originates from the 1946 trademark by Tucker Sno-Cat Corporation. This specialized over-snow vehicle dominated the snow transportation market until the 1960s when other manufacturers entered the business. By then “snowcat” was such a common description that it was used to describe all over-snow vehicles (see generic trademark). Tucker is also well known for its use of four tracks on its vehicles. Tucker Sno-Cat is arguably the best known of the early manufacturers and remains in business today. Tucker Sno-Cats have been used by numerous military, governmental agencies and utilities.” Thanks, learned something new today! 🙂

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