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Hey you! Yeah you, the adult of a certain age considering whether learning to ski is a good idea.

I’ve been where you are and I get it. Will I look stupid? Will this hurt?! We can attach so many fears to the idea of learning to ski that it can be enough to prevent us from hitting the slopes.

I had my first skiing experience as a 30-something-year-old and though I was seriously out-skilled by a bunch of children, I had fun and I’m here to tell the tale. A huge barrier to trying something new is our various fears of the unknown, so here’s a brief guide on what to know and what to expect when you’re an adult beginner of skiing:

Address those fears

Let’s begin here because fear or insecurity is what’s stopping you from getting out there. Here are some of the most common fears:

  • Am I too old? There is no age limit. Ski instructors have taught first timers into their seventies and beyond. (And yes, you really should learn from an instructor and not simply a skilled loved one.) The only caveat is that you’ll have a better time if your body can physically cope with controlling yourself on skis.
  • Will people laugh? Maybe. But honestly, who cares? Let it go, let it go. If you’re going to a ski resort, they are absolutely used to newbs of all ages. The chances are you won’t be the only new adult!
  • Will I hurt myself? It’s possible, but the same can be said for almost any activity. If you learn to ski the right way (by starting at the beginning), you have a better chance of developing your skills to match the situation you are in, rather than jumping into anything too advanced where there is a higher risk of injury.
  • Will I look stupid? Possibly, but you kind of have to get over that. On my first day, I was knocked down by someone as we were getting off the chair lift. I was mortified, but then I realized no one was laughing, in fact they were checking to see if I was okay!
  • Where do I even go?! This can cause anxiety for many people (related to not wanting to look stupid!). Check it out ahead of time. Most ski resorts are great about letting you know where to park, and from there head to their check-in for lessons (which is usually sign-posted). If you have any items such as purses or cameras, you can usually rent a locker. Plus, Liftopia sells rental + ski lessons + lift ticket packages for more than 100 ski areas.

Getting started

There’s a scene in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason where she starts by falling off the lift, then careens out of control down the mountain and into the village. That’s exactly what I pictured might happen when I learned to ski.

One of the things Bridget did differently is that she didn’t take any lessons. This is step #1 – book a lesson! Most ski resorts have group or private lessons available that don’t involve putting the adults together with kids’ ski school, so you’ll be right at home with other adults in the same position as you. 

I went with a lesson package at Sierra At Tahoe. You’ll find them on Liftopia, along with many other options for booking lessons and lift tickets. Sierra make it simple enough – if you’ve never been on skis before, choose Level 1.

What gear do you really need?

You’ll see a lot of very fancy gear, including expensive jackets and skis being strutted around at any ski resort – pay no attention and stick with the basics that you need for a first lesson:

  1. Sunscreen. Sunburn from all that reflective snow is no joke!
  2. Base layers. It can be cold or hot up on the mountain so layers are the best strategy. Something moisture-wicking like polypropylene or merino wool is good next to your skin. Avoid cotton because it stays wet. (Something like tights or long underwear works well under snow pants – avoid jeans! These have the same issues as cotton and can chafe terribly).

    You will generally need to buy these if you don’t already own them, but most sports and outdoor stores, or even Target or K-Mart have inexpensive polypropylene clothing. You can buy a basic top and bottoms for $30 or less.
  3. Snow pants and jacket. Key outer layers to keep you warm and dry. You can usually rent these at the resort, or from a local rental shop if you don’t already own them (and honestly, if you have no other reason to own them yet, rent until you have tried out skiing!). Double-check with the resort where you plan on skiing.
  4. Gloves. Go for something sturdy and warm like Gore-Tex. Usually, you will have to buy your own or borrow from a friend!
  5. Eye protection. You can usually rent goggles, or you might prefer to wear sunglasses. Go for a polarized lens to prevent glare.
  6. Helmet. Protect your head! Helmets can usually be rented out too.
  7. Skis and ski boots. You can easily rent these – in fact my package at Sierra included them. 

What to expect

You’ve arrived, checked in, gone through the rental area to be fitted with boots and skis and now you’re out the other side. First of all, know where you’re supposed to meet and at what time for your lesson. Instructors will usually give some kind of briefing first.

Your instructor is used to teaching beginners. They know this is your first time and that you’re probably nervous. You can expect that they will start you at the absolute beginning – when I had my beginner’s lesson, we started with how to turn sideways so we could step our way up the (small) hill to our lesson area.

You might have heard of “pizza and French fries” in reference to skiing before. This is exactly what we began with once we got to the lesson space. Basic controls for getting going, slowing down and stopping, all learned on a mild slope.

Once we had those controls down, we were introduced to a track where we could practice starting at the top, making turns, reaching the bottom, then getting an elevator back up. Control is the important part – you can’t be unleashing on everyone Bridget Jones-style!

If you feel confident enough and have learned control at that point, you may have the opportunity to try out the chair lift and a “green” (beginner or practice) slope. Our instructor explained to us exactly how to get on and off the lift and stuck with our group as we hit the slope. 

If you’re worried about falling, be sure to ask for instruction on what to do. Getting up while on skis can be awkward! Our instructor demonstrated and we tried it out a couple of times so that we all felt better. Outside Online has some good falling tips.

Lastly, expect that you need to be patient with yourself. As an adult, you don’t have the elastic body of a child anymore. Sometimes you’re slower to get up, or things hurt more, but being persistent and taking it at your own pace is important.

Learning to ski as an adult can be scary, but it’s very rewarding once you overcome those fears. Get out there and give it a go! My personal philosophy is that I’d rather not regret NOT trying something than to avoid it out of fear… 

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Sub-Categories Beginners / Guides / liftopia / Ski

2 responses to “The Adult Beginner’s Guide to Skiing”

  1. Keith Egan says:

    I have a 70 year old friend who always wanted to ski. He took a lesson and was hurt when he fell in the lesson. Falling is not a good thing for the elderly. My first thought was they need a method to keep them from falling. Such as the shopping cart like thing they use for beginning ice skaters. You hold on to it and it has skates instead of wheels. The device would need a brake, maybe activated like those on a bike.

  2. Katie Joll says:

    That’s a great point, Keith, and sorry your friend was hurt! Anyone can learn to ski, but your body definitely needs to be able to cope with the possibility of a fall, especially if there isn’t such a method available to keep from falling. I’d be interested to know if anyone has such a device.

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