How To Ski: A Beginner’s Guide to Skiing

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Learning to ski is a great way to stay active and have fun with your friends and family during the winter. Skiing may seem intimidating at first, but with practice and patience, learning the foundations is not extremely difficult. 

Some people pick it up within the first day or two, whereas others may need a week to practice before they feel comfortable. Everyone progresses at their own pace, so the key is to not give up! This article will give you an overview of the basic techniques you’ll need for your first day on the slopes.

In This Post

Know the Code

There are a few important rules to be aware of before strapping your skis on for the first time. For more information, check out the National Ski Areas Association Responsibility Code.  

  • Stay in Control: You should always try to maintain control and ski within your limits. As you’re learning, be cautious and pay attention to your surroundings. Only progress to more difficult terrain once you can confidently stop, turn and control your speed.
  • People Ahead Have the Right of Way: This means if another skier falls down in front of you, it’s your responsibility to avoid them. Make sure to keep a safe distance between yourself and others while you’re learning.
  • Don’t Stop Where You Can’t Be Seen: If you need to take a rest, make sure you’re in a spot where others can see you to avoid collisions. It’s best to stop at the crest of the hill or along the side to stay out of the way of other riders.
  • Know the Trail Rating System: Ski resorts mark the difficulty of their trails with a color-shape rating system. You’ll likely spend your first day only on green circle trails, which are the easiest.

Know the Gear

Check to make sure you have your boots, skis, poles, helmet and goggles with you. If you’re renting, the shop technician will help with selecting and fitting your gear. You’ll want to practice putting your ski boots and skis on before heading to the hill.

In addition to gear, make sure you have the right clothing and know how to layer it properly. Well performing base layers and a solid ski jacket are critical to having a good day on the slopes. You should also consider what type of gloves or mittens you want to use to keep your hands toasty and dry. Last but not least, don’t forget a pair of ski socks!

Know the Basic Techniques

Outlined below are the basic techniques you should practice your first time skiing. If you plan to take a lesson, all of these techniques will be covered by your instructor.

How to Stand

Maintaining a proper stance helps you with balance and control.

  • Stand tall with your feet about hip-width apart.
  • Bend your knees and lean your shins forward.
  • Keep your weight centered over both feet to stay evenly balanced.
  • Position your arms slightly out in front of you and off to the side.
  • Hold your poles with the tips pointed backwards.
  • Look ahead of you, not down at your skis.

How to Glide

Gliding on flat terrain will help you get a feel for your skis before trying them out down a hill.

  • Push yourself off with your ski poles.
  • Make sure to keep your knees bent and shins tilted forward to help you balance.

How to Walk Uphill

Before getting on a ski lift, you should practice on a smaller, shorter incline. This is an opportunity to learn how to walk uphill in your skis. There are two main techniques to do this. To start, we recommend the side-step method, which is demonstrated in the video above.

Side-Step Method

  • With your skis parallel to each other, stand sideways so that you’re perpendicular to the slope.
  • Dig the uphill edges of your skis into the snow and take small steps uphill, moving sideways like a crab.
  • Use your poles to help you balance and gradually make your way up the slope one step at a time.

Herringbone Method

  • Position your skis into a V-shape, facing toward the slope.
  • Your ski tails should be pointed toward each other but not touching.
  • Tilt the leading edges of your skis into the snow and use your poles to prevent yourself from slipping backwards.
  • With your knees bent and leaning forward, take small steps up the hill, maintaining the V-shape.
  • The wider you make the V-shape, the easier it will be to get up steeper inclines.

How to Ski in a Wedge (AKA Snowplough or Pizza)

Once you’re ready to ride down your first hill, you’ll want to practice how to ski in a wedge. In this position you form a V-shape with the tips of your skis, making it easier to control your speed and turns because of how far apart your feet are.

  • First, practice making a wedge on flat terrain with your ski tips pointed toward one another and tails spread apart.
  • On a short gentle hill, practice holding the wedge stance as you glide down and come to a natural stop.
  • Don’t worry about turning at first.
  • Try controlling your speed by changing the size of your wedge, or pizza slice.
  • The more you spread your skis apart to make a wider wedge, the slower you’ll go.

How to Stop

At first, you can use the wedge stance to also stop. As you progress, you’ll learn other methods, such as the hockey stop, that are more effective when parallel skiing. For now though we’ll just focus on the wedge method.

  • Widen your wedge enough to come to a stop.
  • To start downhill again, narrow your wedge and push off with your poles.
  • Practice maintaining a consistent speed, slowing down and stopping with the wedge stance.

How to Wedge Turn

Once you feel confident in your ability to glide in a wedge stance, you’re ready to practice turning. Using this same stance will help you control your speed and the direction you want to go in.

  • Start by gliding downhill in your wedge stance.
  • Apply slightly more pressure on the outer/downhill ski to turn.
  • For example, put your weight on your left foot in order to turn right.
  • Keep going until you’re perpendicular again to the slope in a neutral stance.
  • Next, turn left by putting your weight on your right foot.
  • Practice linking your turns by maintaining a consistent wedge size to control your direction and speed.
  • Focus on using your lower body to steer and keep your upper body relaxed.
  • To stop, turn so you’re perpendicular to the slope and widen your wedge.

How to Use Your Poles

Your poles will become more important to you as you progress. However, as a beginner it’s good to learn the basics on how to hold them so that you don’t pick up any bad habits.

  • Loop your wrists through the straps on your poles.
  • Keep your arms slightly bent and out in front of you.
  • Point your poles diagonally behind you toward the ground.
  • The ends of the poles should be far enough above the snow that they shouldn’t catch on anything.
  • Once you feel comfortable linking your turns, you can leverage your poles to help with your rhythm and timing.

How to Fall and Get Back Up

First off, don’t be afraid to fall. This common fear holds people back from improving their ski skills. Everyone falls, both first-timers and veterans of the sport, so go into skiing with the expectation that you will fall down.

  • If you feel like you’re going to crash into something or feel unbalanced, simply force yourself to fall.
  • When possible, fall uphill and onto your side or butt.
  • This position is typically less painful and easier to recover from than falling forwards.
  • Get your skis perpendicular to the slope, and dig the inside edge of the downhill, or bottom ski, into the snow.
  • Push hard with your legs and stand up, using your hand closest to the slope or your poles for support.
  • If your skis pop off, place them perpendicular to the slope and edge them into the ground.
  • This creates a flat, even area for you to click back into your bindings.
  • Put the downhill, or bottom, ski on first; make sure you’re balanced and then click into your other ski.
  • Make sure the skis  don’t point downhill; otherwise, you may start to glide down the slope while still trying to get up.
  • Practice this on flat terrain first so that you feel less afraid of falling on the slope.

How to Ride the Chairlift

Riding the chairlift for the first time can be a daunting experience in and of itself. If you start with a lesson, this will be something your instructor teaches you. If you’re starting without a lesson, make sure to ask the group you’re with for help or inform the lift technician that it’s your first time.

How to Load and Unload

  • Once it’s your turn to get on the chairlift, move up to the “load here” line, using your poles to help push you.
  • Unstrap your poles from your wrists and either hold them in one hand or tuck them underneath your legs.
  • Once the chair reaches the back of your legs, simply sit down and let it take you up.
  • When approaching the top, keep the tips of your skis up to prevent them from getting snagged on something.
  • Keep your knees slightly bent and continue to hold your poles in one hand in front of you.
  • Then slowly glide to a stop away from where people are exiting the lift.

Types of Lifts

Conveyor belt that brings skiers back to the top of the bunny hill.

Continuously moving rope that skiers can grab onto to be pulled up a hill.

Round disc that skiers put between their legs and hold on to as it drags them up the slope.

Two people take the lift at a time and lean their legs against a support that looks like a large ‘T’.

Standard lift people think of;  carries up to eight people, depending on the size of the chair.

What to Expect Your First Day on the Bunny Hill

Bunny hills are small slopes typically found in a beginner terrain area at a ski resort. These hills are often serviced by magic carpets, rope tows or small chairlifts.

At the top of the slope, make sure your boots are buckled and your helmet’s fastened. It’s time for you to test out the basic techniques! Remember to look ahead of you to avoid others riding down and use your wedge stance to get down the hill. Learning on the bunny hill can go from feeling really boring as you inch your way along to feeling absolutely terrifying if you accidentally pick up some speed and lose some control. Do your best to remember the foundations and don’t give up!

Skier looking back at camera

It takes patience and practice to master the basic techniques. As you gain more confidence on your skis, you’ll eventually graduate from the bunny hill and begin exploring other beginner trails. This is where the real fun begins! Once you’re comfortable with how to turn, stop and ride the chairlift, you’ll be navigating the mountain with ease to check out all the beginner runs the resort has to offer.

Beginner Ski Lessons

Taking a lesson is the best way to learn how to ski. Hands-on instruction is invaluable and can expedite the learning process. If you can afford it, we highly recommend starting with a half-day beginner lesson. Otherwise, bring a friend or family to either teach you or learn alongside you!

Most resorts offer private and group lessons. Unless you’re trying to learn extremely quickly, we recommend doing a group lesson as a beginner. In a group, you can learn from looking at what others are doing well (or not doing well), and it’s an opportunity to socialize with people also learning for their first time. Not to mention, it’s much cheaper than a private lesson! As you improve and want to advance to more challenging terrain, then a private lesson may be worth it so that you can focus on improving certain skills with one-on-one instruction.

Group of children skiing together in a lesson

Ready to Go?

As detailed as we try to be, this article shouldn’t be your only resource to learn how to ski. Proper instruction and experience are the best ways to truly learn. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and hit the slopes!