First Time on the Hill

Step 1: Gearing up…

I honestly believe — and this opinion is shared by thousands of ski instructors — that the “graduated length” (GLM) concept of beginning with super short skis does more harm than good. Instead, pick a ski length that falls somewhere between the skier’s chest and chin. While this is indeed shorter than what they will eventually ski on if all goes well, it is close enough to a legitimate length that the pupil will learn good habits rather than bad ones.

Leave the poles on the rack. Yep, leave ’em there. The only time the beginning skier needs poles is to move around in lift lines; you just have to lend a hand in those areas.

If you are teaching a child, the only other piece of equipment you may want to consider is a hula hoop. You, the instructor, carry it to give your little skier something to grab when they need a hand, something to hold in case they need side-by-side assistance, and something to put around them if you need to pop them up after a tumble. Kids understand hula hoops, and they are a lot easier to grab than your extended, pointy ski pole.

Step 2: The basics…

The basics begin with putting the skis on. Have your protege try this a few times, make sure they line up heel and toe properly, etc. Point out that skis should be across the hill when putting them on. Newbies will throw down their skis, the ski brakes will hold them on the hill, then wonder why the ski suddenly flies away when they start to put their boot in. Go over all the functions of the ski. Explain what the bindings do, the brakes, the edges, the bases…You can’t ski without skis, right?

The next lesson is getting up the hill. When they look at you quizzically, explain that you can’t go down a hill unless you’ve somehow gotten up it first. Teach them to sidestep up (save other methods of climbing for later).

Once the skier is at the top of the hill, have him or her lay down carefully on the snow. Help them down gently, then tell them to get up. Only let them flail for a moment or two. Remind them of the importance of getting their skis acclimated across the hill. If necessary, help them take their skis off. They need to understand that falling and getting up is part of skiing. It also equips them for when they need to fall, they’ve had a trial run and will better know how to “dump out” when circumstances require it.

Step 3: Pizza, French Fries

Now your student knows how to put on the skis, move around, and get up once they’ve fallen. All of these things are part of skiing, and once familiar, they’re ready to go downhill.

Tell a seven-year-old that they are going to learn snowplow and parallel technique and they will promptly tune you out. Instead, try something like this:

Do you like pizza? [yeah!!] OK, then, make a slice of pizza with your skis! (snowplow) That’s how we learn to ski…like a big slice of pizza going down the hill!

Before we go anywhere, we gotta point the way with our hands. Make two “snow guns” (pointing index fingers, thumbs up, other fingers folded) Hold your arms out in front (loose, elbows bent) and point your fingers together (forming another vee). Wherever we point our snow guns, that’s where our pizza will go.

Alright! Let’s turn our pizzas down the hill…we’re pointing our snow guns toward that shed over there…(instructor turns at an appropriate spot) and now I’m going to point to those people over there…I moved both my arms and pointed…see how I did that? Ok, you’re at the same spot I was…point your snow guns at those people…see how you turned?! Let’s do another…point our snow guns this way…see the pizza turn? Now we’re going to stop…we’re going to point right straight down where we want to stop…lean over a little….point it down, follow the pizza around. Congratulations! You’re skiing!

“High fives” are a good idea at this point. Keep in mind “Three E’s” a ski instructor needs: Enthusiasm, Exaggerated movements, Encouragment. (No, “exasperation” is not one of them.) Kids will match your level of enthusiasm, mimic your movements, and thrive on your encouragement. After they’ve mastered the snowplow…French Fries!

Further Reading: The Winter Ninja, long time friend of the Ski Bum team has a good primer on prepping for someone’s first time on the hill, from gear to safety to making the first turns and having fun in the process. You can check that article out here on the website.

Lift Tickets at Discount: This is a “clearinghouse” of sorts that many ski areas use to raise cash by selling discount tickets in advance, called Liftopia. If you haven’t used this service, it is important to knowfor certain that you are going on a specific date. The deeply discounted tickets must be purchased in advance; generally up to two days out. The sticking point is that some ski resorts only make a limited number of tickets available to Liftopia for any given day, so they might be sold out if you wait too long…so, as soon as you are absolutely, positively sure that you will be skiing on a certain day, click this link to get deeply discounted tickets. I’ve used this service many times, but again, ONLY when I am absolutely certain I will be skiing on a specific date. You need to have access to a printer to print out your receipt, and you have to take identification with you to the mountain. I’ve knocked a third off the price of some tickets. Not every area participates, but it’s well worth checking if you’ve got a date nailed down.