11 things you need to know before learning to ski

Want to join Bear Grylls on the slopes? Read our beginner's guide first...

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Every Sunday evening, a dozen courageous celebrities have been throwing themselves at a different winter sport in The Jump. If you fancy following in their wake, ski expert Paul Deadman recommends getting to grips with skiing first. He explains what you need to know before hitting the slopes, from ski hire to apès-ski…

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1. Get a bit fitter

There’s no need to do extreme training before a ski holiday, but doing a small amount of exercise in preparation will make a big difference to the fun factor. Your quad muscles (thighs) will get a big workout so it’s wise to strengthen your legs as much as you can in the weeks before you go. Increasing your stamina and doing cardio workouts beforehand will also give you that extra edge.

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2. Take the right shoes

Knowing what to pack on a normal holiday can be hard enough; packing for a sports holiday to a mountain resort you’ve never been to can be a real challenge. Check with a friend who’s been before and take packing list guidance from useful sites like Great Britain Ski Club. The tip I give my friends is about footwear off the slopes: resorts are still snowy and can be icy, so take practical shoes. A new pair of snow boots is great, but Uggs or a sturdy pair of trainers or walking boots work well, too. Bars and restaurants won’t turn you away if you’re not in fancy heels or polished brogues – slope style is much more relaxed.

3. Skin protection

Even if you don’t think it’s sunny, the sun reflects off the bright white snow and increases the chances of sun damage to your skin. Take lip balm with UVA and UVB protection as well as suncream for your face, and apply regularly over the course of the day. Also, don’t be tempted to not wear goggles or ski sunglasses. A friend of mine did this once for one morning and spent the next three days of his holiday with cucumbers over his burnt eyes, thanking his lucky stars that he hadn’t caused permanent damage!


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 4. Ski hire 

Firstly, if you’re hiring ski boots, make sure you wear thick socks when you pick them up – you don’t want to get a pair fitted in thin socks only to realise that they’re too tight when you put on your ski socks. After your boots (more on those below), you collect your skis (usually in the same shop) and they set your bindings (the bit that holds your boot in the ski) to the size of your boot, your weight and your ability. They usually make the bindings looser for beginners, meaning the skis pop off easier if you fall over (which beginners tend to do more!) The length of your skis and poles depends on your height and a beginner’s usually have a softer flex and are narrower to make turning easier and be more forgiving if you make any mistakes. There are usually lots of people collecting and dropping off ski hire at the same time, so be prepared for queues and a bit of hanging around.

5. Helmets are a must

Hire or buy your own, but don’t hit the slopes without one.

6. The deal with ski boots

In my experience, ski boots are mildly uncomfortable at best – at worst they can prevent you from enjoying skiing at all. Putting ski boots on will feel strange the first time, and for your first trip it’s worth getting someone with experience to help you with your boot clips to make sure they’re tight enough each morning. The correct boot should feel tight, but not unbearable, you should be able to wiggle your toes… just. If hiring or buying, the assistants will be well trained in making sure you leave with the right boots. Don’t feel awkward about trying on more than one, or two, or three pairs – it’s an important thing to get right. When you’re walking around in ski boots (i.e. not with your skis on), loosen the clips to make them more comfortable – but don’t forget to do them back up when you hit the slopes!

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7. How lessons work

Lessons for beginners are great, and will help you gain confidence on the slopes with other people who have the same questions and fears as you. Lessons typically start first thing in the mornings and finish at lunch. Make sure you have plans to meet up with your group (if they’re not having lessons) at lunchtime and show off everything you’ve learnt with them in the afternoon. Check out how the lessons will progress through the week, and learn some technical lingo beforehand.


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8. Knowing the pistes

For most European resorts, the ski runs (pistes) are marked to show what ability they’re suitable for. Nursery or green slopes will be where you’ll start your ski education, and you could progress to slightly steeper blue runs by the end of the week. Red slopes suit intermediate skiers and black runs are for advanced skiers. “Off piste” refers to any territory that isn’t on marked out ski runs and isn’t something you’d need to worry about as a beginner. North America and Canada mark their pistes slightly differently so make sure you know what the colours are for the resort you’re travelling to.

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9. Accept that you will fall over. A lot

People who aren’t afraid of falling over get to grips with skiing faster. Don’t be discouraged. It would be really weird if you learnt to ski without falling over at least eight times a day.

10. What is après-ski?

The ski lifts usually close between 4 and 5pm. This is when everyone comes off the mountain, back to the town and enjoys “après-ski”, which is basically a well-deserved drink for working so hard all day! Bars and restaurants will have live bands or DJs, and you’ll find somewhere to relax whether you want a “chocolat chaud”, “vin rouge” or a round of Chartreuse.

11. Don’t forget – it’s fun!

Skiing is one of the best feelings in the world! Learning to ski as an adult might feel hard work, and your first week of skiing is filled with new things, aching muscles and lots to remember. But it’s so worth it. The mountain views, endorphins, delicious food and après-ski will make you want to return year after year – but the thing that really gets you hooked? That feeling you get when you nail that tricky run. 


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