Is it your first time skiing? Do you want to learn to ski and know what to wear skiing? Check this skiing for beginners guide from our experience of taking the kids skiing for the first time.
Last Christmas I had my first skiing holiday for 20 years.
The reason – kids! 20 years ago my eldest was born. Just the thought of going skiing with small kids was enough to put me off.
The risk of bone breakage, avalanche risk, losing them in a blizzard, falling off the chair lift, not to mention the horrific cost; it was just too much.
Previous to my last holiday I had skied a lot, starting as a kid at the age of seven in Galtur in Austria on a holiday together with my father. After that a few multi-week family holidays in Lichtenstein and school trips, university trips and later holidays with friends, but never a skiing adventure with little kids.
Maybe it was the memory of the T-bar in the back of my neck or the time we got lost in soft snow above my head that put me off. Maybe it was the memory of my friend David Foster bombing down the hill on his first day, his Dad shouting ‘STOP BOMBING’, the subsequent wipe out and three weeks spent watching us all ski back to the hotel Gorfion in Malbun from his wheelchair.
Who knows, anyhow, last Christmas we decided the time was ripe for the kids first time skiing holiday.
My wife and eldest kid were first timer skiers and were learning to ski as an adult. My youngest child, Victoria, was also having her first time skiing experience but I was less worried about her. It seems that small kids learn to ski more easily compared to adults – and that was true in her case too. So I would definitely recommend teaching kids to ski from an early age, you can even be successful teaching a toddler to ski.
So we started planning our skiing holidays for beginners. We booked a small and cheap self-contained apartment in Alpe d’Huez close to the ski lift as we were on a tight budget. Alpe d’Huez in France is in my opinion one of the best ski resorts for first timers as it has plenty of green and blue runs for practice.
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Skiing essentials for beginners
What to wear skiing?
These days skiwear has rather come along from the days when I learnt to ski. The 80’s florescent gear has been replaced by modern patterns and colours and the textiles are much more advanced. I can remember going with rugby shirts, fleece, jacket with huge pocket for my Walkman and wonderful ski trousers with braces to keep them up.
Luckily, things have changed!
My new jacket was thin, warm and functional. By functional I mean that all the pockets were in the right place – one on the wrist to hold the ski pas. The ski pas is now a card that you swipe on the machine. Nothing like the ones I was used to with your photo on it that you hung around your neck and had to show every time you caught a lift. The jacket even had zips under the armpits to let out any excess sweat! There was a pocket for my ipod and telephone. Basically all sorted.
Unfortunately my wife did not allow me to wear my old fluorescent jacket from the 80’s. But there are plenty of online shops to get your gear from.
So, what clothes do you need for skiing? The basic skiing clothes below.
- A light pair of wind and snow proof trousers.
- A warm and functional skiing jacket.
- Thermals/Base layer (that is what to wear under ski pants and tops).
- Lightweight fleece/sweater
- Winter socks
- Snow gloves
- Neck gaiter, we love this one that has 16 functionalities.
- Long sleeves
- Snow jacket
- Snow boots
What you need for skiing?
Once you have your skiing clothes you need to think about ski equipment. In our case we decided to rent equipment on location for the three beginners, but I had actually purchased some second hand gear before we went, so I had skis and boots for myself already.
When renting boots make sure that they are comfortable – if they are too tight you will get cramps or want to stop as soon as possible and if too loose then you are risking breaking something. So make sure you get expert advice for ski gear for beginners.
The same goes for your skis – if they are too long they will be more difficult to control if you are inexperienced. All depends on your size, ability, and weight and in the shop they will set up your equipment (including the DIN setting of your ski bindings) to match. The binding setting is important as it determines when the skis will release from the binding if case you fall, to prevent you breaking your leg. You do not want them coming off prematurely though, so the setting is very important.
So, what do you need to go skiing?
Things have changed a lot since I last went.
The first essential is a helmet (apparently). Though I deemed this unnecessary for myself (this is stubbornness by the way, not sense) I did wear one for the 16km black run they let me do (in fact it was a condition as I was doing it on my own).
For the kids this is definitely a must have for skiing – they are little and have no fear so risk of a bad collision is obviously present. Anything can happen on the slopes.
Sun glasses are also a necessity – I can recall having an earlier case of temporary snow blindness – when there is snow everywhere and the sun reflects off it, it can seriously damage your eyes.
Depending on the weather you may also require snow goggles. If you will be skiing when it is snowing then these are recommended over shades. If you are wondering what that clippy thing is at the back of the helmet – it is to tuck the strap of your goggles under. For kids this is great as it means they cannot lose their goggles so easily off the chair lift, whereas with glasses……..
Ski sticks are also important. Vicky decided she could ski better without them – and in fact you see a lot of kids having ski lessons without sticks, when learning the snow plough. The trouble is when you are on the flats or trying to go uphill to the lift that you notice it is handy to have sticks with you to propel yourself forwards. So be aware with kids if they are without sticks they may need a bit of a pull on your stick to help them move.
For boarding I cannot really provide much guidance (the above is pretty much the same) and I have no snowboarding tips for beginners. I can however relate that I tried it once, did OK but nearly broke my neck and decided never to do it again after suffering whiplash for 6 months.
So when my son decided he was going to snowboard, against my advice, before having tried skiing, we let him choose his gear.
However after day one he wanted to go home already. Knees twisted and bruised, backside and back damaged and basically completely knackered.
Snowboarding is not that easy, and you have to persevere to enjoy. Skiing is easier to pick up, unless you have surfed or done a lot of skateboarding. My son changed his gear for skis and enjoyed the rest of the holiday much more – he could at least descend a mountain without falling every 5 yards.
So if you ask which is better, skiing or snowboarding? I’d say skiing is easier, but snowboarding is obviously cooler.
What to pack for skiing?
Apart from ski clothes and ski gear it is important that you know how to prepare for skiing. For the kids it is important that they are warm enough – nothing can ruin the enjoyment of skiing so much as being cold (especially if you get stuck on a chairlift in a white out!). So make sure the ski/snow clothes are suitable, give special attention to gloves and jackets and have at least a pair of mittens/gloves to use while the others are drying. The clothes now are much more lightweight but the materials have changed so much to suit the sport and weather, so things have got better.
So, what to pack for a ski trip?
Apart from the normal personal items, toiletries, accessories, gadgets and clothes for Apres ski (jeans, long sleeve, sweaters, snow boots etc), here are some items to take on a ski holiday.
- Sunscreen: make no mistake, the sun can and will burn you if you are not protected.
- Sunglasses: because it is a lot of light to take.
- Heat packs: these can a life saver to help you keep hands warm on skiing breaks, especially for kids.
- Hat and beanies.
- Neck gaiter/scarf: Our favorite are the ones that doubles as a face mask and triples as a headscarf.
Skiing tips for beginners
So once you are kitted out, what is the trick?
DISCLAIMER: I am not certified instructor of anything. Use your best judgement before putting any of this in practice.
Skiing for dummies tips:
Well, this is what they teach you in beginners ski lessons: They will show you how to follow the instructor down the hill in a snake like fashion (zig zag) doing snow plough and learning to turn and stop. These are the basic skiing techniques beginners need to know to survive the green slopes. Anyone can bomb down like my friend David……well actually…… that was how I nearly broke my neck on a snowboard….
Anyhow we decided our budget did not extend to lessons (they were quite expensive at >115 € p.p.) so thought we would teach each other. So all my lot went first time skiing without lessons.
One the first trip down trying to guide Victoria on the end of my ski poles we crashed twice (from the video footage I could have benefitted from a helmet). After that Vicky decided she would be better off without Daddy helping and after that she only fell once on the entire holiday. Completely fearless and though not entirely in control, she managed to ski a few small parts of red runs through moguls without any bad wipe outs.
Her brother also did much better on skis after recovering from his painful first day on a snowboard. My wife also managed to teach herself but could have benefitted from some lessons just to give confidence in turning and stopping.
From my years of experience skiing the only skiing tips I can give are:
- Keep your weight on the lower ski
- When turning a little jump (bend ze knees) helps a lot to shift weight from one ski to the other
- If you are going too fast aim your skis uphill to bleed off speed
- If you are beginning do not listen to music so you are aware of people skiing around you – they are the biggest danger
When skiing yourself with kids I can also offer the following insights from personal experience (just a few from this last holiday….):
- If the kids have ski-poles make sure you carry them on the chair lift (it can be rather awkward to go and collect them on a black run when the little one has dropped their poles, especially if snow is sparse )
- When standing in the lift queue make sure your kid comes out of the blocks when they open (to avoid you hopelessly watching while some stranger speaking a foreign language helps your little kid into a chair behind you and you are already off the ground )
- Make sure the route you are going to follow is easy enough (to avoid having to remove skis and have your kid slide down the black slope on his/her backside)
- Although you really want to take good photos of your kids, avoid the urge to take your DSLR together with Energy drink in your backpack if it is your first day on skis (to avoid having to buy a new camera when you get home – true story!)
- When it says ‘Stationnement Interdit’ in France it probably means ‘No Parking’ (to avoid getting a parking fine for the whole week)
- Before going up the drag lift for the first time make sure everyone knows what to do when they reach the top (to avoid a massive pile up)
At the end of the day you will enjoy skiing in a directly proportional relationship to the self-confidence you have in your own ability to descend the mountain. Vicky probably had the most fun :).