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Ski Tips for the Beginner

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A skier at the top of a mountain in Austria.

When starting a new hobby it is always useful to be forewarned as to what to expect. Forewarned is to be forearmed. A new skill at any age is good for both body and soul, as long as you are prepared. Thus follows information that will prepare both body and soul for a wonderful skiing trip. Trip not necessarily being the operative word!

Skiing can be both invigorating and relaxing at the same time. There is always a mad panic and rush to be first on the slopes, that is the invigorating bit, but once on the chair lifts, relaxing comes to the fore when you can breathe deeply and enjoy all the fresh air, amazing silence and admire the view.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. First you have to prepare.

As it is the first time you are partaking in this sport, correct clothing is of the utmost importance. A sensible pair of salopettes1 and ski jacket should be acquired. Begged borrowed but preferably not stolen. Several long sleeved base layers, and a nice thick pair of knee length socks are also a must have, along with the best pair of gloves you can afford to buy as there is nothing worse than cold finger tips. Nowadays in this safety-conscious society it is advisable to wear a helmet, these can be hired, they are not compulsory and finally, goggles to finish the outfit.

Unless you have a completely gung-ho view to life, it is also advisable to book yourself into ski-school when you arrive at the resort. Ski-school will probably be organised by your travel representative. This will be one of the many decisions that will have to be made and costs to be swallowed along with the ski pass and of course, ski hire.

Day one and a trip to the ski hire shop will be the first of many memorable occasions, but you may feel as though you have been processed like a tin of sardines at the end of it. There will be lots of loud children and anxious parents, boozy lads and giggly ladies all competing for attention. It will be hot, confusing and you will probably end up with one wet foot. Brace yourself, but keep calm. The effort is worth it, as eventually a nice friendly chap, hopefully with a good grasp of English, (or your language of choice) will approach you and ask what your shoe size is – the continental shoe size that is – and what your weight is in kilos. If you have no idea, there will always be the necessary measuring and weighing facilities. Take no notice what the scales say, they lie. The chap will then disappear round the back and soon reappear carrying your ski boots. The first time you put your foot into a ski boot, which is then fastened up for you, is another one of those memorable experiences. You will think that it is far too tight, blood flow is reduced and as for walking – imagine walking along the sea bed in those old fashioned leaded boots the early deep sea divers wore, it will feel a little bit like that. You will get used to it, but is an unforgettable event. Just make sure that you can wiggle your toes. That is all the movement you need. When removing your foot from said boot try not to put your now un-shod foot down onto the floor as the floor will most probably be wet from excess snow traipsed in from out side. Wet socks are most uncomfortable. You have been warned!

You will then be handed your skis which will be extraordinarily heavy – far heavier than you had imagined. You will then be shown how to carry them, balanced on one shoulder, ski tips up and given the warning to not swing around too suddenly as you will decapitate anybody in the near proximity. Sticks will be handed to you. Try not to worry how to carry them, as you will find your own technique. Relax.

And so you will leave the shop wearing your new ski suit, new gloves, helmet (optional), goggles, carrying boots, skis and sticks. Try to look as though you do this all the time and even though this is yet another occasion that you will remember for years, you will feel a complete wally.

Up until this point you will not have walked on snow in your boots. Another first is about to happen. If you are unlucky enough not to have snow outside, then you must take care. Hard, inflexible plastic soled boots and wet wood or concrete do not mix! Walking on snow in your ski boots is nothing to get stressed about. Your feet do not get cold or wet, there is good purchase if the snow gets a bit deep and walking up a hill is just like climbing up stairs. All that is necessary is for you to kick your toes into the snow/gradient and climb that hill. Easy. Ice is deadly though. Take care.

And So to the Slopes

Initially you will be on the nursery slopes. These are meadows in the summer months and will have nice gentle gradients for you making it easier for you to learn the basic requirements of skiing, which is basically turning left, turning right and the all important stop. Once you have learnt to steer yourself in the direction you wish to travel and to stop exactly where you want to stop you will have mastered your new hobby. Having said that, mastering the art of turning left, when you want to turn left and turning right when you want to turn right and stopping where you want to stop will take a little time. Perseverance is now the name of the game.

Clicking on your skis for the first time is another of those firsts. Try not to fall over immediately, just stand there for a while and act casual. Chat to your fellow ski buddies, in fact it might be a good idea to just stand there for the week, take in the sunshine and admire the view, looking chic in your new ski outfit. Sadly though your instructors job is to get you moving, and this is where the fun starts. He will explain and demonstrate how to walk, not ski, walk. Listen hard and mimic what he does or at least try to mimic his moves. Remember the days in your childhood when you strapped two tennis racquets to your feet and clomped about the garden pretending to be Scott of the Antarctic? It will feel a bit like that but with the extra challenge of the ground feeling as though it is covered with ball bearings. Changing direction is another challenge as all too easily one ski tip lands on top of the other and you will feel like you can not move at all. The easiest way to release yourself from this unintended entrapment is to fall over. Getting up though is quite difficult since your feet are encased in what feels like cement blocks which by turn are fixed onto rather long, thin, free thinking skis. Skis, as you will soon find out, have a mind of their own. All that is required to raise yourself from the ground, is good core muscle strength and a strong upper body developed from many hours spent in the gym. Think positive, you can do it! Either that or a helping hand from your instructor.

After having learnt the very basic of movements, ie walking and falling over, sliding down hill is next on the list. You will be told to stand with your feet and skis making a pizza shape on the snow, ski tips together, bend your knees , keep your weight forward and very slowly turn and face down the slope. Once aiming down hill, the skis stop being planks of torture and become your ticket to freedom. Reality as you have known it before ceases to exist and a new world is forced upon you as you slowly gather speed. Suddenly you are skiing. Moving across beautiful white crisp snow, gliding effortlessly down hill. All the fuss and bother from earlier will be forgotten. Success.

Until, that is, you want to turn left or right or even worse – you need to stop. At some point the sense of freedom and enjoyment suddenly becomes a little vague. Try not to panic completely – after all – skiing is for fun, it is a new hobby and a new social skill. Having said that, the easiest thing to do at this point of mild panic is to fall over. The phrase for falling over is commonly known in skiing circles, as 'bailing-out'. (Or AoverT) 'Bail out' as often as you wish while learning how to ski. Just make sure there is a nice strong skiing buddy available to help you to raise you back onto your feet, as a lot of energy is wasted if you have to haul yourself back up every few metres.

The basic technique for turning left is to put all your weight on the right ski while you are heading downhill. Surprisingly you will turn left. Again while heading straight down the hill, put all you weight on the left ski and you will turn right. If you want to stop completely while heading straight downhill choose which side of the slope is emptiest – left or right – decide which way you want to go and then put all your weight onto the opposite side to which you want to travel and believe it or not, you will end up going in the direction you want to and if you keep turning right for example, you will come to a complete stop as you will eventually turn to face up the mountain, not down. This raises another problem. Going backwards. Going backwards down the mountain is not recommended as basically, you can not see where you are going and therefore no longer know which way to turn. If you find yourself going backwards down the mountain – bail out and wait for a nice hefty ski buddy to sort you out.

After a few more hours of going left and right and backwards and stopping you will be completely exhausted. Day one is over. You will drag yourself back to your accommodation for the evening and moan and groan and compare bruises with fellow skiers. Day two will come only too soon so an early night is recommended.

Day two will be just the same as day one, minus the trip to the ski hire shop. You will have forgotten how to walk in the boots, and you probably will be suffering with a build up of lactic acid in muscles you did not think you owned. Day two will be tough, but again, forewarned is forearmed. Day two is the toughest. Persevere.

Day three is usually the break through day. On day three all the things you have learnt will become second nature and it is normally on day three you will be allowed to use your lift pass and actually get on the lifts and go up into the mountains. This is truly a memorable experience. Queuing, shuffling along with the rest of your class, being in the correct position so that the chair can sweep you up into the air can be a little daunting, but just go with the flow. Once seated in the chair lower the safety bar and look around you and enjoy what you experience. It will be calm and quiet, a totally different world. Too much information here may give the game away, let this new first be a surprise. However, getting off the lift at the top is just a matter of timing. Get ready to react, follow your instinct and this time please try not to bail out. Bailing out at the top of a chair lift is really not a good idea.

Finally You Are at The Top

The most rewarding thing about learning how to ski is to experience for the very first time the views from the top of the mountain. Breathtaking. The only thing that may give you some cause for concern is the thought of getting back down the mountain. Worry not. You will get down the mountain – on your skis – as this is what your instructor is being paid to do. Trust him and more importantly than ever, do not forget what has been taught to you already. When looking down the piste for the first time it will look extremely steep. It's not. It's just your imagination getting carried away. The technique you used on the nursery slopes will be just the same, lean left – you go right, lean right – you go left. The fact that you feel as though you are throwing yourself off the edge of the world is just an adrenalin rush.

As the valley approaches, all the best things are saved to last.Après Ski.

Après ski should be taken in a nice cosy bar at the bottom of the slope where there is a nice cool beer and maybe a delicious slice of the local cake. Maybe a schnapps or two or Gluwein if in Austria. A hot chocolate with cream. Apple Strudel with vanilla sauce. Another cool beer.

Your boots will turn into carpet slippers, music will seep into your soul and every one will be your very new best friends. Exhaustion fades, you will start to remember all those memorable firsts, the glorious sunshine, the views, the fresh air and that wonderful feeling of freedom and exhilaration only achieved when one is skiing, and just think, you can do it all again tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. It will be brilliant.


1Lovely warm, specially designed trousers for skiing.

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