So, you’ve finally decided to try skiing, huh? Great! It’s a wonderful experience, but like all sports, it takes time to master. When starting out, there are a handful of beginner ski tips that’ll help you avoid common mistakes.
The learning curve for skiing is difficult at first. It’s a hard sport to master and it will challenge you. However, armed with these tips, patience, and a willingness to try, you’ll be shredding the slopes in no time.
15 Common Beginner Ski Mistakes
The following guide is split into three parts, before, during, and after a ski day. Common mistakes occur in all three time frames. Avoiding these mistakes helps you reduce the likelihood of injury, gain confidence and develop essential ski skills!
Before Your Ski Day
1. Buying Gear Before Renting It
Skiing is a complicated sport with lots of equipment. If you’re a first-time skier, make things easier on yourself by renting. Rental shops will help you find a good introductory size for your skis and boots.
When you’re getting fitted, seek advice on gear and ask many questions. The sooner you get comfortable with foot sizes (ski boot chart), ski type, and ability level (slope ratings), the sooner you’ll be able to flip from renting to buying.
Remember - ski equipment is expensive. So if you want to buy it, make sure you know exactly what you want, in the size you want.
2. Forgetting About Helmets, Gloves, And Goggles
Every rental shop will have skis, poles, and boots to rent. But some may not have helmets, gloves, or goggles. It’s best to purchase these before you get to the ski resort.
Skiing is fast-paced and dangerous; you’re going to want a helmet. Temperatures can also vary a ton on the hill, so gloves are always recommended. And because of wind and sun glare, you’ll want goggles.
3. Not Researching The Mountain
This is a very common beginner skier mistake. Most resorts have a website with ski maps, grooming reports, and trail symbols or a handy app you can download. Use these resources BEFORE you arrive.
If you skip the research step, you could end up skiing on advanced terrain that you’re not ready to handle. Look at the map and identify where the learner's terrain is. The ski map will also tell you where the rental shop is in relation to parking or lodging.
Find important information like the weather, emergency number for ski patrol, and slope ratings on resort websites. Knowing the difference between symbols and slope symbols helps narrow down terrain options.
Additionally, use the grooming report to find groomed terrain. Ungroomed and uneven terrain are much harder to master than groomed trails.
4. Not Dressing For The Weather
Not dressing for the weather is a quick way to ruin a day on the slopes. Think in layers. You want a base layer with ski socks, a long sleeve shirt, and long underwear if it’s cold.
Following this, consider a mid-layer like a puffer jacket. These layers are critical for retaining and circulating body heat. If it’s very cold, adding an extra insulating layer helps, along with a neck buff and hand warmers. The last step is a thick, windproof outer layer with ample zippered pockets for all of your stuff.
If it's warm out, you can get rid of a layer. If it’s cold, add an extra layer.
During Your Ski Day
5. Avoiding The Bunny Hill
Ski culture is magnetic, exciting, and fun, which appeals to a wide variety of people. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and think you can skip the bunny hill. Just remember, it only takes one accident to ruin a season.
Bunny hills, also called learner's terrain, are designed to help you get over the initial learning curve. Which is steep! One or two days on the bunny hill sets you up for years of proper ski progression. Without a solid base, you’ll have a difficult time improving.
You need to feel confident with the basics of skiing before thinking about hitting the main mountain. The basics include a complete stop, turning in both directions, and connecting turns while scraping your ski edges against the snow.
Your chances of getting into a nasty accident skyrocket without these essential skills. The best place to master beginner ski skills for new and first-time skiers is in a controlled learning environment like the bunny hill.
6. Improper Ski Lift Loading/Unloading
When I first started skiing, the part I always dreaded the most was the ski lift. They’re scary, big machines that whip you uphill. Improper loading and unloading can get you hurt and stop the lift. This frustrates fellow skiers and riders around you.
In or near the bunny hill, there should be a slower lift you can practice on. If you’re unsure, ask resort staff where the slowest lift is so you can practice loading and unloading.
It may seem silly, but loading and unloading chairlifts is a skill that you have to learn. There are some ways to get comfortable with the process.
First, watch others from just outside the lift line. If you're in the line, you’re expected to get on the lift. In the line, follow all posted signs and ask the lift technician to slow the speed down. This is a common request, and they’ll be happy to do it for you.
If possible, use a gondola first, which is easier to load. When you get off, find the top of a chairlift. From a safe distance, watch how people get off the lift. And, although many people don’t do this, remember to put the safety bar down at the beginning of the ride.
7. Introducing Ski Poles Too Early
Beginner skiers do not usually need poles. There’s already a lot going on with ski boots, skis, and learning how to stop effectively. Adding ski poles to the mix is a recipe for confusion, injury, and frustration. If a rental technician asks if you need poles, consider saying no.
Learning to stop, turn and play with speed without poles helps isolate critical muscles that you may not have thought about before. This is especially true for people who don’t play sports. You need to learn how your legs operate while skiing and get used to that feeling.
Ski poles are beneficial at a later stage in your career, but not now. You’ll often see people trying to use poles to try and shovel themselves across flat surfaces; that’s a sign of overreliance. A much more permanent solution is to practice leg movements without them.
Once you start to use different leg muscles in different scenarios, there’s less chance you’ll over-rely on poles. Poles can break and bend easily. The sooner you learn without them, the stronger your ski foundation is going to be.
8. Neglecting Proper Form
When you start skiing, your first step is to stop. This usually occurs with a wedge or pizza formation. That’s great for a beginner, but you’ll move on from it eventually. The ultimate goal is to introduce turns and then slowly work that wedge shape down to parallel skiing. Eventually, you’ll ski, turn and stop on parallel skis.
A lot of the progression from pizza to parallel requires correcting or avoiding bad form. At a ski resort, you want to lean forward with a slight bend in your knees and sink your hips with each turn. You want to feel your shins touching the tongue of your ski boot liner.
Fun fact, it is MUCH easier to fall backward on skis than forwards. Why? Our reaction to fear. We want to push ourselves away from danger, so we lean back. However, ski boots are designed specifically to accommodate a forward lean.
Try This Experiment
If you're worried, try this little experiment with a friend standing a few feet in front of you. On flat terrain (as flat as you can find), clip into your skis. Then, see how far you can lean forward in your boots. I mean REALLY lean, you’ll find that the boots keep you locked into place. If you tried leaning back, you’d be on the ground in a few seconds.
9. Stopping In The Wrong Spot
Most resorts do a wonderful job of setting expectations if you visit the website or look at a ski map. However, one big skill that seems to get lost in the shuffle is where to stop on a busy run. For beginners, this is important because if you’re already nervous about skiing and having thousands of people flying by you, a knee-jerk reaction may be to stop where you are.
The way to make that reaction work is to stop in the right place. The golden rule with stopping is the same across all scenarios: stop where people can see you from ABOVE and to the SIDES.
If trails intersect, always look up the other trail to spot people above you. Then, find a place where you are visible to BOTH trails. This is normally to the side of the run near large trail signs. If a skier or rider is already below you, they’re not going to ski uphill to crash into you.
Bad places to stop include catwalks and under rollers. Catwalks are thin, snow-covered roads. Stopping on one could cause an accident. A roller is a change of slope angle from less steep to steeper. If you stop under one, people above you won’t be able to see you.
10. Fighting The Fall
A lot of accidents occur when we fight the fall. We don’t want to fall; I don’t think many species aspire to do that. However, the panic at a potential fall will cause us to brace our legs, stiffen up, or throw our hands and wrists out to catch us. Stiffening your body leads to breaks, tears, and injury.
The key here is to understand that everyone falls. It’s normal. When you feel like you're toppling over, don’t fight it; remain loose, and cover your head and neck. For beginners, falls won’t involve breakneck speeds, so learning how to fall for minimal impact is important.
One more piece of advice. If you fall and your skis pop off, but you’re having trouble putting them back on, look for the following two things.
- Snow buildup on your boots. Scrape it off, or you won't be able to clip into your bindings.
- A raised binding. It’ll look like a fin sticking up vertically from the rest of the binding. If it's up, you can’t clip your ski boot back in. Use some force to push that binding piece back down, it’ll lock in place. Now, try to clip in.
For more detailed information, visit my other article, How to get up after a skiing fall.
11. Letting Your Eyes Travel Downhill
For beginner skiers branching out from the bunny hill, this is an important mistake to avoid.
Since skis are connected to us, generally, what you look at has a big influence on where you end up. If you’re at the top of a long run that allows you to stare down all the way down to the bottom, the distance and vertical drop could easily make you panic. Keep your eyes focused on your immediate area. If your eyes wander downhill, your skis will follow and you’ll go too fast.
At the end of each connected turn, make sure your eyes are looking across the slope for other people instead of all the way down to the bottom of the hill. Reduce your field of vision. If it helps, remember the tortoise and the hare: slow and steady wins the race. Try your best to focus on one turn at a time to make it down long slopes safely.
12. Skipping Food, Water, And Breaks
The excitement, nervousness, and physical exhaustion of skiing all kind of run together at first. It is a demanding sport. A lot of resorts also boast high elevations, drier atmospheres, or typically brutal winter conditions. All of these things combine to wear your body and mind out faster. Take lots of breaks.
In your mountain research phase, look for snack huts, break areas, and restaurants on the mountain map. These places are perfect places to sit and stretch or pick up some hydration and nutrition.
High elevation can also impact us by giving us headaches or making us feel nauseous. Nausea, in turn, makes us reject the idea of food or water, even though our bodies desperately need it. At a minimum, force water into your system. The nausea is a side effect of elevation; your body still needs hydration and nutrition.
After Your Ski Day
13. Neglecting Stretching And Strength Training
Have you ever skied and woken up the next morning with throbbing muscles? Well, skiing is hard. If you want that to reduce and go away, build up your leg strength. A regimen of wall sits, squats, and core workouts will help you engage your skis and keep a good body position.
Don’t forget to stretch too! A simple, consistent stretching or yoga routine keeps you limbered up and ready to go. If you’re a beginner, you’re going to feel sore muscles. But stretching and strengthening them reduces the likelihood of cramps, pulled muscles, or strains.
14. Forgetting To Plan Your Next Trip
Skiing is built on progression. That progression only begins to reveal itself with practice, which you get from more days of skiing. If you ski a day, make sure to commit to a follow-up. You don’t have to iron out the details right away, but push yourself to spend more time skiing. If you only ski one day every year, it’ll be a lot tougher to improve quickly.
15. Skipping Ski Lessons
As a ski instructor, I can't recommend ski lessons enough. In my experience, a lot of first-time skiers need to spend a few hours on the snow to fully understand how useful lessons can be. If you’ve spent the whole day on the bunny hill and progress isn’t happening, consider signing up for a lesson.
I understand that at well-known resorts, lessons can be wildly expensive. However, there are often discounts available before the season begins, and competing resorts offer lower prices. I think beginner lessons are great because ski instructors can identify things you can work on building skills that a new skier may not notice.
Ski instructors are the doctors of ski learning. They’ll look, listen and talk to you until coming up with a diagnosis and treatment plan. Then, they’ll work with you to put that treatment plan into motion. It is possible to learn to ski without lessons, but they are an extremely useful tool to have.
Well, there you have it; some critical mistakes to avoid when starting your skiing journey. They can be split into three categories, before, during, and after a ski day. Before getting to the resort, pack appropriate clothes, and research the mountain.
Once you get to the mountain, practice on the bunny hill, learn how to ride lifts, and take care of your body. Remember, skiing is exhausting. And finally, after skiing, remember to schedule a follow-up ski appointment or ski lesson to keep practicing.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.