September 16, 2017

Learning to ski: advice from an expert to save you time and money

I recently received an email from a customer, asking me for my advice on learning how to ski. After writing to her, it occurred to me that I should write a blog post about the ideas I'd expressed.

For those who don't know who I am or what Free the Powder is, I should give you a little background so you'll consider my opinions on ski related matters:

1) I started skiing before I can remember, when I was two years old. Before that I rode around the mountain on my Dad's back.

2) Most of my childhood was spent on the mountain, ski racing. 

3) I went to college in a ski town. Skied more, studied less.

4) I have been a ski bum for the past 20+ years in Park City, Utah. I have had countless jobs, on and off the mountain, and business ventures that have allowed me to ski 100+ days per year.

5) I am the owner and head product designer of a ski industry company, Free the Powder Gloves. We design and make premium ski gloves and mittens.

6) I taught my wife to ski in her late 30s. And we're still married!

The last qualification listed above is probably the most pertinent, to give you a strong sense that I know of what I speak.

I have spent a lot of time during the past few years on the Bunny Hill (green runs / learning area) teaching my wife to ski and helping her progress from total-fear and non-coordination to complete competence. During that time I've watched a lot of other people learning to ski and analyzed the techniques of their instructors (professional and non-professional). I see teaching-by-example most of the time.

I don't understand this. Skiing is a very counter-intuitive sport.

Learning the skills and body motion required to ski needs to be taught from basic fundamentals on a need-to-know basis. One skill, one motion at a time. Don't be frustrated if your instructor is using this strategy.

Here is my opinion / advice on how to begin to learn to ski and save lots of money.

Most important. Before you take a professional lesson or even buy an expensive lift ticket at a resort:

1) Go to a used gear ski swap with a friend who skis. Buy cheap beginner boots, cheap beginner skis and cheap everything-else. You won't need new, performance gear for awhile. And you don't need the financial pressure created by just having spent a lot of money at a ski shop.

2) Make sure the boots are snug, but comfortable. They will pack out. Learn to put your boots on pain-free. I repeat, learn to put your boots on pain-free. If they don't go on relatively comfortably, find another pair. You don't need performance-fit when you're a beginner. You have other issues to deal with. Comfort. Comfort. Comfort. These beginner boots and their fit is meant to get you over the highest, first hurdle of learning to ski: foot pain. 

3) At home, become comfortable taking your boots on and off, repeatedly. Become comfortable stepping in and out of your ski bindings, with your boots on. Use poles for balance.

4) Find a snowy slope or snow-packed driveway that is almost completely flat. Walk around for extended periods of time with your boots and skis on. Use your ski poles for balance. Just walking- forward, back, side to side, up the slope, down the slope. Become competent and confident moving around.

5) If you fall down, no problem. Learn to use your poles to click out of your bindings. Stand up with just your boots on your feet, only. Click out of BOTH skis first, then stand. NEVER try to stand up from a flat surface with your skis on (including low angle ski slope/ Bunny Hill/ learning area) unless you want torn knee ligaments and a very expensive surgery. 

6) Once you are fairly confident walking around with your skis on, walk to the top of the slope (almost flat) and learn to glide/slide very slowly.




7) Find somebody to teach you the wedge, snow-plow. Go slow and move around a lot.

I just saved you a ton of cash!

Now, when you go to a ski resort and take a lesson, you need to tell your instructor (professional or non-professional):

"I promise you I will have patience for basic skill building. Please tell me what to do, watch me, and tell me WHAT I AM DOING WRONG.  Please do not teach me by example."

They will like hearing that. Too many clients of professional instructors want to skip the really important, basic stuff.

Oh and one more piece of advice -if you pay for a private professional ski lesson: make your day all about learning how to ski. Be very clear up front with your instructor that you are there to learn, boot camp-style. Cut out the where-you-from personal chit-chat while sitting on the chairlift and during lunch. The instructor is on the clock and they are professionals so talk skiing, skiing, skiing. Technique, technique, technique...