Snowboarding & Skiing
So you want to go snowboarding or skiing for the first time? Not sure which?
First let me say both snowboarding and skiing are awesome, I personally enjoy boarding a bit more, but its 100% personal preference we are all uniquely wired! This guide will cover some basic items you may want when trying out these sports, a few tips on what to look for in a ski spot or resort if you are a beginner, and some guidance on how to pick which to try first!
- Ski / Snowboarding gloves: These should be water resistant, breathable and ideally designed for skiing. Ski gloves should fit comfortably you should be able to fully open your hand without stretching the palm of the gloves, you want some space between the end of your finger tips and the glove, usually a thumb pinch worth is enough. Some gloves have an inner liner that is smaller to create this gap but not all gloves. As a rule of thumb if you put the glove on and you can feel your finger tip through the glove without some squishy glove material between, the glove is too small. You will want some insulation between the snow and your fingers this is achieved with that squishy tip.
- Hat or Toboggan: Keep that head warm you loose a lot of your body heat through your head, and if you get too hot with the hat on you can always throw it in your pocket. Get something warm, when its really cold I cover my ears too! A number of brands make hats and toboggans with polar fleece or similar these tend to keep your ears a little warmer than caps that are loosely knit or woven. Synthetic or wool are great options!
- Body Gear / The three layers: When we talk about pants, shirt, and coat in cold weather sports we do this in three primary layers: Base Layer, Insulating Layer, and Shell. Some clothing combines layers, I find the flexibility of separating the layers to be desirable but not a hard requirement.
- Base Layer: This is a close to skin or skin tight fitting layer, its designed to wick moisture away from your skin (sweat), you may not think it but you will sweat skiing even if is 0deg outside. This layer should be made of synthetic material, never cotton. It should be light weight and thin. Think work out clothing or Under Armour.
- Insulating layer: This is your warmth, again synthetic, this layer is what keeps you warm so the warmer you like to be the more of this you want. I recommend polar fleece or similar because its warm and not thick! Remember snowboarding and skiing are active sports you want to be agile and not overly bulky. Also, a good rule is if you walk our side with you gear on stand there for five minutes and you feel cool but not cold you are perfect if you feel warm you will be hot on the mountain. A lot of ski pants and ski jackets combine the shell and insulating layer. 90% of winter coats do this as well!
- Shell: This layer is like a wind breaker, it should be water resistant, it should be breathable, and it needs to be durable as it takes all the beating of falling in the snow bumping into things etc... Think north-face jackets, goretex. You don't want a plastic or rubber rain suit as it wont breath and you will be way to hot! The shell can be light though just get something durable.
- Boots: If you are a beginner I recommend renting boots, usually the boot rental will come with the ski / snowboard rental. As for getting to the ski lodge, I wear tennis shoes they are comfy and shove into a locker easily, a some of my friends wear Birkenstock's or similar.
- Socks: Think base layer, synthetic no cotton, not super thick but you want a little padding. The boots will have insulation (lots) in them, so this is the base layer for your feet. If you get cold toes opt for slightly warmer socks, but don't go thick here. If you go too thick and loose your feet may slide around in your boots and you will get bad blisters!
- Goggles: Most all resorts will sell ski goggles and usually they will have some very fairly priced. Aim for bigger / wider lenses as they increase your field of view. If you ski during the day go for polarized / tinted lenses the snow is really really bright on a sunny day, and still bright on a cloudy day. Go for comfort, if they fit tight in the store they will hurt on the mountain. Go for cool, may as well be proud of those big lenses on your face! Actually it doesn't mater everyone looks the same skiing or snowboarding but hey if you like a crazy color go for it, everything passes on the slopes! Lastly is anti-fog, most snowboarding goggles are designed with this in mind and you should not have a problem; if you do though just talk to someone at the ski resort and they can help out. They do make anti-fog sprays, i find the spray to be hit and miss and usually things fog up when its not ideal, anti-fog lenses are worth the extra money IMHO. If you wear prescription glasses they to make prescription lenses, but you may be able to find some that fit over your glasses, just keep in mind comfort is key, they will be on your face all day long.
Ski Resort Tips!
I intend to fill this section out a bit more but here are a few basic pointers:
- Snow: This seems basic but actually you should checkout the website or call the ski resort and ask what the snow conditions are like and what their forecast is. Ski resorts should be able to tell you what the ski conditions are like (good bad ugly), if they expect the conditions to improve or worsen. I tend to steer clear of resorts that only have 50% of their trails open, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't go it just means take the time to call, tell them what your ski experience is, and ask if they have good conditions to meet your experience. If a resort cannot tell you the slope conditions Don't Go There!
- Ski Lifts: Some smaller places may not have lifts, they will have rope pulls, or treadmill like tracks. While this is ok when you are on a beginner slope or the trick course, if the resort doesn't have any lifts period you will get bored very very fast. Most beginners are ready to get on their first lift to a longer beginner slope within an hour or two of getting on ski's for the first time. Further if you take a liking to the sport you will be on advanced slopes within the day and without a lift there will not be any advanced slopes.
- Costs: Often there will be a number of resorts near one another, if you are a beginner I don't recommend going to the most expensive resort with the tallest mountain, at least not your first day. Tall mountains are great when you are ready to hit intermediate and advanced slopes, but buy you nothing as a beginner. If you know you are a beginner look at the resort that has a few beginner slopes maybe free beginner classes, the option to trade ski's for a snowboard, etc... these are little differences that can save you some money. I always take time to really evaluate the costs so that when I go I don't have to wonder if I am over paying because I have already pre-decided that the resort I am at is worth the money to me.
- Parking and Access: If you have never been to the area before its a good idea to ask about road access and parking. Some resorts may not have cleared roads or snow cleared parking lots. If you are used to driving in snow then it probably wont matter to you but if you are not a native snow driver, this is something to be very aware of! I distinctly remember getting to the bottom of the mountain early in the morning ready to go snowboarding and realizing the roads were covered in snow, it was gonna be a long winding way up, and I am not a native winter road driver! It ended up being just fine as I was in my truck, but its something I ask about now.
- Pictures / Trail map: A great thing to do is just look at some pictures of the prospective resort. See if its a place you will like, if it looks too ragged for you or too expensive. If you are a beginner trail maps may not make any sense to you yet. The short is they show the paths the resort has created for a safe skiing experience. The are trails or paths that should be clear of debris, trees (not the case on expert trails), and harmful objects. The trails will be color coded usually with their difficulty. The map should also shwo the placement of the lodge, ski-lifts, etc...
- Food!: If you are going to be at a resort all day or for a few days its a good idea to consider what you will eat and where! Some resorts will offer a cafeteria on site, other may have surrounding restaurants, while some may only have vending machines. I know I get hungry when I am on the slopes and having to spend 20$ for 2 small slices of pizza can take the fun out of it if you are not expecting it. Resorts that are far aware from local restaurants and provide onsite eating will be more expensive but often within reasonable margin. Some resorts will have co-located restaurants, or may only be 5 minutes down the road from the nearest mall or restaurant row. It a good idea to familiarize yourself with the general area to get a plan for how you will eat while you are there and how much it will costs. the costs for a day at the slopes can easily double if you spend a lot on food. I like to bring little snack and energy bars with me, I will snack on them while riding a ski lift or in line waiting to hop on. It save me a little on the food budget and keep my energy up throughout the day.
To Ski or Snowboard that is the Question!
First they are both fun. Each has a different feel and although the techniques are different the principals behind the techniques are the same. Before you read any further the first question you need to answer is which do you, in your head, think is cooler or more interesting? Think about it because it is super rare that someone truly has no mental bias. If something came to mind just go for that! Even if you were awful at skateboarding but snowboarding sounds awesome to you, try snowboarding. Your opinion that one is more awesome than the other will give you incentive to learn to do it, and I firmly believe any one can do both. But if you are really undecided here are some pointers that may help!
Snowboarding: First off if you have ever tried skateboarding or wake boarding and liked the feel of that you will probably like the feel of snowboarding. That said if you tried skateboarding and found it really hard to keep your balance you may still like snowboarding. A good test is how you balance, to simulate snow boarding stand up, place your feet shoulder width apart, rotate your head 90 degrees looking to your side. Rock forward and back do you feel like you have good control of your balance? If you lean forward till you hold your balance with the front of your foot. Do you feel comfortable or like any second your face planting on the floor? If you just fell over maybe try the skiing exercise with greater caution. :D
Skiing: If you love rollerblading, ice skating, water skiing, roller skating, you should probably try out skiing the motion is similar you may find balancing easier. To test your skiing balance stand up, place your feet shoulder width apart. Pick up one foot off the floor a little now lean to the opposing side (eg lift right foot lean left). How does that feel? you should be able to lean a bit without falling over not a ton but if you feel like you are gonna fall over after only lifting your foot off the floor maybe snowboarding is a better option.
Final Tip: Try both! In all honesty why not try both and give them a good try like a full or half day. Take the beginner course to learn the basics and above all have fun! A lot of places that rent will let you exchange your rental so if you rent ski's and hate it go back and exchange for a snowboard. Just remember you will probably fall a bit learning to do either, you don't need to be embarrassed we all fell, I still fall. Someone in your beginner class will learn quicker than you, 1000 people before you learned slower than you. Take your time and try to have fun, if you are not having fun take a break and then get back out and try again! Go with a positive 'can do' attitude, tell yourself the moment you wake up that its gonna be a good day, that you can learn how to ski or snowboard and that you are going to!
If you are unsure let me tell you I believe in you, and I know you can do it! If you want some encouragement or have some specific questions this guide did not answer, email me!
- J.Fluhler (Thrive Outdoor Adventurer)