If you’ve come here looking for expert skiing tips, you’re in the wrong spot. I’m a passionate skier, but by no means a double-black-diamond daredevil. And I’m also a relatively new skier who remembers what it was like just five years ago when I was looking for skiing tips of my own as we embarked on what would become my family’s favourite winter pastime.
We went from fireside couch potatoes to eagerly awaiting first snowfalls when we can get out our gear and get back on the slopes.
As of 2015, my husband could boast a few years’ worth of lessons when he was a kid, though he was by no means a skilled skier. I’d been once during my university years with disastrous results and swore I’d never go again. And my kids were what ski instructors call “never-evers.”
We had no idea what we were in for back then — during our first experience in Mont-Tremblant — but approached skiing as an opportunity to learn something new together as a family.
And it stuck.
We became fanatical and have ultimately skied every chance we can get every season since then, heading to Mont-Tremblant in Quebec nearly a dozen times and trying out many resorts across Canada and the USA.
Once you’ve got the hang of things and start thinking about booking ski trips, read my posts about Smugglers’ Notch, Whiteface, Big White, Northern Vermont, Titus Mountain Family Ski Center, The Post Hotel and Black Bear Lodge — these are some of our faves.
Preparing for your first family ski experience is daunting to say the least. What do we need to bring? What should we wear? Where should we stay?
Dear first-timers: let me help you prepare with my top skiing tips.
Skiing tips #1: WHEN SHOULD FIRST-TIME SKI FAMILIES GO SKIING?
Like most travel, you’ll inevitably find that holidays, school breaks and weekends will be busiest. Going midweek or off-peak will mean fewer people on the slopes, which is best for beginners. There was nothing more terrifying to me at the beginning than trying to keep myself upright and hearing the sounds of skiers behind me or seeing them whip past me at a dizzying speed.
Seasoned pro? Here are my thoughts on how to teach your kids to ski.
It can get pretty overwhelming when the hill is packed with skiers and boarders, especially when they’re whipping past you at Mach 5, so if it’s remotely possible to go during “low season,” my advice when starting out is to do that.
Skiing tips #2: WHAT SHOULD A NEW SKI FAMILY BUY?
Don’t buy anything. Yet.
Well, not the big stuff anyway. In addition to good-quality outdoor wear that you probably already have for winter (see below), good-fitting, fog-resistant goggles are worth the $40 to $100 investment for each family member. But you can even rent these at some of the on-mountain equipment shops.
And until you know whether this sport is for you, rentals are where it’s at.
Each piece of equipment should be properly fitted for each individual, so if helmets feel wobbly, boots are pinching or your skis are taller than you, request help from a different staffer at the rental shop. The last thing you want to do is set yourself up for discomfort and failure right out of the gate.
Bindings will need to be adjusted for novices to ensure skis come away from boots easily during a tumble, too. This is not the time to fudge on your weight or experience level — because both are taken into account for your bindings.
Please do NOT borrow old ski gear from family or friends unless it’s fairly new stuff and has been properly serviced and fitted for you and your skill level. Downhill skis in particular have come a long way in the last few years, making it easier for new skiers to build their skills — so you want to be sure you’re taking advantage of the latest gear’s technology.
My ski gear guide will help you think through all of the things you could invest in once you decide you’re going to be a full-fledged ski family.
Skiing tips #3: what to wear when skiing for the first time
Warm clothes are essential because they will make or break your experience.
You know how in the real estate world experts say “location, location, location”? Well, in the ski world, it’s “layers, layers, layers” — so come prepared. I prefer merino wool base layers because of its temperature-regulating properties. You don’t want anything that doesn’t breathe because any extra sweat can actually make you colder.
SAY NO TO COTTON. (Seriously, don’t do it.)
Whether you have to rent or borrow waterproof ski jackets, pants and especially mitts, these are essential. Weather in the mountains, even weather on the same mountain in a single day or from one elevation to the next, is unpredictable. We’ve skied in freezing rain and slush, and — trust me — you don’t want to be wet during a 30-minute run or, worse, stuck on a chairlift in the rain unless your suit will keep all the wet out. Because yuck.
Those little hot-packs that you can shove into boots and mitts? Absolutely get them for your kids’ hands but don’t bother with the feet unless you’re outfitted with proper ski socks. Our experience at the beginning when we were using generic wool socks was that they got bunchy and uncomfortable in boots. So this is also my big vote for good-fitting ski socks — because once you’re out skiing for a full day, toes can get quite cold after a few hours and those hot-pocket disposable toe warmers are a lifesaver.
For other skiwear you may want to consider, check out my family-approved skiwear post.
Skiing tips #4: HOW CAN FAMILIES SAVE MONEY?
There’s no doubt about it: skiing is expensive.
But you can find ways to save money. Many resorts offer ski package deals that include lodging and lift tickets for each member of the family. Some resorts will even add in lessons or other activity passes. If you don’t see something listed on the resort’s website, try calling the front desk. The worst they’ll tell you is no!
You can also often find discounted lift tickets if you buy them ahead of time. Google is your best bet. Costco even sells lift ticket gift certificates, which can offer excellent savings!
Eating out for every meal can get costly. We like the option of having a condo-style room with a kitchen so we can at least eat breakfast at our home away from home. We save even more by making our own dinners as well — but not at the expense of indulging in at least one fabulous restaurant meal so you get the full resort experience.
Personally, I like to spring for lunch on the hill since I find packing our own is a pain and proper storage isn’t always available.
Skiing tips #5: WE HAVE TICKETS AND RENTALS – NOW WHAT?
Take lessons. All of you.
This is, hands down, among the most important tips for skiing that I dole out to anyone who will listen!
If you can afford private lessons, you’ll be on your way faster. Be sure to reserve these in advance so you can do them at the same time as your kids. This is key! We always prefer at least a two-hour lesson; one hour just isn’t enough because just as you’ve really gotten warmed up and in the groove and your instructor has gotten to know your idiosyncracies, it’s time to pack it in.
Group lessons are also very effective and shouldn’t be overlooked and some resorts offer fabulous deals on kids’ lesson packages (often including equipment rentals!). If at all possible in your budget, though, save these for after the initial learning stage. The value of having even two private lessons under your belt before hitting up a group lesson can not be understated.
Skiing tips #6: HOW DO WE GET OUR KIDS ON THE CHAIR LIFT?
I wish someone had told me that (a) chair lifts are trickier than they appear, and (b) each lift operates differently. We’ve had our fair share of mishaps getting on and off lifts — many of which could have been avoided.
Watch the lift from nearby, but not in line, for a couple of minutes before getting on for the first time. Do this every time you ski at a new lift — even at the same resort. Each lift has its own speed and personality. (Yes, really.)
How many people can get on a single chair? (Will your family need to split up?) Does the floor move you forward? Or do you have to inch yourself up to the chair? Are there gates that stop you from moving into the loading area too early? Or do you have to stop yourself from racing ahead before it’s your turn? Can a staffer help you lift your kids on until you get the hang of it? How are people closing the bar and positioning their kids in the lift? Note all of these observations and more.
It’s important to know that the lift speed can be adjusted with a simple thumbs up or down to the operator and staff. Or by simply asking for a slow-down when you’re next in line. This is key for families with little kids and new skiers. No one is going to be upset if you slow the lift down a bit to get on and off, but you will hear a few groans if the lift has to stop because you didn’t get on properly or fell getting off.
More skiing tips:
To ski or snowboard? That is the question. And you’ll get a different answer depending on who you ask.
We planned to trying skiing our first time out and snowboarding the next, but decided to keep working on our ski skills once we’d invested in lessons. Just do what makes sense for and interests your family members.
Start out with half-days and work your way up. Skiing is very physically challenging and when you’re first learning, it’s mentally challenging, too. If you’ve rented a room at a great resort where there’s more to do that just ski, there’s no shortage of activities to fill the rest of your day.
If you have older kids, and they’ll be skiing without you, have a designated meeting time and area mapped out ahead of time. While there are some resorts that tag little kids with GPS trackers, it probably won’t be the case with teens and you obviously need to know that they’re safe throughout the day — without relying on cellphone service that can be spotty or non-existent at some resorts and altitudes.
Be patient with yourself and know that it’s OK for your kids to see you fall. Mine watched me make mistake after mistake and wipe out a dozen times before I got the hang of the hill. They both told me that it made them feel less anxious and embarrassed about falling themselves.
Oh, and don’t be surprised if your kids learn faster than you. My five-year-old was a beast on the hill by the end of our first season, conquering black diamonds (in Ontario) with ease. The tricky part became following her, so I had no choice but to up my game.
Last but not least, bribery is a wonderful thing to keep kids motivated. Put a small pack of Smarties or M&Ms in their coat pockets and let instructors know that they have full authority to dole them out for a job well done.
And, hey — don’t forget to reward yourself either.