Skiing 101: Adult Novices Feel No Shame

Author: Jennifer Guterman

Tags : Christmas Holiday, Health, Insurance & Safety, Snowsports, Spring Break, Winter Getaway
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A West Coast mom and an East Coast dad throw caution to the wind and become middle age novice skiers.

One of the best things about having kids is that when they're younger, they make their parents show off skills in all the sports that the kids are trying to learn... even if those skills date back to the days of rotary phones. Scootering at 35? Rollerblading at 42? How 'bout freestyle skiing when you're 55! Two survival stories follow.

Day 1 on Skis for a West Coast Novice

Living out west and thinking about trying snowsports? If you're looking to test out the slopes for the day, I highly recommend taking a first lesson at Mt. Rose (800/SKI-ROSE). Mt. Rose is the closest ski resort to Reno in the Lake Tahoe area, and in addition to its exciting options for advanced skiers, it has a comprehensive beginners' program.

Lessons especially designed for First Timers are offered daily, with a package including lift access, "beginner-specific" rental equipment, and instruction. There are also Rookie lessons for those who may have skied once or twice before, a long time ago.

Children ages 4-10 have their own Rosebuds Ski and Snowboard Camp, divided into class levels based on experience, or the option for private lessons. A visit to the Mt. Rose web site reveals just how seriously they take beginners-First Timers have their own section on the site, with information and tips on lessons, mountain safety, and dressing for the snow.

I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical when I started my lesson at Mt. Rose. It was, after all, blizzarding, and I was quickly turning into That Woman! in terms of obnoxious cluelessness (wearing moisture-absorbent gloves and a too-big hat that kept falling in front of my eyes, scrounging around desperately for a pair of goggles to borrow).

Once our group was geared up and outside, however, our instructor Jeff explained the basics to the adults with patience and enthusiasm. I learned how to put on skis, "loosen up" into the stance, push with the poles, walk up a hill, stop, turn, ride the lift, and make it down the bunny slope without falling (too much). In a blizzard!

I was so impressed with the lesson and its resulting adrenaline rush, I might even go skiing again someday!

Day 1 on Skis for an East Coast Dad

If trying to ski like those on TV is not a requirement (and shouldn't be), the learning curve is fast. Accept that you will fall and decide not to care. Even advanced skiers fall. It's actually fun and the snow will cushion you. Here's my best advice for novices, after a wonderful learn-to-ski weekend at Wisp Mountain Resort (301/387-4911), Maryland.

Rent your first skis at the ski lodge where the staff can adjust the equipment to your height and skill level, and pay for your lift ticket at the same time. The skis automatically disengage from the ski boots when you fall or apply force, so there's little way to injure your feet or legs.

Someone will need to demonstrate how to fasten ski boots and skis together to handle the equipment. If a friend cannot do this, have a professional lesson to start. The first thing they should teach is how to stand back up after a fall which is not difficult. You'll also get some guidance on how to utilize the conveyor belt and ski lift chairs effectively and safely. Beginner ones are slow and not intimidating.

Start on the shallow beginner slopes served by a conveyor belt to get to the top. These are barely hills and you will not gain much speed or lose control. Once you're ready to move on from the beginner's slopes, use the chair lifts that serve slopes marked with green circles only – these are designed for beginners. All trails are marked as green circles, blue squares for intermediate, and black diamonds or double black diamonds for advanced skiers.

Overcome the instinct to stand erect and lean back when skiing for the first time. In fact, while counter intuitive, bending your knees and leaning forward will be easier, allowing for greater control over speed and direction. Once I mastered that, everything else followed.

Do not feel the need to keep your skis parallel and pointing straight forward. That technique is for advanced skiing, and many rarely do that. Feel free to point the front tips inward a bit in a V which is not only the recommended technique and makes turning easier, but allows you to go slower and control your speed as a beginner. Turning with skis is easy when relaxed. Don't attempt to turn your skis by turning your foot in the direction you want to go. Instead, lean and put your weight over the ski outside of the turn. For example if turning left, put your weight over the right ski and vice versa. Skis are constructed with special flexible and curved edges that automatically turn when such pressures are applied.

As you progress, you can refine your turns and speed by bobbing up a bit during the turn to make yourself lighter for an instant. At the same time, pushing a bit on your skis down and out on the inside edge. This will start to come naturally from repetition and the associated higher comfort lever. At this point your are skiing – albeit rudimentarily.

Repeat and repeat again. Have fun and do not worry about looking good or doing well, every single person on that slope was a beginner at one time.

Finally, lessons are not mandatory, but suggested for improvement. Just have fun and never think you have to ski fast to do well.