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The Basics

Downhill skiing, also known as alpine skiing, has been around for a long time. (Cross-country skiing is also known as Nordic skiing.) You may feel like it's only a sport for the young, but that's not true. It appeals to a wide range of people, because it has a wide range of levels. You can spend a winter's day gliding down calm gentle ski slopes or dive-bombing down through the trees.

One of the best things about skiing is that it gets you out in the fresh air in the middle of winter. In some places, the only chance to see blue skies during the winter season is at the top of a mountain. The views are always breathtaking. The trick to enjoying the sport is staying warm and using equipment for your level and style. Try it, you'll love it.

First Day Out

It's not uncommon to have a friend who is willing to teach you to ski, but it is not always the best choice. Both the teacher and student need to be patient. The last thing the student needs is additional pressure from a stressed friend. You might be better off taking a beginner ski class and later meeting up with your friends for a couple of easy afternoon ski trails. Your first day will be more enjoyable with the camaraderie of other beginner skiers. Once you get some of the basic control skills down, you can venture out onto the easier ski slopes.

It's advisable for you to pick up a pair of basic ski pants for your first day out. You should be able to get a relatively inexpensive pair. For the fashion conscious, black goes with everything. You'll also want a wind and water- resistant jacket or a shell. Layering your clothes works well for skiing, enabling you to shed clothing if you get over heated.

You should rent your skis in the beginning. Packages that include equipment, lesson and lift tickets are available at most mountains. The rental equipment comes with boots, skis, and ski poles. The rental shop will be able to fit you for your level. They're also very knowledgeable and helpful so ask lots of questions.

The rest of the equipment you need, you will have to supply. The remaining equipment includes something to keep you head and neck warm, sunglasses or goggles, ski gloves, water and wind resistant jacket and pants, wool socks, and sunscreen. If it is really cold, add extra layers.

Skiing Terms

Moguls - mounds of snow or bumps created on trails. Mogul trails are marked for advanced and expert skiers. (Skiing over moguls is difficult and requires training. They are not advisable for new skiers.)

Snowplow - beginners' speed control technique used by creating a V shape with your skis. The fronts of the skis almost touch and the backs of the skis are wide apart. Pressure is placed on the inside of both ski edges to slow you down.

Trails - paths on a ski mountain that skiers follow to descend the mountain. They are marked and color coded by degree of difficulty. Trails are also known as runs and slopes.

Color and Shape Coding System for Trails

Green circle runs are the easiest beginner trails.

Blue square runs are the intermediate trails.

Black diamond runs are for advanced and expert skiers.

The double black diamond runs are for expert skiers ONLY!

Hitting the Slopes

In order to improve, you have to ski. Practice. You may be ready to ski every weekend, but you will want to find a group to ski with. If you don't already have a group of friends that ski, check out a ski club. Most cities have ski clubs that organize weekend trips.

To continue your progress, consider taking a ski class at least once a year. It's a good way to keep on top of your technique and build confidence.

Your first equipment investment should be in ski boots. Rentals rarely fit right, they hurt your feet and hinder your skiing ability and enjoyment. Don't buy used boots. Get the best for your level and style of skiing, and most importantly they should be comfortable. If you buy a good, comfortable pair, they should last you a long time.

However, buying used skis from a ski shop is a great way to get a good pair of skis at a bargain price, and you get to try them out first. There are a lot of new styles and shapes in skis with varying prices. Take a test drive on the new ski shapes. You may find you just can't live without them.

The best time to buy ski clothing and equipment is at the end of season sales or pre-season before the stores get their new shipments.

Ready to Fly

Advanced skiers benefit from the slightest advancement in technology. Depending on how often you ski, renting demo skis can be a great alternative. If you ski all the time, this might not make sense financially. Renting demo skis allows you to always have the best equipment on the market. If you plan to do this, know the skis you want and call ahead to reserve them.

If you're having problems progressing from an "advanced" intermediate level skier to an expert double black diamond skier and your form is perfect, it may be psychological. Some skiers have found their skiing improved through other sports, particularly balance and mind sports like Tai Chi. It's worth a try!

SheGear would like to hear what helped you the most in advancing your skiing ability. Please send your comments to


  • Remember the skier below you has the right of way. You must avoid others skiers, which means you must ski in control. Don't pass close to someone when you're going fast. It creates a dangerous situation for both skiers.
  • Don't stop in the middle of a ski run, always stop on the sides.
  • Don't stop in an area were skiers above you cannot see you.
  • It is very uncool to litter anything: trail maps, cigarette butts, gum, etc.


  • Don't wear cotton as an undershirt. It traps dampness close to your body keeping you cold. Try some of the new high tech materials or even winter running clothing.
  • Freshly waxed and sharpened ski edges give you better control. Even as a beginner you'll appreciate the difference.
  • If your hands and feet get cold easily there are a couple of things to try. First, mittens keep your hands warmer than gloves, but offer less movement. Second, you can try glove liners available at most ski shops. Also, there are glove and boot warmers available for a couple dollars at the ski shops. They work well.
  • Unfortunately ski theft is common. There are locking devices available. If you don't have a lock, swap one of your skis with a friend and leave them in different visible places. A thief is less likely to take an unmatched pair of skis. Bring quarters for the lockers and ski storage.


  • Frostbite and hypothermia are possible if you're not careful. Keep warm. If you are cold, stop by the lodge for a quick warm up. The cold really zaps your energy and frostbite is painful.
  • Good equipment is important for good health. Ski bindings must be in good working condition. Leg and knee injuries occur when ski bindings don't release when they should.
  • Altitude sickness is real. Rapid altitude changes and dehydration are the most common causes, so drink lots of water. In mild cases you'll have a case of the blahs, low energy. For severe cases medical attention and evacuation is required. Symptoms may include headaches, vomiting, fainting, dizziness, and shortness of breath. Always seek proper medical advice.
  • Most of your body heat is lost through your head. It is important to wear a hat, especially on cold days.

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