Skiing for the first time at 30 years old – especially at a mountain as epic as two-time Olympic host Whiteface – is intimidating. But in January 2016 I took my first ski lesson and had the time of my life. Here are some of the things I learned at my first lesson (besides, you know, skiing) that may help you as a fellow first-timer.
Things I worried about that were not a big deal...
Not being in good enough shape
I'm not so much in shape as I am a shape. I work out a couple times a week and I love to hike in the summer, but it takes me a solid 40 minutes to walk the 3 miles around Mirror Lake and if I had to ever run in a Zombie Apocalypse I would surely be one of the first to be eaten.
Without a doubt, skiing is a tough physical activity. The time sitting on the lift was welcome relief for my burning legs, and I did take a few brief pauses on the trail when I was certain that my legs would give out at any moment; however, I didn't feel like dying as much as I expected to going into it. Now, ski racers or any skier more advanced than I certainly may have different physical requirements, but as a first-timer cruising down Bear and Mixing Bowl, I was just fine.
I've never had skis on my feet. I had no idea what they felt like, or what they were supposed to feel like. What if they were too tight? Or too loose? Or I couldn't secure my boot in the binding correctly?
I was pleasantly surprised by my experience in the rental shop. When you walk in, you check in on a computer, where you type in basic information about yourself, including your age, height and weight (and not your driver's license weight, your actual weight – you want to be sure your equipment can safely support you.)
Next, you meet with a personal consultant to fit you with boots. I'm not sure that's their official title, but it sure felt like it. My consultant was super friendly and patient, asking me several questions to ensure I was comfortable, but also that the equipment was fitting properly.
Finally, you waddle (the only way I can describe trying to walk in ski boots for the first time) to pick up your skis, and you're off! Despite the queue I felt like I had excellent personal attention, did not feel at all rushed, and the whole rental pick-up process took less than 15 minutes.
What to Wear
With this being my first time on the slopes I didn't want to make a big investment ahead of time on new ski gear, so I decided I was just going to create an outfit from items I already had. I wore yoga pants underneath a pair of snow pants, a dry-wick long sleeved shirt with a t-shirt on top, and my North Face winter jacket with fleece lining. On my feet, I wore a single pair of knee-high socks. I was fortunate that I had an absolutely gorgeous day for my lesson – low 30's, barely any wind, and the bluest sky you could imagine – and I was perfectly comfortable in my make-shift outfit.
The knee high socks were definitely a good call – it protected my shin from rubbing against the boot liner, and kept me warm. My rental consultant warned against wearing multiple layers of socks, as it can cause your boots to fit incorrectly. And trust me, you wouldn't need a second pair of socks to keep warm. If anything, bring a second pair of socks to change half way through the day – your feet will sweat!
I'm not the most graceful person in everyday life, and I was totally prepared to become a YouTube sensation for a cell phone video compilation of me falling over, and over, and over again. I was on the mountain for a total of five hours, and I only fell four times. Seriously, I fall more than that in an average day at home tripping over my dogs. I never once fell because I was losing control or trying to avoid a collision with another skier – it was because I got too much in my head, or lost focus of the technique taught to me by my instructor.
Will you fall your first time on skis? Probably. But the snow is soft, and your body won't hurt as much as your pride.
Things I worried about that were a big deal...
I wear glasses exclusively, and I need them in order to see anything more than 40 yards ahead of me. A friend of mine graciously allowed me to try on multiple pairs of goggles from his collection over my glasses, but none of them felt comfortable to me, so I decided to go sans goggles and figure it out when I got there.
It was a super sunshiny day (not complaining about that!) and the snow guns were blastin'. I would say that 80% of the time I was totally fine in my specs, but wearing glasses did pose a few challenges. They would fog up due to my body heat, or would freeze when I went through the snow guns. The bright sun also caused me to squint (a lot!) to the point where I started to get a headache (#lightsensitivityprobz). If I was more advanced and skiing all over the mountain, I could see this as an even larger issue, but I was able to make it work for the small area I stayed in. I was later made aware of "over the glasses" goggles that can be purchased for less than $25 and fit comfortably over glasses – that's what I'll opt for next time.
Things I wasn't worried about, but should have been...
I thought my wear-everywhere thin fleece gloves would be just fine for skiing, but I definitely wish I would have opted for waterproof gloves instead, even if they were a bit bulkier. My fleece gloves were pretty soaked by the end of the day.
Exiting the lifts
I had successfully unloaded from the double ski lift at the Olympic Jumping Complex while holding a huge extreme tubing inner tube at least 10 times. But I had never tried to exit a lift with skis on, and I didn't do so great my first time up the Mixing Bowl double. Just remember to lift the tips of your skis up a bit when exiting, and you'll glide right down.
When learning how to ski, your self-doubt will be your only enemy. Not the cold, not gravity, not whatever you decide to wear. Have faith in yourself, you will do great!