Your Top Ski and Snowboard
BY RACHEL CAVANAUGH
If you are interested in learning about other types of skiing, you can also check out Columbia’s guide to Cross Country Skiing.
Part 1: Gearing Up
Peter Bexelius: When you’re skiing and snowboarding, it’s critical to have a waterproof or water-resistant ski jacket and snow pants. Snow becomes wet and it will go through your clothing, so don't make the mistake of trying to go skiing in jeans. You’ll have a miserable experience and you won’t come back for a second visit. You also need to have a good pair of baselayers and possibly a midlayer as well, depending on how cold it is. Bring ski gloves to protect your hands and keep them warm, along with a helmet and goggles. (For additional tips on staying warm, check out our cold-weather guide.)
Q: Do you need a helmet to go skiing?
Peter Bexelius: Yes, you absolutely do. The snow may look nice and soft, but you can definitely get concussions if you fall hard enough. Snow can get hard and icy and you need to protect your head. As a bonus, it also keeps your head warm.
Q: And do you need goggles to ski too?
Peter Bexelius: Yes, goggles are necessary as well. When it snows, it’s hard to see where you're going unless you have some sort of eyewear and protection. Goggles do a better job than sunglasses of keeping your eyes protected and preventing snow from getting into your eyes. The goal is to keep visibility open and goggles are the best way to do it.
Q: What else do you need to bring skiing?
Peter Bexelius: In addition to your basic gear, I like to bring a second pair of gloves. If it's too warm, I can switch them out or if it's too cold, I can double them up or switch from gloves to mittens. Also something that’s very important is your socks. You don’t want to wear cotton socks when you go skiing. You will need a pair of socks that will do a good job of wicking moisture away from your feet. You don't want your toes to get cold, and that can happen easily when you sweat in your boots. And don’t forget lunch, a parking pass, and your ski pass. Other than that, just bring a great attitude.
Peter Bexelius: Ski boots are tighter than regular shoes, so some people may think of them as uncomfortable; however, they really shouldn’t be. Getting them on can be a little tricky, but once your foot is inside, as long as they fit properly, they shouldn't feel uncomfortable. There shouldn't be any hot spots and you shouldn't develop any blisters. Your heel will be snug, but you should still have wiggle room for your toes—so as long as you get well-fitting ski boots, they shouldn't feel uncomfortable.
Q: What size skis do you need?
Peter Bexelius: It varies a bit depending on your skill level, but when you first start off, your skis should go just a little beyond your chin height. This makes it a little bit easier to turn. As you learn how to ski better, you’ll move on to longer skis, which tend to perform better at higher speeds. Shorter skis won’t feel as stable when you’re moving faster.
Q: How long should ski poles be?
Peter Bexelius: For ski poles, you want to hold your arm with your elbow flexed at a 90-degree angle in front of you while grabbing the pole upside down, with your hand under the basket (which is the thing on the bottom of the pole that keeps the pole from sinking through the snow). That’s the perfect height.
~Peter Bexelius, Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Instructor
Peter Bexelius: No, there is not. Skis are interchangeable. But I get that question a lot as an instructor—it’s one of the first things we explain in our lessons.
Q: Do you have to wax your skis or snowboard?
Peter Bexelius: Waxing is something you should definitely do to keep your skis or snowboard in good shape and to keep good glide. In certain conditions, snow can stick to the bottom of your skis or your snowboard, so a good coat of wax will help prevent that and keep you going. You don't have to do it on a regular basis. Once or twice a season should be enough, especially when you’re first starting out. Your ski shop can do it or you can wax your skis on your own, although it can get a little gear-intensive. The shop can do it quickly and fairly inexpensively.
Part 2: Hitting the slopes
Peter Bexelius: You don’t have to be in excellent shape, but you do need to think about whether you have any prior injuries that might prevent you from making certain movements. You need to have some flexibility in your ankles, your knees, and your hips, and you need to be aware that it will get your heart rate up a little bit. It's not a super strenuous activity—you don’t need great cardio conditioning (although that helps). But you can definitely have fun even if you’re not in really good shape.
Q: How hard is skiing?
Peter Bexelius: Like most activities, when something is completely new to you there's a lot to keep track of. You’ve got ski poles in your hands, you’ve got clunky boots on, and then you have the skis on top of it. The first couple of runs seem harder, but most people get the hang of it pretty quickly. Then after that, it gets much easier very fast.
Q: How hard is snowboarding?
Peter Bexelius: Snowboarding typically involves a little bit more falling down early on. It’s definitely harder to get over that initial hurdle. But then it gets easier to advance after that. Skiing is just the reverse. It’s easier to get yourself gliding and to make turns in the beginning, but it gets more challenging once you reach the intermediate stage. It’s tougher to get to the next level.
Peter Bexelius: It’s not required, but it definitely helps. You can watch some helpful tutorials online, but you’ll really benefit from a little bit of personal instruction, even if it’s just a two-hour introductory lesson. After that, you can do a lot of practicing on your own, and then if there's something specific you want to work on, something you’re struggling with or a move you've seen on the hill, you can do another follow-up lesson to continue on.
Q: How long does it take to learn to ski or snowboard?
Peter Bexelius: As far as skiing goes, I’ve seen people who’ve never skied before making turns after a two-hour session. It usually doesn’t take long to get the basics down. Snowboarding is a little trickier—it typically takes more time to link your turns and learn how to stop. But then, like I said before, after you get the basics, the learning curve goes up dramatically. With skiing, it’s a lifelong process to truly master it. But for both sports, you can see significant progress as a beginner after just a few days on the mountain.
Q: How do you ride a chairlift?
Peter Bexelius: When you first get on a chairlift, think of it as sitting down on your favorite TV couch. You just kind of lean back, stick your tush out, and sit down. Make sure your back is all the way against the backrest. The chairlift will carry you up to the top of the mountain and when you're ready to get off, you just kind of scoot forward and “get off the couch,” so to speak. Wait until your skis are touching the snow, then put your hands on the seat, stand up, push off, and glide forward a little bit.
Q: How do you get up when you fall down skiing?
Peter Bexelius: One of the easiest ways to get up when you fall down skiing, especially for beginners, is to just take your skis off and start over. You’ll be sitting down in the snow and you just lean back and take your boots out of the ski bindings. Stand up, put them back on, and start skiing again. For beginners, this is usually easiest. Once you get the hang of things, you can take off just one ski and eventually you won't have to take any off.
Peter Bexelius: When you’re skiing, an easy way of stopping is to put your skis in a wedge like a pizza so that the tips are close together but the heels are far apart. You make a pizza shape with your skis—that's the way to control your speed. And if you push really hard, it will make you come to a stop.
Q: How do you walk in ski boots?
Peter Bexelius: You wanna be careful when you walk in ski boots because they can be a little bit slippery, depending on the surface. Think about walking like a penguin. When penguins walk, they don’t take giant leaps. They maintain smaller steps to keep their balance over their feet. Walking in ski boots is really no different than walking in shoes—you just need to be a little more cautious about not taking big steps.
Q: How should you carry skis?
Peter Bexelius: We tell beginners to clutch their skis in front of their body like they’re embracing someone or holding on to something. If you have to walk a farther distance, it's usually easier to put your skis on your shoulders in one hand. You hold the skis with one hand and the poles in the other. Just be mindful if you use this method to not take somebody out when you spin around.
Q: Is skiing family-friendly?
Peter Bexelius: Yes, skiing and snowboarding are both family-friendly sports. Being on the mountain is a fun activity that everyone in the family can enjoy. When the kids are little, they can enjoy it with their parents. And then later on when they’re a little more independent, they can go off and do their own runs and parents can do their own runs. Then everyone comes back together and meets for lunch and talks about their adventures. It's awesome, the best ever.
Q: What does après-ski mean?
Peter Bexelius: Après-ski is a French word that means “after skiing.” It describes the period of time at the end of the ski day, usually around 4 or 5 p.m., when everyone gathers inside the lodge or on the patio at a restaurant or bar to have drinks and talk about their day. It’s a long-standing mountain tradition. You choose the libation of your choice and talk with all of your buddies about how great your day was and all the awesome skiing or snowboarding that you did. It's a wonderful time to share memories and good times with your family and friends.
If you want to know more about all the fun activities that happen on or around the mountain, check out our guide to planning the perfect ski trip.