The Novice’s Guide to Skiing
How to slide down a slope without losing a limb. Or your dignity.
This article is part of our series on the diverse highlights of NZ's Canterbury region, from city to snow. To book your snow trip, visit the 100% Pure New Zealand website.
As someone with little-to-no coordination and balance, the prospect of skiing for the first time in my life was pretty terrifying. I honestly couldn't think of a sport that’s scarier for beginners — and I tried, multiple times — or a situation where I wouldn't be hurtling down a vertical run into a tree and/or small child.
That's why I’ve always thought it lucky that, for me and every other Adult Who Can't Ski, snow sports are generally pretty easy to avoid. But with the ski season ramping up — and snow weekends already being floated by my seasoned snow bunny friends — I thought it was time to see if I would sink or swim on snow. With myself as sacrifice, and some words of wisdom from Mt Hutt's media coordinator and resident snowboarder Georgie Boyd, we headed across to one of New Zealand's most renowned ski areas (and, as it turns out, biggest mountains) to find out how to slide down a slope without losing a limb — or your dignity.
Don't forget your gloves
Preparation is key when it comes to skiing, mostly because it involves a lot of stuff. This is no spontaneous sport. If you don't own any snow clothes and can't borrow any from a similarly sized friend (your boyfriend's oversized pants probably won’t make things any easier, just saying), you should look at hiring proper, waterproof clothing. Mt Hutt hire out snow pants and jackets as well as boots and helmets — all of which you'll probably need as a beginner. What they don't have, though, are gloves and goggles, so make sure you you've got that covered before you get up on the mountain. Freezing fingertips don’t make for fun times.
The things you think are the easiest are actually the hardest
Here's the thing: no one tells you that walking in ski boots will feel like your shin is snapping in half (which it isn't, but I still have the bruises to say that it came pretty close). Those things are painful, but they say it gets better. Apparently getting on and off the lift gets less terrifying too, but maybe that comes later. And think you can sling your skis over your shoulder like they do in the movies? Think again, noob. There's a particular trick to carrying your skis out to the snow that involves sliding them together and holding onto one of the brakes, but I'll let the ski staff show you that one.
Don't think you don't need a lesson
Sure, head up to the top of the slope with your friends and be left side-stepping up the mountain while they pass you as they go up and down the run. It's enough to ruin friendships, so heed this: experienced skiers and beginners don't match. Don't underestimate the power of getting a lesson.
"The action of skiing and snowboarding isn't always common sense," says Georgie. "Taking a lesson gets you on the right track straight away and will speed up the zero-to-hero process."
Contrary to popular misconception, there are plenty of functioning adults who also don't know how to ski — you'll be in a class with them, not four-year-olds (who can probably ski better than you, anyway).
It's actually not that scary
Only after you've strapped on your skis and are successfully standing on a flat lay of snow will you start to feel like maybe this skiing thing isn't so terrifying. Like Georgie says, the most intimidating part for learners is the fear of going too fast and the chairlifts. Once you've mastered slowing down in a lesson (it doesn't matter how long your lesson is, even an hour or two makes a difference), then you can tackle the chairlift.
"There are always lifties at the top of the lift to ensure that everyone is getting off the lift safely,” Georgie says. And to make things even easier, Mt Hutt's beginner’s area even has a conveyor belt 'magic carpet', which is the pre-chairlift training to the real deal.
Image thanks to Mt Hutt, NZSki Ltd. and Patrick Fallon.
It's all about pizza
Not the pizza pie kind (well, maybe it can be afterwards — hell, you will have deserved two pizzas by then), but the pizza slice made by the shape of your skis. That's how you stop. For snowboarders, Georgie recommends digging in your heel-side edge will slow you down and safely control an exit off a ski lift. Best you get that one down before you take off down the slopes.
What not to do
Whatever you do, don't look down. Even though you'll want to look down and make sure your skis are doing what you want them to, it's important that you look at what’s in front of you. There are a lot of obstacles — they're called people. On the subject of people, don't use them as props. Seriously, you grab someone on the way down and no one will look at you the same again.
Any time's a good time
The best thing about being a beginner is that you don’t need a lot of snow to have a good time. While all the pros are complaining about lack of snowfall, you'll have all the snow you need. So basically, any time's a good time to start skiing, so just do it already.
Remember, there is hot chocolate and/or a good story waiting at the end of it
Like this one.
Feature image courtesy of Mt Hutt, NZSki Ltd. and Miles Holden.
Published on July 24, 2014 by Lauren Vadnjal