Skiing Tips from a Pro Instructor
When you’re first learning how to ski, there’s only so much you can get from reading the posted rules and taking an introductory lesson. With that in mind, we asked a ski instructor who has worked at several Tahoe resorts to give us his best beginners’ skiing tips and general ski-season advice, i.e., the stuff you can only learn after years of skiing. (Many of his pointers apply to snowboarding as well, especially since the sport can seem a little more reckless than its two-planked counterpart.) Here’s how to hit the slopes the right way:
Learn the trail designation system.
There are numerous skiing tips for beginners, but the most important thing they can learn is how to read the sign at the top of the trail. Each sign contains a designation that indicates the steepness of the hill: a green circle for beginner slopes, a blue square for intermediate, and a black diamond and double black diamond for expert. So how do these compare to each other?
For a little context, a green circle slope has a slope gradient that’s between 6% and 25%, and the gradients increase for each symbol. Keep in mind, though, that degrees and percentages aren’t the same thing. A slope with a 100% gradient has a 45-degree pitch down, not a 100-degree pitch. Still, the incline of an average house stair is 30–35 degrees, and anything higher seems extremely steep when you’re perched on skis. So it’s no surprise that a slope with a 100% gradient is a double black diamond.
Pro Tip: Double black diamonds are often full of hazards such as trees. If you accidentally find yourself on one of these courses and you’re not an advanced skier, do whatever you can to stop, then take off your skis and walk down.
Make a habit of glancing back up the hill.
Officially, the person farther down the mountain has the right of way, which means it’s technically not your fault if someone behind you slams into you. But whose fault it is doesn’t particularly matter if you both end up hurt, right? In one of his most basic pieces of ski-season advice, our instructor warns beginners to watch their backs and not leave it up to the other person to steer clear. Make sure it’s safe before you stop, and if you happen to fall, always try to fall to the side.
Pro Tip: Spend some time learning how to fall comfortably on the bunny hill. And remember, it’s always better to flop than to pick up so much speed that you feel out of control.
Call out to people when passing them—especially if you’re both beginners.
If you’re picking up speed and need to pass somebody, it’s helpful to call out to them with a simple “On your left” or “On your right.” Other beginners will sometimes freak out and fall if you blow by them, so even though it feels a little rude at first to shout at a stranger, it's actually the height of slope etiquette.
Pro Tip: Make sure you follow the posted rules in the Slow Zone, or you might get ticketed or even have to watch a safety video. This may seem like a pain, but it’s actually good news: mountains everywhere are gradually becoming more and more beginner-friendly.
Look before you leap.
Even beginners can be tempted to try some of the smaller jumps, and our instructor doesn’t discourage this. But he does have some sound skiing tips on the subject. Before taking your first jump, do a scouting run and pay close attention to the terrain in the landing zone. Never go off a jump without having already scouted it because once you’re in the air, you have absolutely no control of where you land. It’s also a good idea to have a spotter give you the go-ahead before attempting a jump.
Pro Tip: If you know you want to tackle a few jumps, opt for shorter skis, which are a lot easier and safer. When you start, your main focus should be on landing safely. That means keeping your knees bent to absorb the shock of landing on hard snow packed down by other jumpers.
Ski with confidence, but know and respect your limits.
Believe it or not, skiing is as much a mental sport as it is physical. When you ski scared or with anxiety, you lose a lot of control without realizing it. Our instructor has seen this time and time again, and he emphasizes how important it is to just believe in your own abilities.
Pro Tip: Though confidence is key, don’t overestimate your skills. Never ski on slopes beyond your abilities, as you could easily hurt yourself or others.
Want more snowboarding-specific tips? Read gold medalist Kelly Clark’s snowboarding advice.