A first time skier often feels like they've just stepped off their space ship onto an alien planet. Ski boots even look like space boots, and I’m pretty sure that’s what attracted me to the sport when I was young.
Skiing Objective #1: get all this stuff on and make our way over to the bunny slope!
Getting Used To Ski Equipment
What's with all this gear? Skiing involves so much equipment that is totally foreign to our everyday lives. Layers upon layers of puffy ski pants, gloves, goggles and helmets take some getting used to and make moving awkward. If you’re not quite sure what to wear, check out this article: What To Wear On Your First Day Skiing to maximize your comfort out on the slopes:
Ski Boots Are Crazy
Ski boots lock up the foot and ankle and require the novice skier to acquire new movement patterns just to walk down the steps of the day lodge. What is normally simple task is suddenly a marathon effort.
Let start by getting the boots on properly.
These Boots Aren’t Made for Walking
Some key things to think about when walking around in ski boots:
- Stiff Boot Cuffs: You’ll need to exaggerate movements with the hips and knees to make up for your ankles and feet being partly immobilized.
- The Bottom of the Boots are Flat, Stiff and Slick: Ensure your center of mass is over top of the foot you are about to weight... especially while going down stairs! You can think about trying to keep your head over top of the foot before you stand on it. Holding onto the hand rail or using ski poles for additional support is also a good idea!
- Make Steps: When going up hill, kick your toes into the snow to create platform, or side step up kicking the edge of the boot into the snow. When going down hill, punch the heel of the boot into the snow or side step down.
Skis = Slippery Sticks With Blades?
First let’s establish some common language when it comes to ski anatomy:
- Tip - The front bit of the ski.
- Shovel - The part of the tip where it curls up.
- Tail - The back bit behind the bindings
- Centre/Middle - Instructors talk a lot about being ‘centered’ or balancing through the ‘middle’ of the ski, but this isn’t exactly the middle. It usually refers to the the middle of the side cut (see ski design 101 for more details on sidecut) which on most ski models is actually slightly aft between the bindings.
- The Base - This is the slippery bit on the bottom.
- The Top Sheet - The nice looking bit on the top
- The Edges - The metal bits that run along the edge of the base that help you grip the snow surface.
Bindings attach your boot to the ski and are designed to release when you wipe out.
- The Toe Piece - Holds your toe in place
- The Heel Piece - Hold your heel in place
- The Brakes - These little legs spring open to engage if your binding releases from your foot. This prevents run away skis (a dangerous prospect for others skiers down the slope and a major inconvenience).
- The DIN - That number on both the toe piece and heel piece should be set for your specific height, weight and ski ability to allow your bindings to release properly.
- Forward Pressure - The heel piece can be moved slightly to adjust the distance between the toe piece and heel piece. This needs to be set precisely for the length of your boot.
Note* - You should not mess with binding settings until you really know what you’re doing. If you’re having trouble getting your skis on, they are releasing constantly, or they are not releasing when they should... head back into the day lodge and have the rental technician check the DIN setting and forward pressure for you.
How to carry your skis?
Carrying equipment seems pretty straight forward, until you have to do it.
It’s easy to spot a novice skier a mile off as they fumble with their gear, leaving a trail of dropped mittens and skis and poles in their wake.
For children its often easiest to carry their skis like a bundle of firewood.
However, for adults with longer skis, this is like wielding a deadly weapon. In crowded areas you’ll want to hold your skis upright to avoid smacking people.
You’ll notice the brakes help clamp the skis together so if you grasp the binding of the ski underneath you’ll be able to pick up both skis.
When there’s more space and you’re walking over to that beginner slope, most people find it easiest to sling the skis over their shoulder. When done right, this also makes you look like a pro! To make the skis easier to balance, carry them with the tips forward so the bit right in front of the toe piece rests on your shoulder, then place your hand over top of the tip just behind the shovel.
If the top ski suddenly slides forward (there’s a 50% chance), just flip the skis over so the brakes interlock. This technique makes it pretty easy to handle your skis with one arm and now you can hold both poles in the other hand like a walking stick to keep you steady.
How do I get these things on?
It’s a slippery slope... literally.
Depending on athleticism and experience in a slippery enviroment some skiers may be better off starting with a single ski. If you’re a former professional hockey player skip along and put them both on.
When getting the skis on for the first time, you’ll ideally want to find some flat terrain in a quiet area with little no traffic. I say ideally because flat quiet aren’t always an option a busy ski resorts.
Caution: Before you venture on out onto the slope and get your skis on it’s important to understand the basics of slope safety and lift etiquette. Be sure to read and understand the Alpine Responsibility Code.
The Fall Line: Before putting skis on it’s important to understand the concept of the “fall line.” That‘s the path gravity will take an object. For example, if you dropped a snowball on the slope, which way would it roll?
Unless your skis are placed perpendicular to the fall line, they will slide away the moment you step into them.
This may seem obvious but it happens to almost every first time skier. So if your skis keep sliding away on you, have a look at the micro terrain. The bottom of the main slope might trick you into thinking the fall line is one way, but little undulations in the slope might make a mini fall line in a different direction.
Ensure Bottom of Boots are Clean: After walking through all those puddles in the parking lot there’s a good chance you’ll have some snow or ice stuck to the bottom of your boots. Bindings are designed for a precise fit so you’ll need to get that off before you boots will fit in properly.
Poles come in handy for whacking off caked on snow. Alternatively, scrape the bottom of your boot on your toe piece before mounting up. If all else fails, find an unsuspecting instructor and beg them for help. They love scraping snow off people boots!
Ensure the heal piece of the binding is open: This is pretty common for new skiers. You just had your first wipeout and now you can’t get your ski back on. You’ve tried everything and you’re about to start that march of doom back to the rental shop.
Before you do, check your bindings. If the heel piece lever has flipped up, push it down into the open position to allow your foot to go in.
Downhill Ski First: It's easiest to put the downhill ski on first (or rather it's very difficult to put the downhill ski on second).
Toe In... Then Heel: Use your poles to help you balance while you click into your skis. First insert the rand on the toe of your boot into the toe piece of the binding. Then line up your heel and stomp down firmly until it clicks into place. The heel piece lever should pop up.
To get your skis off, just place the tip of your pole in that little indent on the heel piece lever, then push down firmly until it pops open.
Poles... What On Earth Are These For?
Although small children are often better off starting without poles, older children and adults will likely find them useful for pushing themsleves around on the flats and assisting with balance. Once kids are about 6 years of age and skiing around comfortably on green runs, poles tend to be more help than hinderance. As you reach the intermediate stages of skiing they become a neccary tool for efficient technique.
Grip It and Rip It: Pole Straps are nice because they often save you from hiking back to retrieve all your gear after a garage sale wipeout.
Most people intuitively stick their wrists through the pole straps and grab the handle. The proper method however, is once through the loop, place your hand overtop and grasp the straps between your palm and the handle. This method better support your hand and more importantly helps to prevent thumb injuries (which happen to be the most common injury in skiing).
Let me guess... you overdressed and underestimated how much work it was going to be getting yourself over to that bunny slope? Now you’re all hot and steamy and you can‘t see a thing. Check out the Foggy Goggles Guide For New Skiers and learn how to prevent this.
Okay, You’re All geared Up And Ready To Go!
Let’s learn some basic mobility and start moving on around on the mountain. Click the link below to head to he next step.
Too advanced? Head back to...
Too Easy? Move ahead to...
Join the Science Friction Club.
You'll get to outsmart your ski instructor & troubleshoot your own ski technique.